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Consulting company sets 26-month timeline for Kansas unemployment insurance modernization

TOPEKA — The company brought in to direct modernization of the beleaguered Kansas unemployment insurance system is plotting an ambitious course with a timeline of 26 months.

Tata Consultancy Services, an information technology consulting company, was brought on to address a mainframe relied upon by the Department of Labor since the 1980s. A flood of unemployment claims during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent fraudulent claims pushed the system to the limit, prompting legislators to seek immediate updates.

Jai Siani, the unemployment insurance program executive for TCS, laid out the timeline, a one-phase approach, to the Unemployment Compensation, Modernization and Improvement Council on Tuesday.

Some members of the panel were skeptical.

“I started doing this when you still had to mail and fax stuff and faxing was rare, so I’ve seen all these systems come up and I’ve yet to see one that comes up in 26 months,” said Jeff Oswald, a member of the council. “Have you met that goal yet?”

“We have not done any of the previous implementations in 26 months, but based on what we have learned from those implementations and the specific understanding that we had for Kansas, we are confident 26 months is what it will take for us,” Siani responded.

The IT consultant and services company contracted has worked with several other states — Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Mississippi, New York and Wyoming — to modernize systems. 

John Griffin, director of Americas business development for TCS, noted Wyoming had a turnaround time of 31 months. Griffin told the council its input would be key in representing not only what the state is looking for but what the people of Kansas may want.

“Big projects fail because of a lack of visibility and a lack of governance,” Griffin said. “This council is part of that governance process, so that there’s a regular routine, reporting on schedule on risks and on issues.”

TCS’s parent company and headquarters are in Mumbai, which raised questions from legislators like Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, about who would be working on the project. Griffin assured legislators the intent was to keep work on the project within the country.

Other legislators had questions about the specifics of the forthcoming system.

“I think one of the highest priorities is that this platform has job search capabilities and resumes and tracking individuals as far as job search requirements,” Tarwater said.

Tarwater’s desire falls in line with a recent legislative effort to push Kansans back into the workforce. The veto override of House Bill 2448 will require people ages 18 to 49 without a disability to enroll in a job training program to qualify for federal food assistance.

“In (Mississippi, Maine, Missouri, and Wyoming) we do interface with the workforce system,” Griffin said. “We usually interface with the job search to be able to, so we can bring some of that data together to view it. But it’s not natively part of our system currently.”

Consulting company sets 26-month timeline for Kansas unemployment insurance modernization