April 27, 2010 By Karen Wilkinson
Shared information is imperative to any successful organization, especially one charged with making decisions based on data related to at-risk children and families.
Florida recently built upon this adage by launching its Children and Youth Cabinet Information Sharing System (CYCISS) -- an initiative involving eight state agencies that will bridge communication gaps and decrease time delays in delivering social services to some of the state's most vulnerable residents.
"In government, we do so many great things, but to some extent we do them in our own silos and in a reactive way -- so what if we could get ahead of it?" said Florida Department of Children and Families CIO Ramin Kouzehkanani. "To share intelligence and data is a cultural change for the state -- it's a new way of thinking -- and the technology will be the enabler to that new way of thinking."
Piggybacking on the success of Florida's Office of State Courts Administrator (OSCA), Judicial Inquiry System (JIS) -- another multiagency data sharing system that's been operating the past seven years through a partnership with Metatomix, a provider of enterprise resource solutions -- the CYCISS is modeled after the same technology platform that shares information between involved agencies, Kouzehkanani said.
Using a browser-based system written in Java, connections to agencies' data sources will be nonintrusive, said Florida Supreme Court Information Systems Services Manager Christina Blakeslee. Connections will be made via Web service, XML schema or JBX Connector, depending on the agency's requested mode.
"The CYCISS has a data exchange component which allows agencies to automate data and document transfers between systems, and eliminate re-keying efforts and errors," a press release said. "Users will also have access to real-time information as soon as it is posted or uploaded."
It's a role-based, query system that allows agencies to maintain control and security over their data, as opposed to keeping it stored in a data warehouse. And depending on the person's clearance level, data from multiple other sources like the Department of Juvenile Justice, Florida Department of Corrections, and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, can be accessed through the JIS information portal, Chief Child Advocate Jim Kallinger said in an e-mail.
"Looking at various databases and extracting data isn't quite so innovative by itself, but the cultural change is of most importance," Kouzehkanani said. "We're graduating from data to intelligence."
The most obvious benefit to this information sharing system is the ability to see what programs are available for children, or how far back that particular child or family's history with the law enforcement agencies goes, according to Lori Schultz, strategic planning IT director for the Florida Department of Children and Families.
For example, a child protective investigator might want to check if the child is receiving Medicaid, and if so, what other programs might be applicable. The child's history can help when making placement decisions.
"The CYCISS will break down longstanding barriers to sharing information," Kallinger said in a press release. "It will provide as much real-time, up-to-date data and data exchange capability on a child or family as possible in a single view."
Such longstanding barriers include misunderstandings of two federal laws -- the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) -- that "foster artificial barriers to the sharing of information, especially with and between schools and between treating personnel," Kallinger wrote in an e-mail.
Other barriers of Florida's old system include numerous pieces of paper that require duplicate information entries, creating a burden for all involved and possibly resulting in inaccurate or