It takes incredible efficiency to deliver services on the NDIS, with the ever-changing pricing arrangements and compliance needs leaving little room for gaps or human error. So it’s no surprise that the NDS State of the Disability Sector 2020 report found that 95% of disability support organisations are actively looking at increasing their productivity over the last year to get ahead.
Finding technology that boosts productivity is a solution that is working for organisations like WISE Employment — one of Australia’s leading not-for-profit employment service providers. Their CFO, Leesa Miller, is an innovative leader who believes there is “no such thing as failure, just learning”. Leesa has taken the lead on digital transformation at WISE Employment and graciously offered to share her learnings with other executives in the sector looking for ways to succeed on the scheme.
“We knew that if we were going to continue on the NDIS, we needed to drastically reduce our back-of-house costs and have a steely commitment to automation. My advice to other organisations is that the right technology provides an opportunity to thrive, not just survive,” Leesa advocates.
Tapping into Leesa’s direct experience and advice from the sector, this playbook is a simple starting point for executive teams within disability support organisations embarking on a digital journey and will walkthrough:
- Where to start with digital transformation
- How to adopt a “test and learn” mindset
- What to look for when selecting a technology vendor
Our first question as an executive team] was did we want to operate in the NDIS market? For years that answer was no and we tried to stay within funding models that were scalable and productive. When we revisited this, we knew to be sustainable we needed a technology platform to introduce automation and reduce the administrative burden on frontline workers.
While disability support organisations have achieved a lot worth celebrating since adapting to the NDIS, the complexities and always-evolving nature of the scheme has created real administrative woes for the industry and even changed the strategic direction of many providers.
As the scheme matures, it’s not getting any easier. The NDS says that more than half of industry respondents (57%) are worried about their ability to provide NDIS services under the current price guide (now known as the pricing arrangments and limits). Nearly two-thirds (63%) said there are too many rules and regulations to comply with — a significant increase to previous years.
It’s a problem WISE Employment’s executive team is all too familiar with. Leesa says the switch from a block-funded model to the NDIS forced her team to reconsider whether it was worthwhile providing services on the scheme.
“There’s such a small margin in the payment rates already, once the admin is accounted for, the hourly rate is significantly diluted,” says Leesa. “We had so many manual inputs across documents and spreadsheets to collect the information we needed for NDIS claims. We had to put the brakes on any growth on services on the NDIS — it simply wasn’t sustainable,” she explains.
A common misconception about introducing new technology into an organisation is that you will need to adapt your business to suit the technology — when it should be the other way around. Rather than looking at what technology is available to the sector as a starting point, executive teams should begin by aligning on their strategy and vision for the future. With this in mind, you can start to look at how embracing new technologies can help your organisation enact its purpose and achieve goals more efficiently.
Leesa explains how this began their process at WISE Employment to address the issues they were facing with administration on the NDIS.
"Our first question [as an executive team] was did we want to operate in the NDIS market? For years that answer was no and we tried to stay within funding models that were scalable and productive. When we revisited this, we knew to be sustainable we needed a technology platform to introduce automation and reduce the administrative burden on frontline workers."
By using strategy as a starting point, your organisation can move forward with a clear picture of challenges you need to address and how to start working towards long-term goals — rather than creating a checklist of technology that would be nice to have.
Before embarking on a digital transformation journey, have your executive team consider:
- What gaps do we have in our service offering?
- What are our long-term goals in the market?
- What would we need to achieve/scale these goals and could technology play a role?
- Are we trying to reduce costs and increase volume or invest in offering low volume, more tailored services?
- What is our customer experience like now — how could technology improve this today and in the future?
- What are the organisation’s needs in terms of security and privacy?
- What are the organisation’s needs in terms of compliance?
- Are there any internal processes that could be more efficient?
If you don’t have all the answers to these questions immediately, that’s ok. In step two we’re going to talk through why you don’t need the complete picture from the word go.
Anyone who joins my team knows that is going to be the way of working. We start small. We plan, we test, we learn, and we make time to celebrate wins. Then repeat!
Leesa says if she had one important tip for organisations to be successful in digital transformation it would be for the leadership team to adopt a mindset of continuous improvement. With WISE Employment being a nationwide organisation, she says her teams always start small with a repeatable, workable test before looking to scale across the broader organisation.
“We achieve success by being curious and learning, as well as celebrating wins and having fun along the way,” explains Leesa.
What does this mindset and culture look like in practice?
Here are 5 ways to adopt a mindset of continuous improvement:
1. Start small
Don’t try to take on too much, too soon. Define a small group to trial new technology rather than shifting the entire organisation at once. A staggered approach to digital transformation will help you test, learn, and build confidence before rolling out to the wider organisation.
