This piece was originally published in the August 2019 issue of Policy & Practice magazine.

Oklahoma benefits: Unique vision, unique transformation

Imagine a family building a new house. Everyone agrees where they want to live, but they don’t agree on many of the specifics inside the new structure. Each person decides to build a home-within-the-home to suit his or her individual needs and preferences. The result is a house with multiple kitchens, multiple mechanical systems, an excessive number of bathrooms and highly disjointed décor.

It sounds absurd, but that approach is akin to how most Departments of Human Services have operated for decades. Each division in the “family” lives in its own space, with its own people, systems and processes. What often results is unnecessary complexity, costly operations and confusion for the individuals and families these agencies exist to serve.

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) is a pioneer in moving to a single “home” for programs and services. The Department has articulated a unifying vision—and undertaken a unique transformation—to ensure that all parts of the organization are working in harmony and efficiency. Known as Oklahoma Benefits, the vision and roadmap take full advantage of modularity—not purely as an approach for developing systems but as a way of thinking and acting. The goal is to enable programs and people to transform human service outcomes by redefining the DHS experience for customers, communities and staff through comprehensive self-service and holistic case management. Oklahoma Benefits is leveraging technology to increase impact, ensuring that more Oklahomans are safe, healthy, independent and productive.

It’s a large-scale transformation that’s being implemented as a series of smaller initiatives—and it’s demonstrating how modularity can be used to fuel partnership and collaboration, support customer-focused innovation and, ultimately, deliver services more quickly.

A bold vision

Oklahoma DHS is not just unifying or simplifying backend systems. The strategy is focused on transforming virtually every aspect of how DHS delivers benefits and services. When fully implemented, DHS will be able to obtain a 360-degree view of every client to facilitate family-focused, outcome-driven decision making.

Oklahoma Benefits will demonstrate that DHS values people over transactions—with access to the right services at the right time via multiple platforms. In fact, unless they want to, citizens will longer need to set foot in a brick-and-mortar building. Meanwhile, DHS employees will be empowered with a more complete view of the children and families they are serving—and will feel more inspired by the outcomes they help deliver.

Oklahoma Benefits represents the culmination of many years of strategic commitment to enterprise architecture. It has taken time for federal, state and agency stakeholders, as well as available technologies, to catch up with DHS’s vision. Today that vision is taking shape for three of the 22 divisions within DHS—Adult and Family Services (AFS), Child Support Services and Child Welfare Services—with a detailed roadmap for the transformation. That roadmap reflects a fundamental principle: that modularity can—and should—extend beyond system development.

A unifying vision and unique transformation are helping ensure all parts of the organization are working in harmony and efficiency.

The modular mindset

Starting with Medicaid Enterprise Systems, the concept of modularity continues to gain traction within government. As a development approach, modularity provides a faster, more flexible way to create large, complex systems through a collection of parts that are self-contained yet interoperable. These modules make it possible to test, enhance or replace each part without disrupting the entire system. Modules also obviate the need for a massive multi-year program to modernize old systems or build new ones.

Oklahoma DHS recognized the value of modularity when developing systems, but the state also saw the need to extend modularity when transforming business functions and procurement processes. Indeed, modularity is taking shape as an entirely new mindset for managing Human Services programs and delivering support to individuals and families. The modularity mindset is reflected in the five “swim lanes” of the Oklahoma Benefits roadmap: Employee Involvement, Customer & Community Involvement, Organizational Change, Refined Data/Metrics and Improved Technology.

Review the full article for a glimpse of progress to date, along with advice to other Departments of Human Services seeking to get their own “houses” in order.

Anil Sharma

Managing Director – Accenture, Oklahoma City


Sarjoo Shah

CIO, Chief Strategist – Health and Human Services, State of Oklahoma

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