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Develop Community Capability: Strategy 1 of the HUD SNAPS Initiative

If you’re just joining us, this is the second article of a four-part series going into the HUD SNAPS initiative strategies. We’re discussing what it looks like for communities to achieve an advanced level of implementation of said strategies.

Strategy 1: Develop the capability of communities to install, use, and benefit from HMIS

What does it look like for communities to install, use, and benefit from HMIS? And what does HUD expect? The following table offers a brief overview.

Collaborative Vendor Relations

Criteria for Advanced CoCs in 3–5 Years: Frequent monitoring of vendor (e.g., programming specs, reporting logic, terminology assumption and report generation functionality).

HMIS vendors need to be willing to collaborate with customers to ensure that the HMIS is functioning properly and that customers’ needs are being met.

HMIS providers should view themselves as a collaborative partner in their customers’ efforts to end homelessness in their communities. In order to maintain true product excellence, vendors should rely heavily on customer feedback to guide the development of their product and to shape their efforts to continuously improve the services they offer.

Here are a few of the ways that HMIS vendors can engage their customer base — and things that we believe you should consider when selecting an HMIS vendor:

  • Online Help Center: includes full documentation, how-to guides, videos, and other resources to help communities maximize the return on their investment.
  • Newsletters: provides updates on upcoming features, best practices, events, and other news
  • Help Desk: staffed with experienced CoC and HMIS experts ready to assist users via email, phone, or chat.
  • Surveys and Research: vendor uses surveys, usage statistics, and other analytics to better understand how users interact with their software and services.
  • Regular Check-Ins: team regularly reaches out to communities to gain proactive feedback on their needs and experiences with the HMIS.
  • Customer Conference: an opportunity for HMIS users to meet face-to-face with vendor staff and each other.
  • Industry Events: vendor should be engaged in the broader homeless data community, with staff regularly attending or presenting at national homelessness and HMIS events, including the National Human Services Data Consortium (NHSDC) and the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) conferences.
  • Online Product Forum: customers can submit their feedback on the HMIS, view and vote on their feedback from their peer communities, and view the product roadmap via an online product forum.

Informed End Users

Criteria for Advanced CoCs in 3–5 Years: Monitoring end users (before and after training) involve them in curriculum development to achieve high-quality, relevant training

No matter how good the HMIS, it’s of little value unless people can use it correctly. Therefore, HUD has determined that HMIS leads should develop proper training curriculums. HUD says these training plans should cover the specific needs of each level of user: beginner, intermediate, and advanced.

Advanced CoC’s training programs should go even further. Instructors will need to gather pre- and post-training data on the abilities of trainees and use this information to evaluate their courses and make improvements.

What are the qualities of an excellent HMIS training program? First, it prepares system administrators to train the end users in the initial training stage, and second, it offers ongoing training materials and support throughout the entire duration of the contract. Additionally, the vendor should consistently be evaluating institutional practices in order to identify opportunities for improvement.

 

A truly excellent HMIS vendor team will work tirelessly
to ensure the software functions intuitively and that customers
are well-prepared to use it.

 

Bitfocus, for example, has provided comprehensive training to our customers as part of our implementation package since our inception. As vendors, we use the “train-the-trainer” methodology to equip System Administrators with the knowledge they need to use their software to its maximum capabilities and to train a highly skilled staff.

Why do we use “train-the-trainer”? Because educational research has shown that the best way to learn something is to teach it.

We combine this methodology with pedagogically-sound instructional design, rooted in Adult Learning Theory, and web-based learning tools HMIS training success must go beyond methodology. Our system administrator training site offer a Smörgåsbord of class topics that serve system users at every skill level. Course offerings include, to name a few:

  • Reviewing and Improving Data Quality
  • Anatomy of the APR: How to Get the Most Out of This HMIS Report
  • Duplicate Clients and Data Quality

A truly excellent HMIS vendor team will work tirelessly to ensure the software functions intuitively and that customers are well-prepared to use it. Bitfocus system users frequently report that our training makes them feel confident in their participation and that they are receiving the instruction necessary to use the software in ways that enhance their agency’s performance — and this helps us to know that we are on the right track.

System-wide Data Quality

Criteria for Advanced CoCs in 3–5 Years: HMIS Leads provide/manage/merge and de-duplicate high quality data that supports cross-system of care coordination, and planning

The first step to system-wide data quality is to clean up existing data, which entails quite a bit of merging and de-duplicating existing data. The ideal HMIS should be designed to prevent duplication before it can even happen. Where duplicate records are identified, a good HMIS provides an easy way to merge duplicate client records or program enrollments.

What would this ideal HMIS look like? It would identify potential duplicates and alert the user. It would make it easy to search for a client by including autocomplete search functionality to detect pre-existing duplicate names, social security numbers, and dates of birth. This functionality would allow users to open the existing client record first to ensure they are not creating a duplicate record. These safeguards would be accompanied by others, such as multi-tiered reporting functionality.

Clarity Human Services comes equipped with the above features right out of the box, and in addition, it uses a background script to check for duplicate records on profile creation and link these records through a common unique identifier. This allows for system administrators to maintain privacy and sharing obligations while providing deduplicated client counts for system-level reporting. The system administrator can also easily scan the system for duplicate records using an agency-based report that provides a list of duplicate clients in that agency.

For a more global view of client activity within the continuum of care, the system administrator can use the Client Model of the Clarity Human Services Data Analysis Tool to identify potential duplicate client records.

By having open communication between vendors and customers, along with high quality training opportunities, communities are able to maximize the capabilities of their HMIS. Clarity users are equipped with tools that help prevent simple mistakes like creating duplicate client profiles. When selecting an HMIS vendor, be sure to consider what the vendor/customer relationship looks like and how thorough the training is, because healthy vendor collaboration and carefully crafted training materials ultimately lead to better data quality.