Child support systems modernization: The time is now

The majority of today’s child support systems are dated, first-generation systems that are now more than 25 years old. These systems need modernization to meet the evolving needs of children and families in the 21st century. With more than 20% of families and children supported by these systems, the impact is significant.

Today’s constituents are interested in engaging with services using modern, consumer-friendly technologies, platforms and devices. Families also expect interactive experiences that drive outcomes tailored to their needs.

The existing systems were simply not designed to provide a family-centric approach to service delivery and do not have the capabilities or features needed to realize that type of approach. Markedly, most states are at least in the planning stages of modernizing these systems.

To respond to the new requirements and expectations of state-provided child support services, these systems must:

  • Empower families to get help when, where and how they need it, including via virtual and real-time communication mechanisms.
  • Provide quick and transparent services to ease family stress and frustration in times of need.
  • Be intuitive and user-friendly in order to reduce inefficiencies and manual effort for both families and caseworkers.
  • Automate routine tasks to allow caseworkers to provide more personalized services and build relationships with families.
  • Empower caseworkers with online tools to collaborate with colleagues and access knowledge repositories.

Though there are many challenges when it comes to child support system modernization, with a proven approach to mainframe application modernization, it is possible to facilitate technical application migrations while maintaining consistency in business functions.

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State-level challenges and requirements

In addition to the shift in the way families engage with technology, there are several other factors driving states to pursue modernization. States are:

  • Envisioning a holistic, family-focused model for service delivery that is personal, customized, and collaborative (rather than the “one-size-fits-all” process that ends up not fitting anyone very well).
  • Providing more time for caseworkers to engage and collaborate with families by freeing them from inefficient system interfaces and processes.
  • Utilizing the capabilities of modern technology stacks rather than continuing to use outdated and limited applications developed on existing systems.
  • Upgrading their systems to leverage widely available and competitively priced technology skillsets rather than paying for the scarce, expensive skills required for existing system support.

Each state’s child support system is different, but core system requirements make them similar in many ways. These requirements include initiating new cases, providing location and establishment services, enforcing orders and handling financial transactions mandated by the Office of Child Support Services (OCSS). Despite these commonalities, every child support organization is distinct, and each needs a tailored modernization approach that supports its vision, addresses its specific system challenges and understands the reality of its issues “on the ground.”

The core systems technology landscape for each state could be an existing mainframe system with varying degrees of maturity, portability, reliability and scalability. States’ existing investments in modernizing and enhancing ancillary supportive technologies (such as document management, web portals, mobile applications, data warehouses and location services) could negate the need for certain system requirements as part of the child support system modernization initiative. This, along with overall maturity of state systems, the need for uninterrupted service requirements, state budget, timing, staffing and other factors, mandates a holistic modernization effort. The “one-size-fits-all” approach to child support system modernization doesn’t work any better than it does for the child support process itself.

Accelerated Incremental Mainframe Modernization (AIMM)

Existing applications are generally complex and expensive to maintain, which limits business agility and makes any attempt to rebuild, refactor or integrate the system a risk. IBM Consulting™ has experienced these challenges across the breadth of industry applications and has formed a generalized approach to modernizing existing applications (particularly those running on traditional mainframe systems) that addresses the challenges in an automated fashion.

IBM’s Accelerated Incremental Mainframe Modernization (AIMM) approach focuses on modernization with a lens toward incremental application transformation rather than code translation. Instead of a single, risky, “big-bang” application and infrastructure update, AIMM focuses on incremental, business-data-domain-centric initiatives that deliver immediate value while enabling a development approach and an ecosystem of processes and tools for continued incremental optimization. AIMM facilitates an end-to-end approach to mainframe modernization that places particular focus on a journey of coexistence. It begins with mapping business and technology processes alongside their IT ecosystems. This approach is distinct from the common code-conversion approach and ensures that both existing and new systems are in lockstep, seamlessly delivering the needed business functions to caseworkers and families while incrementally migrating to the new digital core system. Eventually, new platforms replace existing systems entirely and final cutover is accomplished with minimal to no disruption to the users. The diagram below illustrates an end-to-end flow of processes using AIMM to accomplish mainframe modernization.

