November 29, 2017; Better Today than Yesterday: Improving JDAI Compliance and Reporting

Happy Holidays from Handel IT

It is again that time of the year when I look back and reflect on the year that was. First and foremost, I want to thank those of you we have worked with in 2016 and the many of you who are entertaining the idea of implementing RiteTrack in your juvenile, TANF, child welfare, or other social services program in the year to come. We are so grateful for the opportunity to work with you and we want to thank you for working with us and even more importantly I want to thank you for the difference you are making in the lives of the people that you help. I sleep well at night knowing that RiteTrack is a playing part in making sure hundreds of thousands of people are getting the best services that they can get for their needs.

It has been a tumultuous year in our country and in the world. The Presidential Election here in the U.S. certainly was different than any other election we have seen in recent history. Globally, hardly a day passes where we don’t read about another terror attack. For most of us, these unimaginable acts of hate are beyond comprehension.  While we are not entirely free of terror here on US ground, I do believe we live in a very safe country. Of course, from my perspective in Laramie, Wyoming, the least populous state in the union, my viewpoint may be just a bit biased. As somebody who grew up in Norway, another country often ranked high for quality of life and other measures, I will argue that the United States is still one of the greatest countries in the world. This is still the land of opportunity. It is a land where we welcome ideas and support those who have ideas. With the perspective of almost 30 years in this country it is interesting to think that coming here as foreigner in 1988 and barely spoke English, only 9 years later, I had finished two degrees, worked for another entrepreneurial startup, and then started Handel IT in 1997. I can think of many other places in our world where such a series of events simply would not be able to unfold.  We still continue to deal with a large number of challenges on our home front such as growing income inequality, a broken health care system, rising drug problems, slipping rankings on education, and increasing terrorist threats. I still believe when taken as a whole, our nation offers perhaps one of the best frameworks for individuals to succeed. We continue to rank high nationally in quality of life rankings, such as the one published by Numbeo https://www.numbeo.com/quality-of-life/rankings_by_country.jsp.

Looking at all the social services programs that we work with nationally, I remain in awe of the services that our clients provide to the people that they serve. In 2016 we have added several new customers, especially in the area of Tribal TANF (temporary assistance for needy families). You have probably heard me joke before that Rocket Science has nothing on TANF when it comes to complexity. In order to run a successful TANF program a Tribe (or a State for that matter) has to keep track of thousands of data points on each family that they serve. Calculating eligibility and keeping track of funding, measuring outcomes, and making sure allocations are being made according to all rules, are but a few of the tasks that a modern TANF program has to contend with. Doing so without a system like RiteTrack would be near impossible. It is such an honor for us to work with all these programs across the nation. One thing is resting assured that we are helping our customers with these very complex tasks. Even more important though are the services that our clients are providing to the families and individuals that they serve. More so than anything else, this is what I am the most proud of when it comes to Handel’s accomplishments. We want to thank you all for working with us in 2016. We are looking forward to continuing working with you and to add new customers to the RiteTrack family in 2017. Next year we will also be celebrating our 20th anniversary. Time flies when you are having fun. Until then I want to wish you the Happiest of Holidays and a Happy New Year!


To Build or Buy?  The Pros and Cons of Buying Off-The-Shelf vs. Building Your Own Case Management Software

