Highly confidential

Feature Article | September 7, 2009 by Perry Manross, Christoph Zeidler

Sozialwesen

Surrounded by unimposing buildings in a courtyard off the main street, the conspicuously modern head office of Lebensräume is located right in the center of the German city of Offenbach. The nonprofit service organization was founded 25 years ago and is responsible for welfare in the city itself and the surrounding administrative district. By providing many psychosocial services, Lebensräume helps people who are unable to cope with day-to-day life on their own due to mental or physical illness or a disability.

The organization employs more than 200 qualified staff in many fields of activity. Clients are supported in numerous ways, from telephone counseling to house visits, from helping people deal with government agencies to inpatient care. And there are just as many processes, costs, and billing methods – so it isn’t always easy to maintain an overview.

That’s why managing director Klaus Liedke and his colleagues at head office had been thinking for some time about realigning their activities with the help of IT to reduce paper trails, automate processes, and ultimately give employees more time to work with people. “Another important aspect was to make the many things that our employees do every day tangible,” Liedke says. “Years of professional experience are required to look after our clients. We need to retain this combined expertise for the future.” The SAP Business ByDesign solution is set to make this possible.

Breaking new ground in service

Lebensräume is an independent welfare agency active in the areas of welfare for the disabled, psychiatric community care, and psychosocial occupational therapy. “Our clients range from young to old, healthy to sick, highly qualified to barely qualified, and socially adjusted to socially excluded,” explains Liedke. Above all, the organization supports people who are mentally ill or disabled, or have other handicaps. It helps them in all areas of their lives, promotes health through advice and action, assists in finding accommodation and employment, and enables them to become part of a community. New services are being added continuously.

The latest example is a cooperation with German health insurance companies and involves counseling people receiving sick pay. Sick pay amounts to 70% of a person’s gross salary and can be paid for up to 78 weeks within a three-year period, costing health insurance companies billions of euros every year. If Lebensräume manages to help someone find secure, fulfilling, and gainful employment and thus stop claiming sick pay, all parties benefit: The client gains fresh motivation by being reintegrated into the workplace, while the health insurance company saves money, and passes a percentage of the saving onto Lebensräume.

Pioneers in the sector

With models like these, Lebensräume wants to assert itself in a difficult environment and give itself a wider base. “Because the state is increasingly withdrawing from services of public interest, welfare providers like us will have plenty of work on our hands,” says Liedke. In other words – or business-speak – there is potential for growth in the market.

To cope with the additional work and tap this potential, Lebensräume has opted for an intelligent IT solution. But what should a solution look like that has to support a wide range of complex welfare services, from the first contact with the client to documented evidence for the government agency responsible? So that such services can be mapped in SAP Business ByDesign, they must be broken down into process steps and attributable costs that can be automatically processed.

According to Liedke, the sector has been talking about operationalizing welfare work for a long time, but results have so far been meager. So the Lebensräume staff and their helpers had to roll up their sleeves to systemize the organization’s services and map them in an IT system. This is no mean feat. Since May 2008, Lebensräume has been working on entering the 300 services it offers, including the allocated time and the qualifications and means required in each case (such as materials, vehicles, rooms). Thirty services have now been fully integrated with SAP Business ByDesign, and Liedke is happy with the product. “It’s easy to recognize process-oriented thinking in the software,” he says. “Everything runs from start to finish, from the first contact through order creation and documentation to settlement and evaluation.”

Although the system is already live, it will be the beginning of 2010 before all processes are mapped and all users are trained. By then, at the latest, there should be a tangible increase in productivity. “Once we’ve managed to get everything up and running, the solution will make our work much easier,” Liedke believes. He can envisage a number of innovations and enhancements, and, in the long term, sees his organization as a mobile service provider with distributed offices that can access data from – or send data to – the central system at any time and from any place. “But at the moment, we’ll be glad when everything is working at the end of the project and we’ve mapped our service concept fully,” he adds. Nevertheless, he does not deny that successfully implementing such a comprehensive service concept in software signifies a major step forward for the sector as a whole.

Growth and knowledge transfer

Lebensräume not only hopes that SAP Business ByDesign will optimize processes and alleviate the workload, it also – and above all – expects the software to preserve what has already been achieved. In the future, the employees’ wealth of experience should be available to the next generation of colleagues, and not get lost through staff turnover or retirement. “Welfare and the social economy are set to change,” Liedke says. “With support from IT and the commitment of our employees, we are optimally positioned for future success.” And, at the end of the day, the people who need help will benefit.

Highly confidential

Lebensräume and SAP have embarked on the adventure of adapting standard software to the needs of a specific industry. And some of the terms used in the standard solution definitely need adapting, otherwise they would appall social workers and their clients. Visiting a chronically depressive person at home, for instance, and calling it a “repair job” is hardly acceptable for any of the parties involved. And not only the texts on the screen need adapting. It would, for example, be unthinkable in the social welfare sector for whole departments or external suppliers to be able to access clients’ data – although such practices are normal and necessary in the automotive industry. Instead, the solution must be programmed so that the information exchanged between the benefit recipient and his or her carer remains confidential.

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