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District Pilot Programs

New York City Administration for Children’s Services (NYC/ACS)


Pilot Project Description

The NYC Administration of Children Services (ACS) initiative to test mobile technologies in child protective services was initiated in response to Mayor Bloomberg's "Safeguarding our Children 2006 Action Plan" which included "deploy handheld computers or tablet PCs to field office workers." In response to this, ACS's Division of Child Protection (DCP) worked in conjunction with ACS Management Information Services (MIS) to implement, test, and evaluate portable wireless technologies for child protection service (CPS) caseworkers. The overall goal of the initiative was to provide remote access to CONNECTIONS and other ACS applications in order to determine if it allowed caseworkers to more effectively accomplish their work activities.

In total, twelve caseworkers (two from each of the five boroughs and two from the Office of Confidential Investigation) participated in the district’s initiative. Laptops or Blackberries were assigned to each of the 12 caseworkers for two-week periods. The entire pilot lasted 12 weeks (six two-week cycles) starting in May 2006 and ending on August 9, 2006.

NYC/ACS selected devices based on weight, size, battery life, and functionality, taking into account access limitations to CONNECTIONS. Four of the six technologies had wireless access to CONNECTIONS through a virtual private network that was channeled through the NYC/ACS system. One device (Blackberry) had access to email only and one device (tablet PC) did not have access to email or the CONNECTIONS database. The following were the technologies tested in the pilot:

Technologies with wireless access to CONNECTIONS:
  • Lenovo/IBM X-40 ultra-light notebook
  • Lenovo/IBM X-41 ultra-light tablet
  • Panasonic Toughbook W4 ultra-light notebook
  • Sony PCG-4F1L ultra-light widescreen notebook
Technologies without access to CONNECTIONS:
  • Blackberry
  • Fujitsu P1510 ultra-light widescreen Tablet PC. (This device lacks WWAN capability and was unable to access CONNECTIONS in the field. It was used as a demonstration device for its touch capable screen and unique small form-factor design).
To assess the impact of the pilot, NYC/ACS created and administered bi-weekly surveys and held bi- weekly meetings to gather input from all 12 field testers from May 2006 to August 2006. CTG created and administered a post-pilot survey and facilitated an information gathering session with eight of the 12 testers on August 9, 2006. Finally, several NYC/ACS caseworkers and program and IT staff attended the Final Assessment Workshop in Albany, New York on October 5, 2006.

The NYC/ACS pilot was nearing its end when CTG became a part of the initiative and much of the data was already collected. CTG did not take part in the pilot design, the selection of field testers, or the device rotation schedule.

Characteristics of the Technologies

A laptop that is directly connected to CONNECTIONS allows CPS caseworkers to perform almost all work activities as if they were sitting in their office. There is no need to change the way work is done, only where and when. What does matter, however, are the different sizes, weights, and characteristics of the devices that will affect choice and use. This section reports on how participants rated the characteristics of the technologies tested in the pilot, specifically size, weight, readability, durability, battery life, portability, and quality of wireless connection. All characteristics play a role in the overall perceived ratings although two characteristics emerged as leading indicators: wireless connectivity and the physical characteristics of the device.

Wireless Connection
A laptop or tablet’s usefulness is directly related to quality and reliability of wireless connectivity. With such a connection, a worker with a laptop can connect to CONNECTIONS and complete a broad range of work activities in more places and at flexible times. Without such a wireless connection or a synchronization process, the value of the laptop severely decreases.

Physical Characteristics of the Device
The size and weight of a laptop will determine if people use it. A large heavy device will not be used as much as a small and lightweight one. This is because of several factors, most importantly, the CPS worker’s comfort in the field and perception of safety.

Other important characteristics are readability of the screen, quality of the transmission, battery life, and the ease of logon. Readability of the screen can be affected by sunlight and the quality of the connection depends on location. CPS workers do not always have the ability to charge their computers or have access to outlets while in the field, therefore battery life is important. Finally, the multiple logons for authentication, to access the ACS server, then the central database, caused frustration and extended the time needed to boot-up and close down.

As shown in Table 2, the Panasonic rated highest for size and weight, with the Sony Vaio not far behind in both categories. The Lenovo X41 and the SONY Vaio rated significantly above average in readability and the Lenovo X41 rated best in quality of wireless connection. The Panasonic received the best battery life rating with the Sony Vaio somewhat lower. The Sony Vaio was significantly above average for portability and durability, and the Panasonic was rated as extremely durable. The Blackberry’s size received a low rating, with readability rated average and battery life rated below average.