In 2017 Handel will celebrate our 20th year in business. It really does not feel like 20 years since the day I sat up Handel’s first office in the basement of my house. We got our first break from customers who wanted us to build custom database solutions for them. Since I didn’t have a product to sell them, building custom software was the only way to stay in business. We initially developed a variety of custom software solutions including point-of-sale software (our POSIE POS software for local florists were an early hit), reporting software for bank portfolios, inventory management, and many other solutions long forgotten. Most of these solutions were so individually tailored that they were almost impossible to mass-market. However, they paid the bills and kept us in business during those early years. One day in 1998 an old college friend contacted me. She was working in the IT department of the human services division of a large Colorado county and they were looking for a database for managing youth in a juvenile diversion program. Perhaps because English is my second language or maybe because I had never had much exposure to the human services world, I neither knew what a “juvenile” was, nor what a “diversion program” was.  Not that this would stop me. I had bills to pay and a family to feed. “Of course I can do this” I thought. 2 months later, the pre-cursor to RiteTrack was delivered. The system did exactly what the customer had asked me to do and it worked really well. That is, until 15 or more employees used the system at the same time. Somehow in our negotiations we failed to discuss how many users would be using the system on a regular basis. The chosen solution was built on Microsoft Access. For all its power in terms of developing quick applications, Access at the time was not designed to support a large number of users, a task better handled by its big brother, Microsoft SQL Server. This was only one of many lessons we learned in those early years. Probably the most important lesson I learned: If you want to build a business you have to be really good at something. It is very hard to be successful at doing many different things for many different customers. The custom-shop model kept us alive for our first years and it led us directly to RiteTrack. Both good things because we would not be around today if we hadn’t started out this way. We chose to follow the path that RiteTrack created for us into the field of human services. We soon ditched all of our other efforts and became really good at one thing. A strange thing happened when we did this. Our business started to grow.
If you are a government agency looking to implement a complex human services software for managing the clients that you serve you are faced with a variety of choices. You can build a system in-house, you can hire a consultant to build a system for you, or you can choose from a variety of vendor-provided products. Unlike the late 1990s when we started out, the marketplace today offer “COTS” (commercial off-the-shelf) software for virtually any market niche. However, unlike the 99 cent apps you buy in an app-store, the type of social services government software we develop (often referred to as enterprise resource planning software, an unfortunate term in my opinion since most human services programs don’t think of themselves as an enterprise -a customer once asked if it had something to do with “Star Trek”) has to meet several complex requirements including business rules (rocket science has nothing on TANF eligibility), the number of different departments and users served, reporting requirements, security models, customizations specific to their particular county, state, or tribe, and many other variables. Large state software projects involving major government contractors frequently run into 8 figures ($10 -50 million is not uncommon). Needless to say, small government entities do not have total budgets (never mind IT budgets) that come close to such figures. In the perceived absence of existing COTS systems that can be had for much less, government entities often go the route of developing a custom solution system in-house or hiring a local developer with the expectations that the system will cost them a lot less. Unfortunately what may seem like a great deal up front ends up costing considerably more over time and exposes your organization to a great amount of risk.
The process often goes something like this:
Said project has a finite budget. A request for proposal (RFP) is put out. Vendors bid on the project. A local software developer comes in with the lowest bid. By law, you the customer has to go with lowest bidder. The local software developer has stellar credentials when it comes to having all the right technical skills but has no domain expertise (like us at the start, they have no concept of your domain, being it juvenile justice, child welfare, TANF or other). You on the other hand have all this knowledge but no expertise with complex software projects. Seems like a match made in heaven. Or not.
Having been on both sides of the fence, both as the custom software developer and later as the “COTS” vendor, we feel qualified to speak on this subject. While the low-bidder-local-custom-shop developer may look good on paper, there are a lot of hidden costs and risks associated with custom software projects.  We have seen some of these projects succeed, many fail outright and most never living up to the customer’s expectations.
Here are some of the common pitfalls of custom software projects:
The Vendor Does Not Understand Your Job
Software developers are very good with what is in their technical toolbox whether that is mobile app development, web development, database design, or traditional desktop software development. However, the left-brain dominant traits often found in those attracted into the computer science field, such as problem solving, algorithmic thinking, and a general excitement for technology also can be a detriment to these same individuals trying to understand common problems faced by those who work in the human services field. As somebody who probably falls more into the left-brain category, I can assure you, 100s of projects in the human services field can not substitute for actually having been a social worker or worked in the field of human services. First, I would dare to say that those attracted to the field of computer science are generally disposed of the typical people skills required when serving other human beings. Second, until you have actually worked in this field, it is very hard to put yourself into those people’s role. So, no matter how well you communicate the job of a social worker, even the most well-meaning, right-brain inclinded software developer will never get a complete understanding of your needs.
Your Organization Lacks Experience with Complex Software Projects
For lack of anyone else in the organization who volunteers, you become the point person for overseeing the new software project. You went to school to get a degree in social work because you love helping people, yet, here you find yourself in charge of overseeing the implementation of a highly complex software system. You are constantly trying to stay one step ahead of the software developers you are working with, all the while tearing your hair out and wondering how you ended up in this situation. You find yourself Googling words like “scrum”, “agile development” and “procedural design”.
You and the Vendor Both Underestimate What It Will Take To Succeed
Complex custom software projects always come in ahead of schedule and under budgets. False. Most complex software projects where there is a great amount of uncertainty usually stick to the original design document? Again, false.
The truth is, when you are dealing with a vendor (or an internal programmer) who have been tasked with developing software for something they know very little about and you have been tasked with being the representative for your organization in charge of the project, something you have never done before, suggesting that there are a lot of risk factors would be the understatement of the year. These projects always start out with a lot of positive energy. This should be easy! We should have something up and running in two months. There are two primary reasons why projects like these rarely come in on time and on budget. The first category is that there is a lot of uncertainty with these types of projects and you simply can’t know what you don’t know. There are often a lot of surprises lurking around the corner. Once you got the eligibility matrix in place you realized that you had forgotten to account for some of the key data points required to calculate eligibility. Back to the drawing board. The second reason is what is commonly referred to as “scope creep”. That scenario goes something like this: We have already created a place for tracking staff and caseloads. While we are add it, it should be easy to add in a piece to track our staff’s various certifications. I once had a software developer ban me from ever using the term “should be easy” in the context of software development. Once one “should be easy” turns into ten “should be easy” you have a problem: It is no longer easy. Our recommendation is to have great initial design specs and save the “would be nice” and “should be easy” for a future phase.
You Wait Until Everything is Perfect to Go Live
This is somewhat related to the previous paragraph. If you wait until everything is perfect in your custom software solution, you will probably never go live. Nothing in life is perfect and this is rarely more true than when it comes to technology. Even the best developed most quality tested software will have unforeseen glitches once it goes from production into the hands of the end-users. You will never be able to foresee all the challenges your end-users will put you through. Furthermore, some of your design assumptions will always turn out to be wrong anyway, so no need to wait until everything is perfect. No matter how perfect you think it is, you will find something you forgot once you go live. Better find this out sooner rather than later.
Vendor Is Not Around To Support You in the Long Run
When we implement RiteTrack for a client it is not uncommon that we replace an existing system that was developed in-house. The two most common reasons for switching to a new system are:
  • The technology is obsolete.
  • The person who wrote the system is long gone.
Working with a vendor who is providing an off-the-shelf system you are less likely to run into either of these situations. The vendor typically provides upgrades so that the software stays current. The vendor is less likely to disappear than an employee. While the latter does happen, we find that most vendors in our market space has been around for a long time. Sometimes companies get acquired but the software typically continue to exist under the new owner.
Not Playing Well With Others
Another common issue we see in home-grown systems is that they are often not designed to easily integrate with other systems or they are not built using standardized data schema, thus making it hard for third-parties to pull information out, or for integrating with other systems.
There are many hidden risks and costs associated with building a human services software system in-house. While this option appears attractive on the surface, it often ends up being much more expensive than finding an existing solution from a vendor who has experience in your space. Worse yet, with a custom-built system you have little assurances to fall back on in the likely risk of failure. With a vendor, failure is typically not an option because the vendor stakes their entire reputation on their product. If you have any questions about this, I would welcome the opportunity to hear from you.

