A Peek into HUD/Solution Provider Collaboration

January 23, 2014 in NHSDC Blog by admin

Today’s guest blog post is from Paul Rossi with Foothold Technology and with the NHSDC Blogging Team.

Every day across the country, thousands of workers on the front lines of ending homelessness log into Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS) to document their efforts in serving and returning to housing some of their community’s most vulnerable members.  While most users understand why they collect the data they do, it’s likely that only a very small percentage of user know how these systems were developed or how they’re maintained in compliance with the federal HMIS requirements.

Enter the HMIS software solution providers.

A lot of the HMIS software solution providers in the marketplace today have been working with community based agencies to collect data on homelessness in varying ways for many years prior to HMIS.  However, it wasn’t until Congress required the implementation of Homeless Management Information Systems that HUD worked with experts in the field to develop the HMIS Data and Technical Standards that were released in 2004.  At that time, HMIS software solution providers were required to update and standardize their systems in accordance with the standards.  This standardization allows communities to collect the required data in the correct format and generate the required HUD reports.  Data gleaned from reports like the Annual Performance Report, the ESG Caper and the Annual Homelessness Assessment Report (AHAR) inform HUD on a grantee’s programmatic performance, a community’s response to homelessness, and justify ongoing funding from Congress.  For the first time, with HMIS, HUD has a vast and reliable data pool that informs policy and provides feedback on the nation’s overall efforts at addressing homelessness.

As the world of HMIS has evolved over the years, so has the participation of HMIS software solution providers in the discussions with HUD and its technical assistance providers.  These discussions centered around best practices, lessons learned, and community challenges in the implementation of components of the data standards or reporting requirements.  This relationship has led many to view the role of those who have traditionally been thought of simply as “vendors”, to really become viewed as partners in developing “software solutions” in the effort to end homelessness.  To that end, HMIS software solution providers join a conference call each month with HUD staff and the lead HMIS TA providers to review and work through issues related to the ongoing development of the HMIS Data Standards and to discuss opportunities to improve HMIS data collection and reporting.

One of the real tangible benefits of this collaboration is a sharing of insights between HUD, its partners and the solution providers that have to actually implement what’s developed and released.  The solution provider community brings more than a dozen years of HMIS implementation experience to the table and, collectively, has amassed tremendous insight into the direct impact HMIS requirements have on data collection systems and the communities that use them.  This impact can extend to other federal and local partners if the proposed changes are not fully vetted prior to release.  The opportunity to share with HUD and its partners the complexities of implementing changes to data collection on the software side has been particularly beneficial.  While no two systems are truly identical, basic code design, development, testing and deployment routines are common enough across systems as to allow HUD and its partners to gain insight into problems in logic, timeline or product that some proposed changes will have.  While there are some complications that are difficult to avoid, there has been quite a bit of progress of late removing some of these anticipated challenges from the equation as a result of the dialogue with the solution providers.

In addition to the monthly conference call, HUD typically convenes, through collaboration with the National Human Services Data Consortium, an in person half-day meeting for HMIS software solution providers with HUD and the TA team at the Fall Conference held in the DC area each year.  It is through these meetings that the TA team has worked with expert volunteers from many of the HMIS software solution providers to develop tools like the HMIS Reporting glossary, a reference guide for methods of selecting clients and data used commonly in HMIS-generated reports.  Additionally there is an XML/CSV Workgroup that meets regularly to develop tools to support interoperability between HMIS and other data systems.  To further the work that’s already being done, HUD convened a two day meeting for HMIS software solution providers at HUD Headquarters in early January to review and seek feedback on the new HMIS Data Standards expected for release in early 2014.  Elements of the upcoming Privacy and Security Notice were also reviewed in an early draft form with the solution providers for some initial feedback.

It’s this framework of inclusion, collaboration and sharing that is helping to develop a tighter feedback loop between HUD and the software solution providers that ultimately allows implementing communities to realize greater success within their HMIS implementations.

Paul Rossi
Foothold Technology


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