Table 2 - Average Participants Ratings of Characteristics of the Mobile Technologies: ACS

Technical
Characteristics
 
Blackberry
(n)
 
Fujitsu
(n)
 
Lenovo
X40 (n)
 
Lenovo
X41 (n)
 
Panasonic
(n)
 
Sony Vaio
(n)
 
size
 
2.29 (7)
 
2.50 (6)
 
3.86 (7)
 
4.50 (6)
 
2.83 (6)
 
2.67 (6)
 
weight
 
4.86 (7)
 
4.20 (6)
 
3.43 (7)
 
3.17 (6)
 
5.17 (6)
 
4.83 (6)
 
readability
 
3.67 (6)
 
3.83 (6)
 
4.86 (7)
 
5.00 (6)
 
4.83 (6)
 
5.00 (5)
 
quality of wireless
connection
 
4.80 (5)
 
1.50 (6)
 
3.86 (7)
 
4.83 (6)
 
4.50 (6)
 
3.40 (5)
 
portability
 
---
 
---
 
3.86 (7)
 
3.50 (6)
 
4.67 (6)
 
5.00 (5)
 
battery life
 
3.20 (5)
 
3.80 (5)
 
4.00 (7)
 
4.17 (6)
 
4.83 (6)
 
4.60 (5)
 
durability
 
---
 
---
 
5.00 (7)
 
4.83 (6)
 
5.33 (6)
 
4.80 (5)
 

Notes: Size was rated on a 6 Point Scale (1 = “Too small” and 6 = “Too large”). Weight was rated on a 6 Point Scale (1 = “Too Heavy” and 6 = “Just right”). Readability, Quality of Wireless connection, Portability and Battery Life were rated on a 6 Point Scale (1 = “Poor” and 6 = “Excellent”).Durability was rated on a 6 Point Scale (1 = “Not at all Durable” and 6 = “Durable”).

Use in Work Activities

Types of Activities
The results in Table 3 show the most frequent work activities performed with each of the technologies. Almost two-thirds of the caseworkers used the technologies for progress notes and safety assessments (65 percent). In addition, over half (55 percent) of the caseworkers added to their to-do lists and conducted searches for people, addresses, and cases, and half of caseworkers did investigation conclusions. However, many of the caseworkers (52 percent) did not use any of the technologies for email. Of those who did, 38 percent used the laptop and 10 percent used the Blackberry (email was the only function available on the Blackberry). The Fujitsu was reported as not being used for any of the most frequent work activities.

Participants liked devices with access to CONNECTIONS because of the ability to do reporting work in the field. One participant said, “It was like having my office in my car. I got so much done in between home visits.” Another caseworker described being with a family that needed other services. With mobile access she was able to search for the needed resources and provide the family contact information for additional help. Without the laptop, this task would have taken a day or more to find and deliver that information.

Table 3 - Percentage of Workers Using Mobile Technologies for Specific Activities: ACS

 
Percentage of Caseworkers Who…
 
Work
Activities
 
Used Blackberry and Fujitsu
for work tasks
(No link to
CONNECTIONS)
 
Used the laptop for work tasks
(No link to
CONNECTIONS)
 
Did not use any mobile technology for work tasks
 
No.
 
progress notes
 
0%
 
65%
 
35%
 
40
 
safety
assessment
 
0%
 
65%
 
35%
 
40
 
to do list
 
0%
 
55%
 
45%
 
40
 
searches:
person, address, case, resource and staff
 
0%
 
53%
 
47%
 
40
 
investigation
conclusion
 
0%
 
50%
 
50%
 
40
 
email
 
10% (Blackberry)
 
38%
 
52%
 
40
 
risk assessment
profile
 
0%
 
45%
 
55%
 
40
 
event list
 
0%
 
33%
 
67%
 
40
 
review intake
information
 
0%
 
25%
 
75%
 
40
 
adding/relating
person
 
0%
 
20%
 
80%
 
40
 

Additional comments about how the devices were used:
  • “My supervisor called me and gave me a new case. When I went to the address, they were not there because they were using that address as the school address. With the laptop, I was able to do a search on previous history and found another address. So I went to the new address that night instead of waiting until Monday. It took me about 20 minutes to boot up, and do the search (which is not long!). Before, when I got a new case, I would have had to go back to the office to find out the information about the case (unless my supervisor gave me some over the phone). Now it’s much quicker and efficient.”
  • “One evening, I downloaded legal forms to my laptop, filled them out and then emailed them to my own email account. When I got to the office the next day, they were completed and sitting in my email. I printed them and was ready to go.”
  • “Now I don’t get lost everyday! I use Mapquest and Hopstop to get directions to clients’homes. It saves a lot of time each day.”