The AIMM approach is bolstered by IBM’s industry-leading methodology, tools and assets, including:

  • IBM Garage Methodology: IBM’s engagement and operating methodology (which brings together industry best practices, technical expertise, systems knowledge, client collaboration and partnership, cloud service providers and the consulting teams) uses a design strategy with iterative creation and launch processes to deliver accelerated outcomes and time to value.
  • IBM Consulting Cloud Accelerator (ICCA): This approach accelerates cloud adoption by creating a “wave plan” for migrating and modernizing workloads to cloud platforms. ICCA integrates and orchestrates a wide range of migration tools across IBM’s assets and products, open source components and third-party tools to take a workload from its original platform to a cloud destination.
  • Asset Analysis Renovation Catalyst (AARC): This tool automatically extracts business rules from application source code and generates a knowledge model that can be deployed into a rules engine such as Operational Decision Manager (ODM).
  • Operational Decision Manager: This business rule management system enables automated responses to real-time data by applying automated decisions based on business rules. ODM enables business users to analyze, automate and govern rules-based business decisions by developing, deploying and maintaining operational system decision logic.

The AIMM approach meets states where they are in their modernization journeys by analyzing existing code, extracting business rules, converting code to modern languages and deploying applications to any cloud platform. With its proven tools and processes, IBM Consulting applies and manages technology to help states realize their business goals and deliver value faster. 

Hybrid cloud architectures for balanced transformation

Technology decisions should be based on a thoughtful balance of cost, capability and sustainability to enable successful outcomes and attain program or project goals. The adoption of cloud technology has gained significant traction for child support agencies with mainframe systems due to its support for operational efficiences and its ability to facilitate on-demand innovation. Cloud computing offers many benefits, including cost savings, scalability, security, accessibility, software maintenance, data backup, disaster recovery, and advanced data and AI capabilities.

A technology architecture based on hybrid cloud (a blend of on-premises and cloud service provider capabilities) enables agencies to advance their missions with the advantages of cloud while still benefiting from their mainframe investments. Considering a hybrid cloud architecture allows states to prioritize transformation of problematic applications while retaining the portions of their existing child support systems that meet constituent needs.

Technical patterns for cloud migration

For states modernizing their existing systems, IBM recommends the combination of one or more of the following technical patterns to achieve cloud migration and realize the benefits of the modern cloud platform:

  • Pattern 1: Migration to cloud with middleware emulator. With this approach, an agency’s systems are migrated to a cloud platform with minimal to no code alterations. The integration of middleware emulators minimizes the need for code changes and ensures smooth functionality during the migration process.
  • Pattern 2: Migration to cloud with code refactoring. This approach couples the migration of systems to a cloud environment with necessary code modifications for optimal performance and alignment with cloud architectures. IBM has a broad ecosystem of partners who specialize in using automated tools to make most code modifications.
  • Pattern 3: Re-architect and modernize with microservices. This strategy encompasses re-architecting systems with the adoption of microservices-based information delivery channels. This approach modernizes systems in cloud-based architectures which enable efficient communication between the microservices.
  • Pattern 4: Cloud data migration for analytics and insights. This strategy focuses on transferring existing data to the cloud and facilitating generation of advanced data analytics and insights, a key feature of modernized systems.

Maintaining business functions across technical migrations

For all of the previously mentioned technical patterns, maintaining business functions while modernizing the technical components supporting them is essential to migration and modernization success. The following graphic shows an example of maintaining business functions while changing the underlying technology using Pattern 2 (migration to cloud with code refactoring).

In this example, IBM retains business functionality (shown in blue) while changing the underlying technology (shown in yellow). This incremental approach is critical to maintaining an agency’s ability to continue providing effective services to families and children while technology transformation takes place. 

IBM Consulting has solidified these accelerators to help clients migrate to cloud, and IBM continues to work with all major hyperscalers to accelerate application modernization. Our goals are to achieve automation to the extent it is feasible, reduce risk of application changes, create and deploy secure APIs, and reduce the need for specialized skills to accomplish state application migrations.

In the ever-evolving landscape of child support services, transformation is key to efficiently and effectively supporting caseworkers, children and their families.

By prioritizing family-focused models, embracing modern technology, respecting state uniqueness and harnessing the power of hybrid cloud architectures, modernized child support systems can pave the way for a brighter future for children and families in need of support.

IBM is proud to be a trusted partner for many states as they modernize child support systems to look after the welfare of our nation’s families.

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