Business Transformation for Those Who Lend a “Hand Up”

Tell me about your role as a digital leader:
I’m the Executive Director at Community Action Kentucky, Inc. (CAK).

Tell me about Community Action Kentucky:
The mission of Community Action Kentucky (CAK) and its 23 Community Action Agency members is to remove barriers to economic stability and improve the lives of our citizens, as well as the communities in which they live. For example, a person seeking employment may need to obtain a more advanced skillset, find a reliable mode of transportation or secure childcare to make it possible for them to work. If a person doesn’t have those resources, then they become barriers to their success. Our agencies strive to remove those barriers. It’s the “hand-up,” not a “hand-out” approach.

What is CAK’s role with the Community Action Agencies?
CAK serves as a statewide voice for our local Community Action Agencies and the people they serve. Our role is to help each agency build capacity to carry out their mission. We do this by helping them evaluate community needs, training their staff and board members, and through the implementation of enterprise-wide technology to create efficiencies and improve our internal processes, such as our new software system CASTiNET.

How important is technology to your Mission?
There’s a saying, “No Money, No Mission.” Community Action Agencies have many funding streams, including private donations, foundations, utilities and other nonprofits. Additionally, many of the programs operated by Community Action are funded through state and federal grants and carry stringent requirements. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the Department of Energy and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services require a great deal of reporting data.

Our funders need specific information about who we served and how effectively we used their dollars. We need to be able to accurately and efficiently collect demographics, assess needs, determine eligibility and process a financial transaction. Then, we have to analyze and report the data back to the funder. It’s critical for us that our software systems are up to the job.

Data collection and reporting requirements vary quite a bit from one funder to another and change frequently. Our software has to be flexible and adapt constantly. If it doesn’t, it will hurt our ability to carry out our mission.

What drove CAK’s digital transformation?
The first and most important factor was our users. They wanted more flexibility – no actually they demanded it! They told us they needed to be able to help more clients with a wider range of programs and services. They needed to capture more data, more demographics and be able to quickly analyze the information to stay ahead of rapidly changing needs.

Secondly, it was the need to demonstrate a return on investment to our funders. We recognized that to meet their expectations we needed to increase our analytics and reporting capabilities.

Security was also a key factor. We wanted to enhance our authorization and authentication systems, implement features like multi-factor authentication, and stay up-to-date with modern security practices.

Internally, we came to realize that we didn’t want to be in the business of maintaining racks of servers. We knew that if we were going to innovate and help people, we needed to stop fiddling with network cards and RAID arrays, and instead focus our attention on business processes and our users.

What was your approach?
We needed a major overhaul. We needed to modernize our code, our architecture, server infrastructure and introduce innovative, flexible methods and practices. We knew it was going to be a big job and we knew we didn’t have the capacity to handle all of it, so we went looking for help.

Obviously, we wanted to find a team that could handle the size of the project, but also one that had a remarkable range of expertise to handle a project of this magnitude and scope.

Why did you choose DMI?
DMI had an answer for every requirement and need we had. They not only had the capacity in terms of being able to handle the size of the project, they had the expertise we needed. They had UI/UX people, database people, system architects and programmers. They practice AGILE/SCRUM methodologies, have a stringent code review and sign-off process, and introduced us to DEVOPS.

They took an interest in what we were trying to accomplish and how we wanted to drive our mission. DMI didn’t just provide us with “programming” or “consulting”, they became an extension of our organization.

What was the outcome?
Because of DMI, we now have a modern, cloud-based software system that is flexible and secure. We can adapt to changing needs in our communities and meet the ever-increasing demands of our federal and state funders.

In less than 12 months, DMI migrated our business processes to the cloud, built a web browser-based interface and deployed it to over 600 users in 116 counties. Using our new software system, Community Action Agencies were able to provide assistance to over 75,000 families, directly impacting 180,000 people. On top of that, they distributed over $10 million in assistance in the last three months of 2018 alone.

DMI’s solution freed us from our old hardware constraints. We see a lot of fluctuations in demand for services. For example, when the weather gets cold, people come to us for heating assistance. In the past, we worried if our servers would be able to handle the demand. Now we just have DMI’s engineers increase our system resources to address the demand. Just as importantly, when the need subsides and we need fewer resources, they turn it back down, saving us a lot of money.

What’s really impressive is that the transformation is ongoing. DMI’s implementation of AGILE/SCRUM means CAK is continually modernizing. We receive new code releases every two weeks, which means our users keep getting new features they have requested. That makes our stakeholders happy.

What’s next?
The transformation is already proving its worth. We can approach funders and partners with new, innovative ideas. We are using our software to help provide data that we hope will reduce Medicaid costs and are working with new partners to help facilitate health care access for those in need. The flexibility we have now has opened a lot of doors for us and we’re excited about the future.