Magazine article Policy & Practice

2,400 iPads. 1 Agency

Magazine article Policy & Practice

2,400 iPads. 1 Agency

Article excerpt

5 real-world lessons to strengthen your mobile-enabled workforce

Cool. Helpful. Efficient. Productive.

These are some of the words that social workers used to describe the 2,400 iPads that the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) distributed to improve social worker efficiency and effectiveness in 2014. This was near the start of DCF's journey to become a mobile agency--a journey that continues today.


From smartphones to tablets, mobile technology is part of the fabric of life. As such, developing mobile device strategies for citizen service and workforce productivity is a public-sector priority. In fact, a recent survey reveals that a majority of state CIOs sees "mobile devices and apps" as a key area for the strategic agenda and operational plans.

Social workers across human services--including child welfare--have an affinity for mobile technology. Every day, social workers connect with people during visits, in the car, at court, and from home. When your office is everywhere and face-to-face connections mean everything, mobile devices are more than cool gadgets; they are lifelines for delivering outcomes.


DCF's mobile journey began after an internal inquiry to improve the agency's engagement with children and families. The Child Welfare League of America recommended mobile devices to improve compliance and communication, suggesting that social workers use them to enter real-time data into iFamilyNet, the state's web-enabled SACWIS system. After rapidly deploying iPads to field staff, DCF teamed with Accenture to analyze the initial rollout and create a blueprint for future implementation.


This analysis--and insights from DCF's transformation experience--reveals five lessons for any human service agency developing or strengthening its mobile workforce.

1. Look beyond the device--focus on the mission.

Creating a mobile workforce is not just about distributing devices and watching results happen. Agencies must develop mobile workforce programs with a perspective on how mobile can drive the mission forward, tying mobile metrics to case practice metrics.

DCF is making an important shift over time. Mobile devices are viewed as essential tools for essential work--from fieldwork to new employee training. By connecting mobility to the mission and wrapping cultural change around it, DCF is creating an environment where device development is a vital part of the future operating model.

2. Bring the office to the field--break down the walls.

Mobile devices have provided social workers with flexibility and real-time access to information that is necessary for their work with children and families. Social workers already spend more time in the field than they do in the office. Now that they have mobile devices to interact, communicate, report, and serve, traditional in-office mandates can be too limiting.

In providing social workers with mobile devices, agencies must address an issue with human resources (HR) policy and practice implications. DCF discovered the need to develop consistent HR policy to maximize the benefit of the mobile devices.

3. Think infrastructure--not just tools.

No technology tool--including mobile devices--works in isolation. …

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