Modernizing Ontario's Social Assistance System
Replacing outdated technology
In November 2014, the Social Assistance Management System (SAMS) was put in place to deliver Ontario Works, the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and Assistance for Children with Severe Disabilities. The new system replaced the aging and inadequate Service Delivery Model Technology (SDMT).
SDMT had been in place since 2001-02. Over time, it became clear that SDMT was unable to support the future needs of modern social assistance programs. In his 2009 report, the auditor general concluded that the technology was outdated and created difficulties in implementing policy changes such as increases to benefit rates. The auditor general also noted that the system was inflexible, had serious integrity issues and did not have the ability to manage the rules that are part of Ontario's social assistance programs. Repairs and changes to SDMT became difficult to implement as most service providers no longer supported the old technology. The system was at risk of failure.
Enhancing delivery and client service
SAMS is built on a flexible platform, which can be updated to keep pace with technology development over time. SAMS' improved technology is providing:
- Information caseworkers want, and in the way they want it, with customizable homepages and case-at-a-glance screens
- Flexibility to respond to changing client needs, allowing the caseworker to quickly review, assess and determine a client's eligibility
- Improved client service by automating tasks that previously had to be done manually, such as issuing a real-time cheque on the spot.
When fully implemented, SAMS will modernize the way the province administers social assistance. For example:
- SAMS is able to administer rate changes in social assistance in a dramatically shorter period of time than SDMT -- reducing the time to implement a change after testing from three months to three days and enabling staff to focus on other core activities
- SAMS will provide an online option for social assistance clients to access their case information, receive correspondence and report changes in their life circumstances. SDMT could not provide clients with any online options
- SAMS stores electronic copies of correspondence sent to clients, eliminating the need to store and retrieve paper
- SAMS will enable policy and program changes to be implemented more quickly and easily than SDMT. For example, SAMS will make it possible for the province to introduce reloadable payment cards that will replace paper cheques for those who still receive payment by that method.
PwC's SAMS transition review and progress assessment
To assist the province in successfully transitioning to SAMS, PwC was commissioned to provide an independent review and additional advice on how best to address challenges that rose from implementation. PwC released its review on April 30, 2015 and made 19 recommendations. To date, all 19 recommendations are either complete, underway or scheduled for later stage delivery.
The province's response to the independent review includes:
- Developing the SAMS Integrated Transition Plan to respond to all 19 PwC recommendations. The plan includes five priority work streams with clearly defined timelines, deliverables and measures to ensure the province is making progress and improving social assistance delivery for staff, delivery partners and recipients
- Developing a new governance structure within the Ministry of Community and Social Services clarifying how the transition to full operations of SAMS will occur and releasing a plan that clarifies staff responsibilities
- Appointing a program manager to lead the execution of the plan and to continue addressing concerns raised by ministry partners
- Providing improved training for front-line staff on high-priority topics informed by feedback from both staff and delivery partners
- Continuing to actively engage front-line staff and delivery partners in implementing the recommendations, relying on their input to verify that needs and priorities are being met
- Implementing improvements such as a new framework for creating and editing letters and forms, as well as the new "case-at-a-glance" summary view tool that helps staff gather key information quickly.
As commissioned by the province, PwC followed up on the province's progress since its initial review. PwC has interviewed ministry staff, representatives from Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program offices as well as the Ontario Municipal Social Services Association. PwC has found that the ministry's integrated plan reflects the 19 recommendations from the PwC review, that the province is making positive progress with business recovery and that stakeholders have seen a marked improvement in communications and are feeling more engaged in the process and part of the decision-making.
Working with our partners
The Ministry of Community and Social Services engaged and involved front-line staff and service delivery and union partner representatives in all major activities and decisions since SAMS implementation began in November 2014.
The minister, deputy minister and senior ministry staff made more than 40 visits to local service delivery offices to gain on-the-ground understanding of the challenges involved with SAMS implementation, and to work together to identify solutions.
This partnership also involves active participation in a number of working groups including:
- The Director-Administrator Reference Group: focuses on Ontario Works SAMS transition planning
- Technical Working Group: comprises municipal representatives, Ontario Works delivery agents and ODSP front-line and corporate staff. The group prioritizes and suggests technical improvements to SAMS functionality.
- Front-line Staff Working Group: provides advice and expertise from on-the-ground front-line staff to support implementation improvements. This includes OPSEU, CUPE and front-line staff representatives.
- Ontario Municipal Social Services Association Business Recovery Working Group: works with the ministry to identify key operational performance indicators and metrics as well as short- and long-term learning and training supports
- SAMS Transition Ontario Works Executive Committee: comprises Social Service Commissioners, Ontario Works General Managers, Ontario Works Executives and Senior ministry staff, provides strategic advice on transition planning and business recovery.
Value for money
SAMS will provide much greater value for money than the previous system, SDMT.
The total development and implementation costs of SAMS after completion of the transition plan are approximately $294 million, which is $451 million less than the development and implementation costs of its predecessor SDMT, in 2015 dollars.
The total cost includes an additional $15.7 million more than was reported in January for transition costs such as IT staffing and support, as well as temporary front-line staffing support.
Also included in the total cost is an additional $5 million that was provided to support service delivery partners in March. The province continues to work with its municipal service delivery partners to assess and meet their needs.
Tracking progress to fully stabilized operations
The transition plan commits to full implementation of the recommendations identified by PwC by the spring of 2016.
The province is committed to working with its service delivery partners to develop indicators to measure progress with respect to SAMS operations, to fully stabilize SAMS and to ensure that front-line staff are supported in delivering vital services to clients.