Handel Hosts 4th Annual Jamapalooza at TribalNet in San Diego

Handel Information Technologies has been a vendor and frequent speaker at the TribalNet conference for several years. TribalNet is the leading conference for technology decision makers in tribal country and was first recommended to us by Chuck Scharnagle, Chief Information Officer of the Mohegan Tribe and long-time TribalNet board member. We started attending about 10 years ago.
For many years now I have been aware of the link between technology and music. A lot of IT people also play instruments (although the reverse is not necessarily true, that all musicians have an inclination for technology). I remember attending Microsoft conferences where there would be an open mic night or a karoake event, so in 2013 I decided to give this a try at a TribalNet conference. At the St. Paul conference that year we hosted our first jam session. We decided on the name Jamapalooza, partially inspired by the Lollapalooza music festival. The first year we had about 5 musicians and perhaps 30 people attending. Next year we did it again in Las Vegas, with about 10 musicians and 50 attendees. Each year this event has become more and more popular. Last year we were in Austin (a music city if there ever was one), and this year in San Diego we set a new record with about 25 musicians and an estimated 100 attendees. For a conference drawing about 400 people, we appreciate how many people now come to this event which has become a TribalNet tradition. Please enjoy the video as a memory from this year’s Jamapalooza. This is all about building relationships and having a great time through music. As most of these musicians played together for the first time that evening, don’t expect the precision or musical chops of a seasoned touring band. What is important here is the appreciation these people have for making music together and performing for fellow conference attendees. We had a good time doing this. We hope this video will serve as a memento for those who participated; and for those who did not, an encouragement to come to TribalNet 18 in Glendale, AZ, November 6-9, 2017.

New 2017 Funding Announcement for Tribes

NICWA-2015The National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) passed on the funding notification from The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, (SAMHSA) regarding SAMHSA “accepting applications for Systems of Care grants to support mental health services and systems for children, youth, and families in tribal communities.

The purpose of this infrastructure program is to provide tribal communities with the tools and resources to implement or expand a community-based, coordinated system of care model for children’s mental health.

Applications filed now are for funding beginning in October 2017.

NICWA facilitated a recorded webinar on November 10, 2016, to:

  • Explain the purpose and goals of the funding opportunity;
  • Walk through each element of the FOA and provide tips for successful applications;
  • Encourage tribal applications; and
  • Answer questions

You can listen to the recording of the full webinar here.

Tribal applications are encouraged! The deadline is January 3, 2017.  

If you are still uncertain about applying after watching the webinar, please contact NICWA– they are happy to answer your questions where we can!”

