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Economic Recovery: Wisconsin Leans on Google Cloud to Better Serve Its Community During COVID-19 and Beyond

When confronted with challenges, resilient organizations adapt and innovate to address changing customer needs. Through its partnership with Google Cloud, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development exemplifies this evolutionary approach. 

 Just a few months ago, challenges created by the antiquated unemployment insurance (UI) system threatened the agency’s ability to serve constituents who lost their jobs during the pandemic. Now, and in the months ahead, that continuing evolution will transform how the DWD serves its constituents with the modernization of their UI system, which includes customer experience workflows, predictive analytics, and streamlining and expediting paper applications.

Like many workforce development agencies nationwide, last year, DWD experienced a deluge of claims filed in response to the COVID-19 economic fallout. Unfortunately, DWD’s legacy UI infrastructure — largely written in the COBOL computing language and hosted on a mainframe server – was no match for the volume and complexity of cases. Wisconsin’s multiple technology systems required a large amount of manual processing, with staff using spreadsheets to manually calculate benefit adjustments. As a result, the state just couldn’t keep up with the surge of claims, and it needed to pivot quickly to a new solution to keep up with demand. 

DWD initially responded by staffing up call centers, hiring UI application adjudicators, and deploying other personnel–all told, hiring, contracting with, or reassigning more than 1,300 individuals. However, while this enabled DWD to respond to approximately 7 million calls per month, the massive number of incoming claims surged to create a  backlog of more than 750,000 claims. Legacy technology issues continued to significantly slow the query-response time. 

DWD leaders recognized that staffing alone was not the solution and that innovation was needed to overcome past, inadequate IT investment. To address the inherited issues, Wisconsin turned to Google Cloud. Working together, we were able to scale the state’s response to claims and speed up overall response time. We were also successful in screening out fraudulent claims so that the UI program could be administered–with integrity–to Wisconsinites who needed financial assistance.   

Year-to-date, Wisconsin has now disbursed $2 billion in unemployment benefits, in addition to successfully clearing its entire 2020 UI backlog. As a result of our partnership, the state is now processing an average of 157,000 claims each week and releasing most payments to citizens within two to three business days. Before the new system was in place, the response time could be weeks or even months.

Here is how Wisconsin and Google Cloud are modernizing the state’s current legacy system through a modular approach:

Artificial intelligence (AI)/ machine learning (ML) for predictive analytics: Through the use of Google AI/ML, the state is creating predictive analytics based on historical data to shorten adjudication decision-making for UI claims, enabling it to release payments to eligible claimants faster. Comprehensive data models and confidence scores analyze the backlog data to determine the shortest route to approval and payments, with a high level of confidence and accuracy. DWD is using Google Cloud technology to identify where in the process the claimant was getting stuck in one of the “hold buckets” for processing a UI claim. Using Google Cloud’s data and AI/ML tools, Wisconsin is able to identify problem areas and quickly resolve those issues. This informed DWD’s rewrite of the UI claim application process. And it also helped DWD identify fraudulent claims.

Document AI (DocAI) for streamlining paper applications: DWD is also partnering with Google Cloud to streamline paper applications and fax documents as part of UI claims processing–enabling documents to be submitted online instead of by fax or hard-copy mail. Our DocAI solution helps Wisconsin staff make faster decisions by rapidly extracting critical data from documents, saving time, and removing manual processes, which allows employees to focus on high-priority activities. 

These modernization steps in Wisconsin are resulting in a bold new vision for state unemployment systems across the United States. Through a combination of design thinking, deep partnership with state officials, and modern technology, DWD’s solutions are tailored to maximize benefits to the constituents they’re designed to serve. By joining forces with Google Cloud and utilizing modernizing technology to make informed, data-driven decisions, Wisconsin DWD is helping residents have a better experience that is easier to understand and navigate–all while better serving the community overall.

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