Work Location
Before the devices were deployed, caseworkers predicted the places they would like to use the devices. These included in the car, in court, on the train, at home, on the bus, in the park, at a school or community center, in a client’s home, on a ferry or subway, and in the office. After using the devices, three places emerged as the top locations for actual use: at home, in court, and in a car.

Many caseworkers reported new-found flexibility in working at more convenient places and times. Those who worked at home expressed appreciation for the flexibility of not having to stay at or return to the office. One said, “I did a visit on a Friday evening and without a laptop I would have had to go to the office that night to write up the notes or it would have had to wait until Monday morning. With the laptop, I wrote up my notes that night and it went directly into CONNECTIONS. It made me feel so much better knowing that they were in the system and I could do it from home.”

In order to make time more productive, many caseworkers used the laptop while waiting in court. Previously, caseworkers would use this time to make phone calls and write notes. But with a laptop they could complete CONNECTIONS work activities.

Some caseworkers brought the laptop with them into the field everyday and used it in the car and in court. Others used it only in court because of the big blocks of time available there. Some workers chose not to use the laptops because of environmental constraints within the locations. One worker who rode public transportation found that it was too crowded for laptop use and often did not have sufficient blocks of time to work. In addition, uninterrupted wireless access was difficult to achieve primarily due to the density of the city’s landscape. This may be true for most forms of public transportation.

Overall Impact on Work

Caseworkers reported that using the laptop allowed them to be more efficient but did not add to the overall quality of their work. More specifically, in reference to progress notes, caseworkers stated that the quality of the note is the same if they enter it into a laptop (at a remote location) or at their pc in the office. It’s the ability to work at various locations and times that makes the largest impact on their work.

As shown in Table 4, caseworkers strongly agree that the use of the laptops provided time savings and agree that it helped in overall efficiency. The Sony Vaio received the highest score in overall time savings and the Panasonic rated highest in overall efficiency, though the ratings are very similar. One caseworker talked about the time it saved in driving back and forth to the office to get new cases. Case histories are read while in the field, now taking 15 minutes rather than the hour to get to the office and back out again.

Table 4 - Average Participant Ratings of Devices for Efficiency and Overall Quality: ACS

Efficiency
Impacts
 
Blackberry
(n)
 
Fujitsu
(n)
 
Lenovo X40 (n)
 
Lenovo X41 (n)
 
Panasonic
(n)
 
Sony Vaio
(n)
 
time
savings
 
---
 
---
 
5.43 (7)
 
5.50 (6)
 
5.33 (6)
 
5.60 (5)
 
overall
quality of work
 
---
 
---
 
3.43 (7)
 
4.00 (6)
 
3.67 (6)
 
3.00 (5)
 
overall
efficiency
 
---
 
---
 
4.86 (7)
 
5.00 (6)
 
5.17 (6)
 
4.80 (5)
 

Notes: Time Savings was rated on a 6 Point Scale (1 = “It added time” and 6 = “It saved time”). Overall quality was rated on a 6 Point Scale (1 = “Not at all enhanced” and 6 = “Very enhanced”). Overall efficiency was rated on a 6 Point Scale (1 = “Much Less Efficient” and 6 = “Much More Efficient”).

One caseworker said he was able catch up on backlogged progress notes, but having the device will not necessarily mean that he will not get backlogged again. NYC/ACS relaxed overtime policies for the caseworkers during the same period as the pilot test and instructed them to do as much as they could. The caseworkers used the laptops to catch up on old cases, but caseloads did not decrease because new ones were assigned. Some said due to the nature of their work, cases will get backed up again. But all went on to say that using the laptop does allow flexibility and would recommend its use.

Some caseworkers did not use the laptop regularly on field visits. They used it when they knew that blocks of time would be available. One caseworker used it during her commute on the train because it was a large block of time that she could devote to work. While others took the laptop with them all day, almost all of them did not bring the device into the client’s home. This was avoided for many reasons including interfering with establishing a rapport with the family and personal safety. Some felt that opening the laptop and typing in front of the family may be inappropriate and took their attention away from the environment. Workers who traveled by car stated that using it after a visit expedited their ability to get notes written and entered into CONNECTIONS.