“The purpose of this program is to improve behavioral health outcomes for children and youth (birth-21) with serious emotional disturbances (SED) and their families. This program will support the widescale operation, expansion, and integration of the SOC approach by creating sustainable infrastructure and services that are required as part of the Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services for Children and their Families Program (also known as the Children’s Mental Health Initiative or CMHI).

This cooperative agreement will support the provision of mental health and related recovery support services to children and youth with SED and those with early signs and symptoms of serious mental illness (SMI), including first episode psychosis (FEP), and their families.

The SOC Expansion and Sustainability Cooperative Agreements will build upon progress made in developing comprehensive SOC across the country by focusing on sustainable financing, cross-agency collaboration, the creation of policy and infrastructure, and the development and implementation of evidence-based and evidence-informed services and supports. Other activities supported will include the implementation of systemic changes, training, and workforce development.”

Additionally, the Circles of Care VII grant is available for application as well. ” The purpose of this program is to provide tribal and urban Indian communities with tools and resources to plan and design a holistic, community-based, coordinated system of care approach to support mental health and wellness for children, youth, and families. These grants are intended to increase the capacity and effectiveness of mental health systems serving AI/AN communities. Circles of Care grantees will focus on the need to reduce the gap between the need for mental health services and the availability and coordination of mental health, substance use, and co-occurring disorders in AI/AN communities for children, youth, and young adults from birth through age 25 and their families.”

The deadline for this funding opportunity is December 20, 2016.

Handel VP Hosts Webcast via NICWA about Improving Service Delivery with Software

Innovative Examples from Indian Country– Improving Service Delivery using Software and Technology, Handel Information Technologies software. The second in our “Technology Tools Webinar Series!”

In this, the second of our “Technology Tools Webinar Series,” we are excited to have Casey Bader, Vice President of Handel Information Technologies, Inc., share his knowledge about innovative ways tribes are using software and technology to engage with clients, integrate programs, improve service delivery, and secure funding. Some of these initiatives have received national recognition for innovative approaches to addressing community needs.

Casey and Handel Information Technologies, long time NICWA supporters, have presented numerous times at NICWA’s annual conference and have a wealth of experience in Indian Country. We are happy to have the opportunity to have them present to our NICWA members.

Casey has spent over 15 years designing and implementing innovative software solutions with RiteTrack for social service programs and is passionate about finding ways technology can improve service delivery and outcomes in Indian Country. His program focuses include Indian Child Welfare, Family Services, Tribal TANF, Employment and Training, Tribal Court and Treatment programs. Casey has a degree in Social Science with a minor in Sociology from the University of Wyoming.

Reauthorizing the JJDPA

On September 22, 2016 the House of Representatives passed HR 5963, the Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act. This bill reauthorizes the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) of 1974.

reauthorizing-the-jjdp-webThe bill was then sent to the Senate on September 26, 2016 and read on the floor. It was placed on the legislative calendar under General Orders. There has been no movement since then. Previously, this bill was sent to the Senate’s calendar on April 30, 2016 where it stalled until after the House passed its version earlier this month.

The last time this Act was reauthorized was in 2002 and helps states and local communities serve at-risk youth and juvenile offenders. The most recent reauthorization of the JJDPA expired in 2007.

The Senate has until the end of 2016 to take action.

The Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ) described the JJDPA as “one of the most successful standard-setting statutes at the federal level and at its heart recognizes the value of citizen-driven efforts to prevent and stem delinquency. The success of the JJDPA has been supported in significant part by the national agenda-setting, research, evaluation, oversight, and technical assistance functions of OJJDP. It remains the landmark federal statute—and single most influential piece of federal legislation—providing four substantive safeguards (core protections) for youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system.”


Coalition for Juvenile Justice Special Federal Policy Update: http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?m=1113093459475&ca=26c99ea5-2719-449f-abbd-64c5aed4d4ed

Congressman Bobby Scott: https://bobbyscott.house.gov/media-center/press-releases

Congress.gov: https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/5963/all-actions?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22juvenile+delinquency%22%5D%7D&resultIndex=2&overview=closed#tabs

Coalition for Juvenile Justice Reauthorization of the JJDPA: http://www.juvjustice.org/juvenile-justice-and-delinquency-prevention-act/reauthorization-jjdpa


Handel Relay Team Completes the 2016 Wild West Relay

Under the leadership of Casey Bader, employees from Handel, augmented by friends and family, formed another 12 person running team. Team Wyoming Endorfiends ran the 200 miles from Fort Collins, via Wyoming, to Steamboat, Colorado. Starting at 5:20 AM the morning of Friday, August 5th, the team finished in Steamboat about 32 hours later on Saturday afternoon.

This is the 6th time since we first did this in 2006 that Handel has formed a relay team. I find it to be a truly rewarding experience in so many ways, physically, beautiful scenery, social, and team building. Here is a video commemorating this year’s event.