The Kansas Department of Labor (KDOL) has been working with a team of specialists from the company Accenture for just over two weeks to improve the delivery of unemployment services, Gov. Laura Kelly’s office said Tuesday.


"We know there have been major issues and missteps, we’ve hit the reset button and are focusing on the future," Kelly said in a press release. "Accenture is reviewing and providing recommendations to improve the stability of our systems to make sure they are readily available to support Kansans."


Since the pandemic began, KDOL has delivered $1.2 billion in unemployment claims to nearly 200,000 Kansans, the release noted. One of the primary difficulties the agency has had is the high volume of calls coming in that require highly-trained customer service representatives to address.


At Kelly’s direction, KDOL has worked with Accenture to add call center representatives who are trained in unemployment surge response and will be able to provide progressively higher levels of service to callers. The first group of new representatives started taking calls on Monday and more will start next week after completing training.


In addition to hiring more call center representatives, KDOL has hired seven additional IT employees to speed up implementation of the various federal unemployment programs, including professionals with specific experience in the programming language that KDOL’s outdated system was built in.


KDOL has also launched a new online virtual agent named Amelia that can answer the agency’s most frequently asked questions regarding unemployment benefits. Amelia can be found in the bottom right hand corner of www.getkansasbenefits.gov and as of Monday afternoon has had nearly 7,000 conversations, exchanging more than 23,000 messages with users.


Accenture has previously worked with several other states in addressing COVID-related programs. Like Kansas, many states have struggled due to the sheer number of unemployment claims and their antiquated computer systems.


Accenture has stated, however, that the system in Kansas is one of the most severe cases of outdated technology they have encountered, according to the release.


As it develops its recommendations, the Accenture team is applying lessons learned from their work in other states, including how to use federal stimulus funds to rebuild antiquated systems and adding automated features to the website to help answer questions and get Kansans paid quicker.


"The response model being implemented will be able to be scaled up as needed and there will be more trained agents and technology workarounds for the current computer system," KDOL Acting Secretary Ryan Wright said in the release. "Our top priority is to get Kansans paid as quickly as possible and with good customer service."


Currently, nearly everything in the KDOL system must be done manually with minimal automation, which means processes take longer and fewer Kansans can be served. The data and metrics are not stored in a central location, which makes it cumbersome to verify and difficult to provide consistent system reporting.


"Once the surge response is stabilized, we’ll be able to turn attention to the badly needed system rebuild, so we never face this situation again," Wright said.