Joining up departmental information is a key objective for government offering the prospect of cost savings and more informed decisions through data sharing.
In early 2003, seven Welsh local authorities and the Welsh Assembly created the Welsh Systems Consortium (WSC) a project team with the aim of developing a fully electronic health and social care information system.
By sharing information, the WSC hoped to improve the way social care professionals work, reduce paperwork, avoid duplication and conflicting records, and speed up administration.
What were the business objectives of the project?
'Our main objective was to create a fully integrated health and social care information system to improve the delivery of social services,' says Allan Jones, assistant director of social services at Ceredigion County Council and chairman of the WSC project board.
'We wanted to design a system to help authorities and agencies share electronic social care records to improve the way in which social care professionals work, reduce paperwork, avoid duplicate and conflicting records and speed up administration.'
The system also aimed to meet forthcoming legislative changes and recommendations, such as the unified assessment process in adult services and the integrated children's system.
Security was also a key objective, so that individuals involved in all aspects of welfare and care work - including social workers, GPs, mental health workers, community care workers and the police - could access information relevant to them, while other data remained protected.
By tendering as a consortium the local authorities also hoped to achieve savings in technology, design and maintenance costs.
What were the key milestones in the implementation?
At the end of 2002, the seven Welsh authorities and the Welsh Assembly met with management consultancy KPMG to audit and define requirements for the system.
The formal procurement process started in January 2003 to find a software development partner, with CareWorks selected as the winning bidder.
'The first phase, critical to the early success of the project, was to ensure migration from existing legacy systems to the CareWorks system,' says Jones.
'We had to do this in challenging timeframes as support contracts for current systems were running out in many of the authorities.'
Ceredigion County Council was the first authority to go live in May 2004, with Torfaen, Bridgend and Blaenau Gwent councils migrating soon after.
Ynys Mon, Gwynedd and Powys all plan to switch to the system by the end of the year.
In parallel, a number of workshops were run to help develop enhanced functionality in areas such as assessments, finance, workflow and home care.
What technology was used?
The WSC worked with CareWorks to build the system using Microsoft .Net technology.
This allowed applications to be accessed through an intranet or over the internet.
The web services technology was also designed so the system can link with existing applications in a variety of agencies.
'Our server operating environment is Microsoft Server 2003, which is deployed across an multi-tier environment,' says Jones.
Database applications use Microsoft SQL Server.
How did you manage the business change and people issues involved?
'Users with expertise in specialist areas played an important role in specifying system requirements and were given the opportunity to preview the functionality before going live,' says Jones.
The WSC also ran training programmes to show staff how traditional business processes could be enhanced using electronic records management system.
What results were achieved?
'Tendering as a consortium has delivered economies of scale that would not have been possible if each individual authority had separately chosen its own system,' says Jones.
As a result, local authorities have been able to reduce set-up costs by more than 30 per cent and £30,000 in ongoing costs.
'The new system is designed to improve the way in which social care professionals and their managers work, enabling better sharing of information,' says Jones.
'In doing so the system is expected to reduce paperwork and unnecessary duplication of information held.'
Once the system has been rolled out across all councils, the WSC hopes standardisation can bring closer working arrangements between authorities and related agencies.
'The project is regarded as a flagship egovernment project for Wales and a major UK project in terms of social care,' says Jones.
What were the lessons learned?
'Continued commitment from senior managers in each authority and the Welsh Assembly government has been instrumental in ensuring the project was effective and focus was maintained,' he says.
Regular meetings between the seven local authorities, Welsh Assembly and CareWorks also ensured the project stayed on track.
'At times it has been difficult but on the whole it has been very effective group working,' says Jones.
'It's the first time that there has been this extent of joint working across Wales and something that can be replicated in the future.'
What were the business benefits and return on investment?
'By working together, the authorities and CareWorks are developing an electronic social care system to meet our needs and have managed to reduce implementation costs significantly,' says Jones.
WSC also hopes local authorities and government agencies will save additional time and money by reducing duplicate information and improving data quality.
How do you plan to build on the project further?
A Eur4.5m contract is in place to manage future updates, with the WSC hoping to take the system to other local authorities in Wales.
'The system is initially available in English only but the partnership plans to provide a Welsh language version in the near future,' says Jones.
The enhanced system has recently been re-badged with a Welsh name, DRAIG, which translates to Protecting, Managing and Integrating Care (Diogeli, Rheoli ac Integreiddio Gofal).
The Welsh Systems Consortium is taking a proactive approach to bringing joined-up services to the region and, in addition, local authorities have made considerable saving by collectively putting the project out for tender.
Once all the authorities go live with the social care system, the WSC should also be able to make more informed decisions when delivering social welfare and also provide groups, such as the police, with added information services.
Project at a glance
*The Welsh Systems Consortium is a partnership between seven Welsh local authorities, the Welsh Assembly and software supplier CareWorks
*It plans to deliver a fully integrated health and social care information system to improve decision making in social services, by allowing authorities and agencies to share electronic care records, reducing paperwork, duplication and conflicting data
*Security features mean certain electronic records can also be access by other agencies involved in welfare, including social workers, GPs, mental health workers, community care and the police
*Local authorities have been able to reduce set-up costs by more than 30 per cent and £30,000 in ongoing costs
*A Eur4.5m contract is in place to manage future updates, with the WSC hoping to take the system to other local authorities and release a Welsh language version