A Mobile Boost for Human Services

Smartphones and laptops not only can boost caseworkers' efficiency but also can enable them to spend more time where they are most needed: in the field.

Many human-services case workers must juggle as many as 40 to 80 cases each month. Since they spend most of their workday outside of the office making home or court visits, they struggle to keep track of a multitude of intake forms, stacks of handwritten field notes from observations and interviews, and potential clients' birth certificates and driver's licenses--all containing bits of data that they must manually enter into their agencies' systems.

This task not only reduces their productivity but also lowers the speed and accuracy of their reporting. There is one tool, however, that can make the average caseworker's day far more effective and efficient: mobile technology. Armed with laptops or tablets, camera-enabled smartphones, GPS navigation and wireless access to resource files, caseworkers can remain productive in the field, operating as truly mobile workers.

In Florida, smartphones and laptops with built-in cameras have been distributed to more than 2,300 foster-care caseworkers. These devices allow caseworkers to remotely capture time- and location-stamped images that immediately upload to the state's online database. Caseworkers also can input notes and observations directly, reducing the time spent on paperwork and helping them better manage their workloads. The adoption of mobile case-management tools in Miami-Dade County has produced a 30 percent increase in home visits
along with more-timely reporting and compliance with state requirements.

In our new Deloitte Research study, Gov on the Go: Boosting Public Sector Productivity by Going Mobile, my colleague Joshua Jaffe and I estimate that efficient mobile tools can improve caseworker productivity by as much as 45 percent, enabling more time to be devoted directly to casework, increasing job satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. And more than worker productivity is at stake: In the kind of high-risk situation that human-services workers frequently find themselves, a worker can discreetly activate a panic button that provides the worker's exact location.

Mobile technology also can also help caseworkers increase their effectiveness. Nearly 2,000 Swedish home-care workers, for example, use smartphones to document the status of more than 30,000 elderly patients in Stockholm. With the instantaneous digitization of case information, the city's government can more easily offer services to its elderly citizens, improving service delivery as well as efficiency.

To realize the myriad benefits of mobile tech, human-services departments will have to "change the work." Mobility can reach its maximum potential when public agencies use it to redesign their business processes and eliminate steps altogether. Casework offers one of the most powerful opportunities to do so.

Executive director of Deloitte's Center for Government Insights