2. Create diverse stakeholder groups for projects
A project team shouldn’t be isolated to your IT department or even your leadership team. Build a diverse group with cross-functional team collaboration to get different perspectives and feedback from every angle. WISE Employment has a small group of super users that represent different areas of their operation — frontline support, bookings, finance and executive level. When they are ready to deploy technology to the rest of the business, they have strong advocates in place across the entire organisation.
3. Be comfortable with not having all the answers
If lack of resources or even confidence is holding you back from digital transformation — don’t stress! No one has all the answers up front. By taking a ‘test and learn’ approach to your digital journey, your team will build vital knowledge as you go. Not only that, by starting small and gathering feedback early, you’ll find it’s more manageable to address challenges before they hit your entire organisation.
4. Equip staff with essential devices and data
If you expect staff to adopt technology, you need to ensure they are equipped to do so. Leesa found that people are reluctant to use their own devices or data to complete work tasks, so WISE Employment rolled out an initiative to provide mobile phones and internet access to every staff member.
Leesa said that when COVID-19 hit, they successfully moved their entire workforce of 1,000 people to work from home within a week — because they were already equipped to do so. “Giving everyone the tools to be digitally active within the organisation from day one allows us to adopt new technologies and app-based automation more readily. From a cultural perspective, giving people devices and data acknowledges that the pace of change is really increasing” she adds.
5. Seek external support if you’re unsure
If you’re still uncomfortable with leading your organisation on a digital journey, consider hiring an outside consultant to lead the process in selecting a technology vendor and implementing any new platforms or software. An expert can guide your stakeholders, answer questions, keep everyone informed and build confidence within your team to assist in a smooth rollout.
“I feel that support organisations are better off with a strong technology partner so everyone can focus on what they’re good at — for the benefit of the community,” advises Leesa.
When WISE Employment decided they needed a sophisticated technology platform to automate their administrative workload, they set about creating their own. However, when they discovered GoodHuman they realised they had found a vendor to partner with who was aligned to their vision and could help them scale faster, allowing them to focus on service provision.
“For example, automating the NDIS pricing arrangements has a significant impact for us, we were manually updating pricing every time changes were rolled out. Moving to GoodHuman had so much added benefit and ticked so many boxes compared to going it alone,” adds Leesa.
Even if you have first-class technology expertise in-house, it’s likely that you will need to find a technology vendor to roll out automation processes within your organisation. With your strategy and continuous-mindset approach at the ready, it’s time to start researching the right technology.
When assessing technology vendors to partner with, look for:
Technology that is flexible and adaptable
Today’s NDIS might not look the same as tomorrow’s. When looking for new technology solutions, make sure you’re looking for vendors who can adapt as you do. You should be able to easily integrate with existing technology that you plan to continue with or have simple solutions to replace them to avoid a build-up of software that needs to replicate information across multiple systems. Technology should be easy to learn, user-friendly and evolving to keep pace with changes in the industry.
Partners that are flexible, too
As well as the technology itself, the businesses you partner with should support your digital journey. This means allowing you to test and learn from systems, rather than locking you into rigid contracts.
Technology vendors that understand the disability services sector
There is no shortage of productivity solutions in the world, but with complex regulations to navigate, not all tech will benefit the disability services sector in the same way it serves offices or hospitals. Look for technology vendors that understand the unique challenges of the Australian disability services sector. They should offer local support and tailor your onboarding process to ensure your organisation is set up in the most productive and effective way for what you need.
Technology that supports your vision
You have a strategy, a vision and a purpose. Look for vendors that align with these ideals and can help you achieve them in a meaningful way.
We partnered with GoodHuman to embark on a journey to achieve our strategic vision and most importantly to scale. We have wanted to offer all of our disability clients NDIS opportunities, but we simply didn’t have a way of doing that at scale. Until now — watch this space!
Chief Financial Officer, WISE Employment
It’s a common concern within the disability services industry that organisations don’t have the time and resources to invest in new technologies. That replacing legacy systems will leave gaps in their operation or won’t be embraced by staff and/or customers.
However, it’s also important to look at your current ways of working and see where a resistance towards automation or outdated systems are costing you the ability to grow and service the community.
As we’ve outlined in this playbook, taking on new technology shouldn’t be seen as a mammoth undertaking or even one big project with a start and end date. To remain flexible and adaptable as an organisation, taking on digital and automation processes is a continuous journey that evolves your ways of working over time. Small steps you take today can have a huge impact on your future.
As Leesa puts it, “Just start small. Test it, refine it and repeat.”