New Jersey's One EASE E-Link: Harder Than It Seemed

By Kowalski, William G. | Policy & Practice, June 2009 | Go to article overview

New Jersey's One EASE E-Link: Harder Than It Seemed


Kowalski, William G., Policy & Practice


The Garden State's network of coordinated social, health and employment services, or One EASE E-Link, was named by Civic.com as one of the top 50 state and local IT projects for 2000. OEL won the 2001 Accenture and MIT Digital Government Award for State Government; that same year it was mentioned by the Harvard Policy Group of the John F. Kennedy School of Government as one of the best practices for implementing IT Initiatives.

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Thirteen years from its pilot program and only six years from its aforementioned achievements, OEL no longer exists in the state of New Jersey.

What went wrong? New Jersey's abandonment of the program forces the question, "Why is true integration of social services using IT-based interoperability so elusive?" We cannot dismiss the importance of the technology issues; however, the problems that will "stop the show" will invariably be those that flow from organizational change.

Below we'll discuss 15 obstacles to OEL success that are relevant to just about any human service interoperability project.

Obstacle #1: Lack of leadership "buy-in"

Success requires total buy-in of top state management at both the executive and department levels. Without executive direction, resources don't follow the initiative.

Obstacle #2: Confidentiality concerns

Each state, county or provider program functions within a framework of laws and regulations concerning confidentiality of consumer information. In many instances, these rules conflict. This complicates development of security requirements that allow for consensual sharing of information at the level needed to coordinate client services.

Obstacle #3: Resistance to change

Within the field of human services there has been a reluctance to embrace technology, and this resistance is exacerbated when several new technologies are introduced simultaneously.

Obstacle #4: Territoriality

Many service providers feel their clients are theirs alone, and don't want others encroaching on their turf. They want to maintain complete control of all services provided and are unwilling to share information.

Obstacle #5: Service silos

Federal and state funding streams have historically limited program scope and target populations to be served, resulting in isolated service silos. Additionally, federal and state mandates continue to encourage separate systems because of categorical technology funding.

Obstacle #6: Collaboration concerns

An atmosphere of cooperation, trust and shared responsibility at the state and local levels is a must for integration, but it's not always easy to come by.

Obstacle #7: Training needed

The training needs of the OEL members varied greatly, from small agencies that had staff with no experience in basic technology to large agencies with sophisticated systems and a training budget. Additionally, training issues were magnified by the design of the OEL initiative, which sought to use bleeding-edge technology and introduced several new applications at once. …

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