Like many state and local governments, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) needed to scale operations rapidly but was hampered by legacy technology. By starting their modernization journey, they were better able to support their constituents through hard times.

The State of Wisconsin had a surge of unemployment claims starting in the first half of 2020. By October 2020, more than 78,000 people were caught in a months-long backlog. (1) The state’s first step was to hire more people to process claims, but their bigger issue was a 50-year-old COBOL mainframe that served as the backbone for processing. Citizens requesting unemployment benefits had to mail or fax paperwork, and many couldn’t reach the DWD call center, which had to shut down at 6pm each night so the mainframe could begin processing claims. (2) The process was also error-prone, leading to millions of dollars in overpaid benefits while hundreds of thousands of claims piled up. (3)

To address these compounding issues, the state started modernization efforts in 2021, updating the online claims portal to accept document uploads to speed up the application process. The application itself was also a problem. Google Cloud AI tools were used to identify which questions caused the most problems for applicants. The form was then updated to simplify language and help applicants supply the correct information from the start. AI was also employed to help identify fraudulent claims, which were further slowing things down. Two months after implementing modern tech solutions, DWD announced the backlog was cleared, and the standard 21-day SLA for claims processing was back in place.

The next phase of modernization will involve finally replacing the 50-year-old mainframe. Updating it will not only make claims processing more efficient, but it will also make training DWD staffers easier with a newer and more intuitive UI. Future plans also include adding chatbots and virtual agents to better assist citizens at all hours. (4)

State and local governments across the country have faced similar issues, as legacy systems prevent them from offering efficient digital services. And while the pandemic made the acceleration of digital transformation a necessity, 80% of government officials surveyed by Deloitte still believe digital efforts haven’t gone far enough. (5)

Agencies looking to modernize legacy systems to improve their citizen experience can benefit from professional expertise. Taos, an IBM Company, can help improve your data availability, flexibility, and cybersecurity with Advisory Services, Professional Services, Managed IT, and Security Services.

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1 – ‘It’s been truly horrible’: Wisconsinites still caught in unemployment backlog wonder when they’ll receive payments, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 2020

2Google’s AI helped Wisconsin clear unemployment backlog, StateScoop, August 2021

3Modernization Efforts Are Moving Forward For Wisconsin’s Outdated Unemployment System, Wisconsin Public Radio, September 2021

4Modernization Efforts Are Moving Forward For Wisconsin’s Outdated Unemployment System, Wisconsin Public Radio, September 2021

5Seven pivots for government’s digital transformation, Deloitte Insights, May 2021