Dept. of Workforce Development: Issues RFP for unemployment system modernization

MADISON – The Department of Workforce Development (DWD) today announced that it is seeking bids through the Request for Proposal (RFP) process for its transformational full unemployment insurance (UI) system modernization project. The RFP posted Tuesday, and bids must be received by DWD no later than 5:00 p.m., Central Standard Time, on July 16, 2021.

“We are excited to continue the overhaul of Wisconsin’s 50-year-old UI system, a system that has been neglected for decades and has caused extreme pain points for individuals who lose work through no fault of their own and are forced to rely on UI benefits,” DWD Secretary-designee Amy Pechacek said.

DWD’s RFP reveals the agency’s vision for modernizing its system through an agile approach, which involves a series of smaller, tightly scoped component upgrades that can be released for use as they are completed, with the priority on addressing the most immediate needs first.

DWD developed the RFP in consultation with U.S. Digital Response (USDR), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization focused on helping governments respond quickly and efficiently to support critical public needs, and 18F, part of the Technology Transformation Services (TTS), within the federal government’s General Services Administration that collaborates with other agencies to design, develop, and buy digital services to improve how government serves the public through technology. Prior to releasing the RFP, DWD sought feedback from potential vendors to ensure the bidding process would be a success.

“Our partnership with U.S. Digital Response and 18F has benefitted DWD greatly and we are confident that this first RFP will bring many thorough and effective proposals so we can get to work on solving Wisconsin’s decades old issues surrounding the dated UI system infrastructure,” Pechacek said.

Governor Evers’ Special Session Senate Bill 1 (SS SB 1), now 2021 Act 4, required DWD to undertake the modernization project by June 30. The complete RFP can be accessed here. Because the Legislature removed any state funding for the project, Gov. Evers has committed funding available through President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act.

“One of the most glaring lessons learned from the Great Recession was the need to modernize the UI system, yet Wisconsin still faced one of the most antiquated and inflexible systems in the country when the pandemic hit,” Pechacek said. “I am grateful for Governor Evers’ commitment to this project so that our system may serve the people who depend on it, regardless of the economic conditions facing the state.”

As DWD explained during its January 27 informational briefing that walked through the complicated and antiquated system, its UI Division currently uses multiple systems that are largely written in COBOL and hosted on a mainframe to support the programs used by claimants and employers. DWD shared that addressing one simple eligibility issue can slow down an unemployment claim and require the UI Division to take multiple steps to resolve the issue over the course of several days. The use of multiple systems also requires specialized and advanced knowledge to use the respective systems and leads to a steep learning curve when adding staffing resources.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, too many people have had to wait longer than necessary to receive their UI benefits because of a technical glitch or because they incorrectly answered a question that triggered an investigation into their eligibility,” Pechacek said. “DWD is dedicated to updating all aspects of our programs to benefit all of our customers, as well as improve our operations.”

The RFP follows last week’s announcement that DWD entered into a partnership with NICE CXone, a cloud-based Customer Call Center Solution, which will allow claimants to efficiently file claims by phone and receive an appropriate and timely response to inquiries, whether generated by staff or the system. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, DWD’s existing call center impaired individuals’ ability to file claims and to have their claims processed and benefits paid in a timely manner. The solution, slated to launch this fall, also offers DWD an omnichannel customer contact management solution that efficiently tracks and manages all customer contacts across UI and various other employment and training programs.

Earlier this spring, DWD unveiled an upgraded claims portal to improve the functionality for UI claimants and offer new features, including secure document upload, a message center for direct communication from claims specialists and adjudicators, text notifications, and a mobile friendly design. DWD also continues to implement its plain language project to make Wisconsin’s often-complex unemployment insurance application easier to understand and navigate.