The Fair Work Commission is Australia’s national workplace relations tribunal, responsible for administering the Fair Work Act.
It deals with a range of workplace issues including unfair dismissal and bullying claims, has oversight of enterprise agreements, and sets minimum wages and conditions in modern awards. It also managed the JobKeeper dispute jurisdiction through the pandemic.
In the last year it held more than 13,000 hearings and conferences, received 33,000 applications, and published more than 10,000 decisions and orders. The median time from lodgement to conciliation in unfair dismissal claims is just 34 days.
Not surprisingly, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) has a massive data collection and significant reporting requirements.
To support the people working at the FWC – and the external parties that work closely with the Commission – it is undertaking an important two-phase data and analytics transformation, starting by building an Azure Data Lake, deploying machine learning and Power BI to expedite access to information and reporting.
Phase One is now completed, and delivers significant benefits – with more to come in Phase Two as the FWC deploys additional Azure cognitive services, and Azure Synapse Analytics – delivering a limitless analytics capacity to the organisation.
One of the FWC’s obligations is producing statutory reports, used by Government and industry. These need to be accurate, comprehensive, high quality and secure.
One of its challenges was that its data collection used both structured and unstructured data, which made reporting even more of a challenge than it should be.
The FWC is now able to easily use both structured and unstructured data through an Azure data lake, creating a single source of truth for reporting and analytics.
Jennifer Anderson, Director of Digital Transformation, acknowledges that in the past statutory reporting involved a significant manual component, which was both time consuming and left open the potential for human error.
“We would have to manually adjust data to account for issues in underlying systems, including a lack of automation of some of those reports. Now we can automate all of our our regular statutory reporting, drawing data from the datalake, injecting speed and a high degree of confidence about the quality of information.
Ms Anderson says that the data and analytics platform, now in operation, has “become a central operational tool. The other thing is, the president of the Fair Work Commission is incredibly interested in what data can show for operational decision-making, what it can unlock for the Commission and what information it can help us provide to our users as well.”
Siavash Motearefi, Chief Data Officer, explains that by modernising and embracing Azure, the FWC has also streamlined the way that they interact with other agencies. He says that, previously, a lot of data from other agencies’ systems was shared using file transfer protocols or via email. Now “we are working to centralise that using Azure Data Share for all the new requests, basically we will be using the Azure Data API.”
Ms Anderson says this makes the FWC one of the few Courts or Tribunals in Australia able to provide real time data about progress on specific matters.
“I think that we’ll have the opportunity to give people an idea, in real-time, about how long their applications will take, so that is really exciting. It’ll greatly reduce the uncertainty people experience when starting a legal process”
That ability to interrogate data in a timely and comprehensive way is already having a significant impact inside the Commission. According to one user “Power BI was introduced shortly after I started with the Commission in 2019. It allowed us to monitor our case loads and prioritise matters to meet KPIs.
“Some of the counting rules that our team set up allowed us to see things like‘days since last action’ (any case that hasn’t had a new activity in the last seven days), the last activity on file, and if a matter was scheduled for hearing.
This made it easy to see if there were problematic or stalled cases at a glance, without having to go into our case management system and generate a complete matters on hand report, which took longer than opening Power BI.”
Certainty and clarity
With Phase Two of the digital transformation now underway, the FWC is exploring how it can make further use of Azure Cognitive Services, particularly machine learning, as well as the advanced features of Azure Synapse Analytics. It is also using Optical Character Recognition to automatically extract information from paper-based forms submitted to the FWC, saving staff time by reducing data entry tasks.
Eight data sources currently feed into the Azure Data Lake, and FWC has built 15 different dashboards using Power BI.
Ms Anderson says that one of the dashboards monitors unfair dismissals, which has attracted the interest of FWC Members. “We get about 14,000 – 15,000 applications a year for unfair dismissals, now we have a dashboard that has five or six different pages, basically showing the journey of those applications so that a Commission Member can see exactly where they are at each step of the process, and how long they’re taking to reach that point.
“That came out of our COVID-19 response, because we had a surge in applications when COVID first hit. And what was clear is that we didn’t have right real-time access to the data to show where bottlenecks were happening. So I worked with Sia’s team developing this huge dashboard, but it was fantastic because you were able to get a really good, granular sense of what was happening to applications.
Power BI dashboards are already changing the way that FWC personnel operate. According to one, “before we brought in dashboards, I would have to run multiple reports from our CMS each day, to find the data we needed for reporting.
“We’re continually updating our enterprise agreement dashboards to keep them up to date with our reporting requirements; this means we still need to manually produce reports, but we’re hoping to be completely on Power BI soon.”
Mr Motearefi says that as part of the next phase of the modernisation program, the FWC is exploring adding unstructured data into the mix, by using Azure Synapse Analytics and machine learning to extract valuable insights for the organisation.
“Phase One is more like building our foundations, while Phase Two is trying different business cases to see how we can help the business.
“We are building something very similar to the Azure based John F. Kennedy search website. It’s very close to the soft launch. We are using the same template Microsoft used for the JFK website.
“We’ve built in a digital, searchable library for all the decisions we have. And this is going to be uniquely for our Members and associates so they are able to basically search through the entire body of decisions, from 2008 to today.”
The FWC is also looking at how it can automate different business processes, leveraging Power Apps to create tools that can support staff, ensuring that the FWC maintains its hard-won position as a leader in the use of data and analytics to drive efficiency and ensure decision-making clarity.