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Indiana: How We Figured Out the Optimal Approach to Run Government from Our Couches and Kitchen Tables

Joe Cudby, Indiana Office of Technology and Jared Linder, Indiana Family and Social Services Administration 

May 2020

As a rapid response to COVID-19, Indiana’s governor mandated sheltering the entire state in-place except for essential service providers. Most of the state’s agencies were required to leave their offices since they were deemed ‘non-essential’. Historically state employees did not work remotely — with no resources (e.g., computers, virtual private network access) ever being placed in their residences. The state’s move to support the majority of workers with remote services was a huge undertaking that needed to be accomplished quickly and without too many fail points as the citizens of the State of Indiana still needed the critical services the state provides. This article is a brief case study of how this challenge was overcome. We will describe how Indiana—both at a state and an agency level—rapidly adapted to the operational challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. By pivoting quickly to novel technology, Indiana enabled more than just the ability for remote work, but also empowered teams to respond with agility to the new environment wrought by the pandemic. This response was only made possible by a strong centralized information technology (IT) presence and a collaborative agency response. We also describe the specific response and outline a successful use case.

1.  Statewide Response 

Indiana’s Office of Technology (IOT) supports more than 120 agencies, all serving distinct roles within state government. Beginning in early March, it was clear a plan was needed to send 30,000 employees and other contracted staff home—and ensure that collectively we delivered 100 percent of expected government services with limited interruption. IOT immediately planned a three-day, cross-functional “war room” to evaluate options and develop a plan. Because of some in-flight projects, we knew we had the basic pieces in place, but needed to make some decisions quickly to scale for mass implementation.

2. Approach 1 – Making the Default “Yes”  

To be able to allow staff to continue to provide Indiana’s citizens with essential services, we planned to immediately eliminate all IT barriers (process or technical) where we found them. For example, IOT instituted a single process change by granting all employees access to the virtual private network (VPN). This preempted thousands of individual helpdesk tickets and access approval requests. We eliminated what could have amounted to hundreds of hours of bureaucracy in one action—without introducing any risk.

We were able to leverage existing contracts and security governance work to overcome a technical barrier by pushing Microsoft (MS) Teams to every machine as our collaboration tool. After monitoring metrics, we are currently fully operational and up and running using this technology. MS Teams is our new “killer application,” and after working closely with all Agency IT directors to help acclimate new users, adoption has been high.

3. Approach 2 – Simplify and add pictures 

With staff transitioning to their homes, there was a need to create a singular place for everybody to find answers to their questions – we created a new self-service helpdesk on steroids, help.iot.in.gov, and created our own user manuals to train personnel.

Prior to the pandemic, IOT had already rolled out self-service password reset and multi-factor authentication, but not everyone was either using or familiar with them. We expanded documentation to make sure users could assist themselves where possible. We quickly wrote documents with pictures to explain how to take desktops apart, safely move them home, and then wire them back together. In total, more than 150 vital FAQs were developed with a focus on remote work.

We tried to make IT support as easy as following a few pictures.  So far, so good.

4. Approach 3 – Deliver a Minimally Viable Product (MVP) and plan to refine 

To provide a computing environment, we turned to Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) in Azure as an option. In three hours of hardcore testing, IOT validated that we could support a minimum viable product of a Windows desktop, MS Office, and remote desktop client scaled to thousands of users and deployable in hours.

Over the next weeks we refined the product to manage costs and support critical agency missions with custom applications. There are now thousands of employees using WVD to securely access key applications.

5. Approach 4 – Communicate, Communicate, and then Repeat 

After some initial concerns about mass communications, we conducted daily 30-minute video calls with all the state agency IT directors. To support their mission planning, we delivered capability communications, product roadmaps and planned changes out to this group quickly. We solicited feedback from our critical audience and used this forum to respond to issues and communicate status concisely in one place.

6. Approach 5 – Expand what works and refine 

Prior to this event, our existing 1GB VPN Firewall infrastructure would only support 5,000 users. We installed a new pair of 10GB hardware-based Firewalls, added load balancing and are now able to support 20,000 concurrent users. This was completed in early March, in a matter of days, prior to employees being deployed for remote work. We have normal operations now with no performance issues to date.

