The DHS Data Warehouse
Work to build the basic structure of the DHS Data Warehouse began in 1999. Enhancements have been added since. As of November 2012, the Data Warehouse contains more than 15 million client records, receives data from 24 human service program areas, works in conjunction with the US Census bureau and is capable of reporting data in “real time”—meaning, if required, the system can be refreshed in short intervals. The Data Warehouse has evolved to be a central repository of social services data, which allows DHS to track and report client demographic and service data across its program offices and beyond. Since the Data Warehouse enables data-driven decision making among DHS staff, it also makes possible better outcomes for the individuals served by the Department.
How it started
Prior to 1996, Allegheny County delivered human services to its citizens through independent county departments. There was no coordination of services and no tracking of who was receiving services from multiple departments. In 1996, a special blue ribbon panel recommended that the individual human service departments be integrated into a single department. The Allegheny County Commissioners responded by creating the Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS).
It was recognized early on that integration would pose very significant challenges for the new department’s Information Technology systems, since the formerly independent departments stored information on clients, providers, and services in more than 80 disparate databases and systems.
A synthesis project conducted by Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) recommended that DHS develop two separate information systems, one to accommodate the programmatic data of the department and the other to track the fiscal or financial processes of DHS. A Chamber of Commerce Information Systems Task Force recommendation was to focus on creating a Data Warehouse (DW) application to allow shared client information throughout the Department.
In 1999, with the backing of local foundations, DHS decided to develop a computing architecture to support the business process of an integrated DHS that would include a common-client-identifier operating application and the DW, to integrate information from the separate program offices. By April 2001, the DW was up and running. As time progressed, additional data feeds were incorporated into the DW.
Growth of the DW and Use as a Community Resource
It didn’t take long for DHS to recognize that the data stored in the DW would be valuable as a resource tool for research, strategic planning, needs assessment and program evaluation not only to DHS but to the broader community as well.
In 2006, DHS was invited to present Data Warehousing, Flow Models and Public Policy at the 28th Annual Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM) Research Conference. The paper reviews the context of data-driven decision-making at DHS; provides a brief overview of data warehouse technology; reviews the DHS Data Warehouse data holdings and unique public sector data issues; provides several data warehouse applications to policy and management decision-making; and concludes with fu¬ture work.
In June 2007, based on the work creating the Data Warehouse, the DHS was recognized by the Computerworld Honors Program for demonstrating extraordinary use of information technology in the category of Government and Non-profit Organizations.
The Data Warehouse has evolved to be a central repository of social services data, which allows DHS to track and report client demographic and service data across its program offices and beyond. Since the Data Warehouse enables data-driven decision-making among DHS staff, it also makes possible better outcomes for the individuals served by the Department. DHS continues to enhance the functionality of the DW for the benefit of staff and those who provide and utilize DHS services.
In 2012, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) examined four innovative data-sharing practices to determine (1) how selected states or localities have shared data across programs to improve the administration of human services, (2) challenges state and local human services agencies face in balancing privacy protections with greater data-sharing, and (3) actions that the federal government could take to help address these challenges. Factors identified as critical to the success of data-sharing agreements include strong leadership and support by both internal and external stakeholders, the organizational structure of the agency, financial support or seed funding, and a legal review or analysis. The GAO published Human Services: Sustained and Coordinated Efforts Could Facilitate Data-Sharing While Protecting Privacy in February 2013 to announce its findings.
The Allegheny County Department of Human Services Data Warehouse, which is one of the four examples included in this report, is highlighted (pp. 10-23 and Appendix 1, pp. 39-40) as an example of best practices in addressing the challenges inherent in sharing data to improve communication, practice and quality.