It’s been described as the biggest social policy reform since the introduction of Medicare – so it’s safe to say expectations surrounding the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) are high. For ConnectGV, a disability services provider in Goulburn Valley, it’s an opportunity to deliver more value to the 200 Australians living with a disability with whom it works every day.
For nearly 65 years, ConnectGV has been a staple of the community. It manages six accommodation facilities, an independent living unit, day options and numerous social enterprises which provide employment for clients – from the management of a garden centre and school canteen, to a floristry service that delivers freshly cut flowers to businesses.
This used to be funded by a service agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services – but not anymore. The NDIS is designed to shift the way disability services are obtained, building a competitive, consumer-driven market. This means, as it moves to the scheme, ConnectGV has to create individual agreements with each and every individual it provides support to.
Carolynne Young, CEO of ConnectGV, says this changes the model from a not-for-profit service to a more traditional business.
“We are coming from a Service Agreement model with the State Government that provided the luxury of payment in advance for services provided to falling in line with more traditional business practices. The system needs to be malleable enough to incorporate both the business acumen and human element of services rendered,” she says.
“One of our aims is to be a provider of choice in the NDIS world and that’s about being able to provide families with excellent service in a timely and efficient manner. This means overhauling our systems.”
Fit for purpose
When Young joined the company in 2014, one of her key priorities was to overhaul ConnectGV’s operational processes to get it ready for the NDIS. But when it came to finding a new IT system, Young found few that were integrated, or a good fit for the needs of NDIS compliance. Disappointingly, most were aged-care systems retrofitted for the disabilities sector.
As a smaller business, Young didn’t want ConnectGV to start entirely from scratch with something slow, bespoke and expensive. Working with Advance Computing, a Microsoft Australia Partner, it decided on using Dynamics 365.
As Advance Computing Solutions Director, Chris Motton, explains: “We really wanted to harness the power of something that already existed and then modify it to allow ConnectGV to act quickly with changes.
“One of the issues with the NDIS is that the criteria is shifting fairly quickly as the government changes the requirements, so we needed something we could tailor.”
So far, the system has been rolled out across client management – which staff have nicknamed Cosmo – and billing, allowing ConnectGV to collect data and outcomes from sessions for use in client case notes.
Next on the agenda is client attendance using Cortana facial recognition for visitor and client management. It’s also looking at rolling out Dynamics across finance, marketing and point of sale.
Staff have been taken on a journey with ConnectGV and the system has been designed with them in mind. All information about how clients are tracking appears on a single outcome screen, providing a quick snapshot. It means information can be collected quickly while staff are delivering on programs, streamlining the process.
The system is also ConnectGV’s intellectual property. This means it can be used by other organisations who want something custom-designed for NDIS compliance.
“When we started this project, people thought we were either very brave or very stupid,” Young says.
“But the results speak for themselves. The NDIS goalposts have moved so much that many off-the-shelf products are being adapted. Most of those systems are generic with services from different vendors bolted on, so they’re having to wait for the components to be changed before they can be used in their systems. With us, it’s all in one build.”
There’s been a lot of bad press, confusion and heartache around the national rollout of the NDIS. Knowing it would be confronting for clients, Young wanted to ensure ConnectGV clients were supported through the transition process.
“Because the rollout of the NDIS was so chaotic, the sector has overlooked that once systems are in place, the NDIS is going back to audit. They’ll want to see what the social impact has been,” Motton says.
“We’ve come up with additional information that goes into what we’re calling ‘outcome measures’ around social impact. This will give us data around activities and whether or not clients are happy with a particular program. That information will then filter through to an organisational level so changes can be made and service improved.”
The new system is also helping clients manage the process of working with funding body – the National Disability insurance agency (NDIA) – to ensure they’re receiving their benefits.
“Under the NDIS, they actually have to be able to log-on to a computer and access the portal,” Young says. “The challenge is that out of all the families on our database there might be 15 that have an email address and are happy to receive information that way. So their ability to navigate IT systems is incredibly limited.”
While the original scheme required complete separation between the service provider and the NDIA, they’re now allowed to provide coordinated support for clients, if there’s evidence that they’re separate from service division.
While it sounds complex, Young says it boils down to the ability to act as case managers and help families access their funds. This includes the completion of NDIS workbooks, whole-of-life documents that paint a picture of individual needs.
“Having all of the data integrated and available for analysis means we can use it as evidence going onto plans,” Young says. “By doing it thoroughly, we can make sure our families come out with a plan and with funding that captures their support needs.”
While embarking on an IT project like this can be daunting, the impact will be worth it. The NDIS is a once-in-a-generation change so it’s vital to ensure it’s a shift that better meets the needs of clients.