The Office of the State Auditor (OSA) of Massachusetts identifies and investigates fraud against government-funded assistance programs. When the OSA absorbed the Bureau of Special Investigations and its large inventory of cases from another agency, it was obvious a solution was needed to address the increased workload and create a more efficient way to process cases. Using Microsoft® Visual Studio® 2005 Tools for the Microsoft Office System, the OSA and Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Magenic Technologies built a solution using the Microsoft .NET Framework 3.0 and Microsoft Office Word 2007. Windows® Communication Foundation, along with Microsoft BizTalk® Server, integrated the solution with the OSA back-end systems to provide real-time access to current data for reporting. The solution reduced data-collection times by 75 percent and allowed the agency to focus on higher value cases.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts relies on the Bureau of Special Investigations (BSI) within the Office of the State Auditor (OSA) to conduct fraud
||We achieved our goal to reduce the information-gathering period on cases because Microsoft products and technologies allow us to collect and exchange information electronically.
||Paul McLaughlin, Director of Information Technology, Office of the State Auditor
investigations in a timely manner, generate clear and accurate reports, and identify funds to be returned to the Commonwealth. When the independent BSI became part of the OSA, it arrived with only five investigators and an inventory of more than 6,800 cases.
The OSA needed to address the additional work and put into action a more efficient means of case processing. The primary cause of the inventory backlog was the initial data-collection process. It took an average of seven months for the staff to gather information from various agency repositories. The OSA knew it needed to make a change.
Under the old process, investigators manually filled in a preset report template that contained boilerplate language. To improve flexibility and ensure that all necessary information is present, investigators switched to creating a free-form report using Microsoft® Word 2000. But using the new method created its own challenges—without the boilerplate, the language in the reports lacked necessary consistency, and the databases that stored the original source material did not reflect changes the investigators made in the document.
The OSA required a system that could record and store information within a Microsoft .NET Framework application and seamlessly integrate that information within Word in order to take advantage of formatting and editing capabilities. In addition, it was important to maintain the integrity of the data and allow investigators role-based revision capabilities. The system also needed to be intuitive for the investigators and other staff to use.
The OSA turned to Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Magenic Technologies to achieve its goals. The OSA developed basic Investigative Plans for the 16 most common fraud case types. The new plans can be updated through the .NET Framework application with data collected during an investigation. At any point in time, the end-user can view or edit the Word report that is based on collected information while maintaining data integrity. Adding and storing information collected in the field and access to the integrated Word report is now seamless. Assigning permissions based on role also keeps access to sensitive information secure between the .NET Framework and the associated Word documents.
To create the new Investigative Plan templates, Magenic developers used Microsoft Visual Studio® 2005 with Microsoft Visual C#® and Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 Tools for the Microsoft Office System, along with the following products and technologies:
- Microsoft .NET Framework 3.0
- Windows® Communication Foundation
- Microsoft BizTalk® Server
- Microsoft SQL Server™
- Microsoft Office Word 2007
Five Weeks to the New Solution
In just five weeks, the team completed the proof-of-concept with the new Office Word 2007 user interface. Visual Studio Tools for Microsoft Office helped Magenic developers create a reliable, efficient, and secure solution with a familiar and intuitive user interface.
||That’s why the new solution is so great. Everyone at the OSA knows Microsoft Office, so they can all work with the data in the database with ease.
||Diane Szulc, Project Manager, Office of the State Auditor
Windows Communication Foundation—part of the .NET Framework 3.0 programming model—allowed Magenic to build secure, reliable systems capable of communicating through Web services and BizTalk Server. The result: a perfect balance between flexible messaging and heightened security. This was important for the OSA since fraud investigations tend to unveil highly sensitive information. With Windows Communication Foundation, the OSA benefits from a highly adaptable system that allows for multiple transports, including HTTP, TCP, named pipes, and more.
The configuration files in Windows Communication Foundation made it easy for Magenic to separate communications details from service functionality, allowing developers to make communications changes without recompiling or redeploying service code. The Windows Communication Foundation programming platform provided an all-in-one solution that saved Magenic developers time—an equivalent communication and security option involved using a combination of other programming models.
Because the investigators were already comfortable with Microsoft Word, Office Word 2007 was the obvious choice for the solution’s user interface. Michael Ruminer, Principal Consultant for Magenic, notes, “The flexibility and interoperability of Office Word 2007 made it an ideal choice for this managed-document solution.”
Using the Solution
Using Office Word 2007, investigators start with one of the 16 skeleton Investigative Plan templates, which are auto-populated with data using algorithms. Investigators easily incorporate additional, verified information from the SQL Server database by selecting from built-in lists to create reports that peers and approvers with permission can revise.
To ensure that information is stored only in the secure document repository, investigators cannot save their reports to a local hard drive. In addition, reports cannot be sent by e-mail in editable Office Word format, although they may be printed via PDF.
This particular solution was born out of necessity: the few investigators on staff had 6,800 cases to process. With the new solution, productivity increased significantly, reducing the caseload by nearly half. The OSA also realized increased collaboration, improved control of information, greater civil recovery, and reduced training requirements.
A. Joseph DeNucci, Massachusetts State Auditor believes, “Today’s governmental responsibilities make tools like these essential in the fight against fraud and abuse of our public assistance programs.”
With the new solution, investigators whittled the number of in-work cases down from 6,800 to 4,000, a trend that is expected to continue. Now, investigators—and others who need it—have easy, secure access to necessary information and a way to quickly update cases as required.
“We achieved our goal to reduce the information-gathering period on cases because Microsoft products and technologies allow us to collect and exchange information electronically,” says Paul McLaughlin, Director of Information Technology for the OSA.
Improved Collaboration and Control
According to Diane Szulc, Project Manager for the OSA, information-sharing used to be extremely informal and sometimes unreliable. “Now it’s all digital, organized, and more accessible,” Szulc says.
In addition, Beth Capstick, Deputy Auditor for the OSA, notes, “The integration capabilities of Office Word 2007 provide investigators with standardized report outlines that they can customize for each case.”
Other agencies referred more cases when they saw the level of information-sharing. Because the OSA can now more effectively communicate and share information with other agencies, it has:
- Streamlined the processes to use less paper.
- Permitted electronic sharing of information.
- Allowed investigators to modify reports at any stage without having to start over.
Capstick agrees they’re going to have a much more valuable means of communicating with the courts, other agencies, the probation department, and others involved in this process.
Improved Civil Recovery
Better organization and value assignments allow the OSA to focus on higher-dollar cases, such as Medicare and Medicaid fraud that return more money owed to the government. In order to improve civil recovery, the OSA also incorporated algorithms to assign a dollar value to each case, so high-value cases could be processed before low-value cases. “The one thing the auditor’s office doesn’t want to do is spend time and effort to chase down seventy-five dollars. We want to get the more severe cases of fraud,” explains McLaughlin. “And the new system allows us to do that—quickly.”
This improvement returns more funds to the Commonwealth and, by extension, to taxpayers—thus protecting benefits for the truly needy. With this increased efficiency, the OSA was able to add more investigators, and the team has grown from five investigators to 30.
Reduced Training Needs
This solution allows investigators and other members of the OSA staff to stay in the Office Word environment they know, which minimizes training requirements. And since many of the new features are transparent to employees, the way investigators use Office Word is very familiar.
“That’s why the new solution is so great,” says Szulc. “Everyone at the OSA knows Microsoft Office, so they can all work with the data in the database with ease.”
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