Those who regularly took the laptop with them reported collateral benefits. Having access to the central OCFS application allowed them to catch up on email, to research and document collateral contacts, read case histories, document progress notes, and essentially stay in touch with their supervisor. But not all impacts were positive. Some of the caseworkers felt that while they were able to complete a backlog of progress notes, working more at home disturbed their balance between work and home life. The availability of the laptop allowed, even encouraged them to work much longer hours than they might have done otherwise. Another caseworker reported a supervisor encouraging them to work in off-hours because of the mobile device. In both cases, the availability of the laptop resulted in an increase in pressure on the caseworker to work during off-hours.

The flexibility in work time and location also involves personnel policies. One caseworker said, “ If I stayed at the office from 6 pm – 9pm to get my case documentation completed, I would get overtime. If I go home, feed my kids, get them to bed, and then work on the documentation from 9 pm to midnight, I don’t get overtime. I know right now we can get it, because of the crisis mode. But what will happen in the long term? If the policies do not change, there is no incentive to use the laptop.”

Finally, some felt that carrying the laptop with them posed a physical security risk, making them a potential target for theft or violence. If the device could not be easily concealed, then they did not bring it with them all day. Caseworkers identified high risk areas such as some clients’ homes, subways, or parks.

Overall Opinions

None of the caseworkers approached using the laptop in the same way but all were satisfied in the end and would recommend its use in child protective services. As shown in Table 5, the overall satisfaction was highest with the Panasonic. Also, the Lenovo X41 and the Panasonic tied as the technology that would be most recommended to co-workers. The lowest recommendation and satisfaction rating was with the Lenovo X40, and it was still above average. Thus, all technologies (with mobile access) received above average to significantly above average ratings in satisfaction and recommendation.

These rating show that caseworkers would generally encourage the continued use of laptops in CPS work. However two factors shape those ratings:
  • Having mobile access or seamless data entry
  • A small and lightweight device with long battery life

Table 5 - Average Participant Overall Satisfaction & Recommendations for Laptops: ACS

Overall Evaluation
 
Lenovo X40 (n)
 
Lenovo X41 (n)
 
Panasonic
(n)
 
Sony Vaio
(n)
 
overall satisfaction
 
4.29 (7)
 
4.83 (6)
 
5.00 (6)
 
4.60 (5)
 
recommendation of mobile technology
 
4.57 (7)
 
5.33 (6)
 
5.33 (6)
 
5.20 (5)
 

Notes: Overall Satisfaction was rated on a 6 Point Scale (1 = “Not at all Satisfied” and 7 = “Very Satisfied”). Recommendation of Mobile Technology was rated on a 6 Point Scale (1 = “Not at all Recommend” and 7 = “Strongly Recommend”).

Deployment and Security

The initiative in NYC/ACS tested only twelve users of laptops who connected to CONNECTIONS through ACS’s network. A large scale deployment of laptops may require an alternative set up.

Connectivity. A large scale deployment of laptops will require connectivity solutions that fit agency and statewide policies. This may include alternatives such as a synchronization process for when continuous connectivity is not possible.

Authentication. The logon and authentication procedures established for the pilot interfered with efficient access to the central database. The time needed to logon and the possible loss of wireless connection can inhibit effective use of the laptops.

Infrastructure. Currently the hardware, software, and connectivity infrastructure is designed for desktops. A mobile workforce may require enhanced network infrastructure, servers, or other hardware and software devices.

Hardware security. Data that can remain on portable devices poses new security risks. Encryption of all remotely stored data is essential even though data will be directly stored in CONNECTIONS as well. Use of laptops in the home environment may increase the risk of unauthorized access, damage, or theft.

Data Security. Provision for secure and reliable backup for all remotely stored data is essential. This may require user restrictions or protocols that control storing any sensitive data on laptops or other portable devices.

Technical Support. Methods for supporting mobile technologies are quite different than those for in- office technologies. It is more difficult to oversee and manage deployed equipment for such tasks as maintaining current anti-virus and operating system versions, as well as asset tracking and utilization verification and/or validation. This problem is compounded when there are multiple types of mobile technologies in use in the field.

Workforce support. The equipment may be in use in the field 24/7, requiring expanded hours and types of help and technical support, procedures when technical support is not available, and possible decentralization of some technical support functions or resources.