Highlights From OKC's NWA WIC Technology Conference

September 25, 2019 Barbara Reimers

Much like flying cars on the Jetsons TV show, the buzz about technologies – from EBT to analytics, to portals, and mobile apps – reverberated through the Cox Convention Center during Oklahoma City’s NWA WIC conference last week.

Those state and territory WIC agency leaders in attendance weren’t simply wishful thinking, either. Nearly all are embracing, or have already implemented EBT, which will help states and territories to stay in compliance with impending federal regulations

About NWA WIC

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is a public health nutrition program that falls under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) jurisdiction to provide nutrition education, foods, breastfeeding support, and healthcare referrals for income-eligible women who are pregnant or postpartum, along with infants, and children up to age five.

Founded in 1983, the National WIC Association (NWA) represents 90 geographic and territorial Native American and state government agencies and more than 2,000 local agencies to help provide nutrition education, breastfeeding support, healthcare and other referral services to nearly seven million at-risk women, infants, and children through 10,000 WIC clinics across the U.S.

The buzz started early. During a session entitled, Harnessing Technology Beyond EBT to Improve the WIC Shopping Experience, Art Burger, President and CEO of consultancy Burger, Carroll and Associates Inc., told more than 400 attendees that changes in retail shopping in the next ten years will far surpass what has happened in the last 100 years.

To help everyone ponder the possibilities, Burger described how the changes anticipated will stretch well beyond current, widely recognized advances such as mobile apps, to targeted monitoring dashboards, IoT-driven shopping lists, and even drone-delivered groceries. Technologies such as the internet of things (IoT), drones, ‘delivery’ robots, 3D-printing and self-driving cars are expected to help retailers automate and optimize operations, as well as each consumer’s experience.

To better understand how the changes will impact WIC programs, Burger also explained how Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT), also known as eWIC, has delivered a giant step forward for agency WIC programs and their participants. Participants have gained greater convenience and ease of access, along with the dignity to ‘blend in’ as shoppers. At the same time, WIC agencies have improved program integrity, along with operational and retailer efficiency, all while lowering transactional costs.

Additional highlights from the Oklahoma City NWA WIC event include:

  • An official EBT status update -- As of January 2019, all 90 WIC state/territorial agencies either have transitioned to, or are in the process of transitioning to, EBT/eWIC.
  • Security is a crucial success factor – the requirement to secure digital financial transactions will drive advances such as blockchain, which provides an immutable transaction ledger, and biometrics to authenticate user identities.
  • It will take the ‘whole’ village – including stakeholders from WIC agencies, other state HHS agencies, USDA Food Nutrition Service (FNS) leaders, retailers, technology vendors and their partners, all working together to update and refine WIC programs to better meet the needs of every organization and participant.
  • Hone in on WIC priorities – As many agencies are expected to upgrade their EBT/eWIC programs and technologies soon, John Pfeuffer, Director, Business Development for Conduent Public Sector Payment Services, described how state agency WIC programs can improve, or refine their RFP drafts by focusing most on clearly defining and updating their most mission-critical requirements.

As part of a panel session entitled, How to Succeed in EBT Procurements Without Trying, WIC technology providers, and USDA’s Jerilyn Malliet, FNS Branch Chief for WIC EBT, shared their procurement expertise to help WIC agency attendees learn how to refine specific WIC procurement requirements to better achieve agency priorities.

For example, Pfeuffer described how certain WIC agency procurement requirements, such as reusing RFP language from prior contracts, can impede the effectiveness of technology vendor responses and may even lead to higher implementation costs. Drafting a WIC agency RFP that clearly explains what an agency most wants to accomplish, and focuses less on the steps required to achieve federal WIC compliance is best. That's because those compliance steps are well-documented.  That way technology providers can respond to RFPs with targeted solutions that will optimize WIC performance and ensure state and federal regulatory compliance, Pfeuffer explained.

It's exciting to envision the possibilities that may take place by the time we meet again for NWA WIC's next Tech Expo in 2021.

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