The remote strategy applied: Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA)

The first—and best—example of how we applied this new technology infrastructure and process was within the Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA), the state’s health and human services agency representing the state’s Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) programs. FSSA, prior to COVID-19, supported approximately 1.4 million people on Medicaid, 600,000 on SNAP, and 30,000 people on TANF, representing about 22 percent of Indiana’s total population. Through the Medicaid program, FSSA also covers about 50 percent of total births in the state each year, or 42,000 out of 84,000 total babies born annually. FSSA has an essential role to play in Indiana’s overall social infrastructure.

To support Hoosiers, we have more than 3,000 state employees and another 4,000 contracted employees who work for us. Those numbers represent teams who work in all 92 Indiana counties and our other regional call centers statewide. We have a significant footprint.

Due to COVID-19, we very early decided to start the process of moving all our full team to their home offices where possible. That decision was not made lightly. We needed to figure out how to deliver our services to people in need when both we and our constituents are at home and unable to conduct business in person.

But, how do we create a no-touch government? A Virtual FSSA? Family Social Services as a Software (FSSAaaS) maybe? Either way, we needed to get and stay home, and still run our programs to the best of our ability.

As noted here, Indiana’s Office of Technology had already been planning to add some value to agencies through new services, both cloud-based and virtual, that could help us support a remote workforce. While they have been around for years, videoconferencing apps are the killer apps of 2020. Welcome to the new way to get personal interaction through remote technology. Thanks to our IT teams and technology planning at a centralized IT level, we were luckily a few steps ahead of the game and moved everyone home reasonably well and quickly. We’re proud of our efforts and preparedness at a statewide level. Hug your IT person when social distancing ends. They deserve it.

What is next from a health and human services perspective? Easy—we’ve been focused on data and surge modeling and predictive analytics and are now moving in three different directions. First, we are looking at how to work with the Department of Education and figure out how to address getting the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program up and running to take care of the 500,000 children in our state who are currently receiving free and reduced meals at schools. Secondly, we are focusing on making telehealth a priority for all providers. To do that we are getting an appropriate program in place that we call as Virtual Care at Home. Furthermore, we are focused on ensuring our workforce continues to have all the tools they need to effectively do their jobs.

Can we run government from our couches and kitchen tables? This is the multimillion-dollar question we have been working to answer. And so far, our answer to that is yes, we are doing great. Indiana is open for business.

Joe Cudby is the Founder of MXL Consulting providing CTO/CIO for hire services. Originally from England, Cudby has spent the past 25 years working in technology across the United States, most recently in Washington, D.C., where he worked in and around Managed Hosting, Professional Services, Product Management and Federal Government Security. He moved to Indiana 3 years ago, and spent the past 15 months as CTO with the Indiana State Office Of Technology. His primary focus was to enable agencies to deliver technology faster and more efficiently, ultimately improving the constituent experience. Cudby earned a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Maryland.

Jared Linder is the Chief Information Officer for the State of Indiana Family and Social Services Administration. He has previously served the state as the Chief Technology Officer and Medicaid HIT Coordinator, and has led efforts for MMIS system replacement, enterprise architecture, MITA, systems and data interoperability, and the EHR incentive program. Jared serves as Indiana’s state representative for American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) IT Solutions Management for Human Services (ISM). He also serves on the management committee for the Indiana Network for Patient Care (INPC), and previously served on the governance committee for the Indiana Network of Knowledge (INK) and on the board of directors for Indiana Health Information Technology, Inc. (IHIT).  Jared is also in his tenth year as an Adjunct Professor at Ball State University’s Center for Information and Communications Sciences. Jared holds a master’s degree in Information and Communication Sciences from Ball State University and an MBA from Butler University.

Editor:

Dr. Kashif Saleem is a research scientist, currently working at Center of Excellence in Information Assurance (CoEIA), King Saud University as an Assistant Professor, since 2012. He received his M.E. and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering from University Technology Malaysia in 2007 and 2011, respectively. He took professional trainings and certifications from the University of the Aegean, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), IBM, Microsoft, Cisco. He has authored several research publications that are presented and published in renowned conferences, books and top-tier journals. His professional services include Associate and Guest Editorships, Chair, TPC Member, Invited Speaker and reviewer for several journals, conferences and workshops. Dr.Saleem have acquired and is running funded scientific research projects in KSA, EU, and the other parts of the world. His research interest mainly includes data communication and security, intelligent algorithms, Biological inspired computing, for IoT, M2M Communication, WSN, WMN, MANET, Cyber-physical Systems.