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Mission Australia workers with client

Mission Australia streamlines systems for frontline staff in critical services

Mission Australia helped more than 165,000 people last year. It helped people find safe and affordable housing, helped children and families facing disadvantage. Helped troubled young people and helped people with mental health concerns and disability. With more than 160 years of practical and proven experience working with Australians in need, Mission Australia invests in housing, services and programs to help end homelessness in Australia and ensure communities in need can thrive.

To streamline operations and maximise the time spent helping people, instead of paperwork or administration, Mission Australia implemented a digital platform called MA Connect that houses all information needed to get help to people faster.

Having access to more accurate and timely data means people seeking help also don’t have to repeat their stories over and over, an experience which may be traumatic or difficult. Meanwhile Mission Australia builds a much clearer picture of the community’s needs, allowing the charity to make better decisions, faster. It’s also been able to use the new system to streamline how it meets the complex reporting required by the 28 Federal and State Government funders it works with.

Developed using Dynamics 365, MA Connect provides a secure and comprehensive view of the people Mission Australia helps. It supports a range of different work processes across its different services, and improves the organisation’s analytics capability ensuring it can deliver the right service to the right people at the right time.

Cloud-based and resilient, MA Connect also supported Mission Australia personnel working from home during the pandemic, minimising service disruption at a time when many of the organisation’s clients were particularly vulnerable and in need of support.

Agility and security

Portrait image of James Toomey
James Toomey, CEO, Mission Australia

In the past, Mission Australia relied on a range of manual processes to collect and process information about its clients as well as a legacy platform called MACSIMS which was reaching the limits of its capability and which, having been heavily customised over the years, could no longer be easily updated or refined.

James Toomey, Mission Australia CEO, explains that the organisation needed a modern, agile, but secure platform able to properly protect people’s often highly personal information so as not to “Make vulnerable people more vulnerable.”

The solution had to be secure – but also be accessible to authorised personnel so that they could help people in need quickly.

Toomey also acknowledges the genuine thirst for such a system that was emanating from Mission Australia’s staff who understood that a modern digital platform would help them do their jobs efficiently and effectively. According to Toomey:

The last year has taught us an enormous amount about how not only we can interact with technology, but how the people that we serve can interact with and use technology too.

The new system means that clients no longer have to tell their stories over and over to different people that they interact with at Mission Australia. They explain their circumstances once. That information is stored securely with their consent in MA Connect, and it is instantly accessible to authorised Mission Australia staff. This stops wasting clients’ and staff time, means that important client information isn’t lost, and avoids duplicating data collection.

Uptake is growing rapidly. By November 2020, 450 staff involved in 85 Mission Australia services were using the platform. Another 400 staff in 100 more services are gearing up to use MA Connect by the end of 2021.

According to Marion Bennett, Mission Australia Executive for Practice, Evidence and Impact, the youth workers, case workers, psychologists and counsellors who have access to the system report a better user experience with MA Connect. “The main benefit we were seeking was to make the user experience better for our frontline workers, so they didn’t have to spend as much time doing data entry or unnecessary administration tasks. Then they could devote the time saved to the thing they do best – giving one-on-one support to people in need,” says Bennett.

“When COVID hit and there were a lot of lockdowns, our service workers were working from home, they were interacting with clients often through Teams or through phone calls. MA Connect allowed them to enter the information about the clients from where they were, rather than having to go into the office.

“Last year was a time of extreme disadvantage and stress for many of the people that we work with. Obviously we saw a huge jump in unemployment and people experiencing mental health concerns, compounded by the worries about COVID, rising domestic and family violence unfortunately, and loneliness as people lived in isolation.

“Our service workers rose to the challenge. They did an amazing job staying in touch with their clients, talking with people that they hadn’t met before, welcoming new clients into support that they could give – and MA Connect was a big part of that picture.” she adds.

Staff providing advice to client in office
MA Connect has enabled better user experience for frontline workers, whilst providing greater care for clients (Source: Mission Australia)

The platform has delivered benefits besides helping Mission Australia achieve better experiences for its workers and more support for its clients. It has also delivered more accurate data with higher integrity and streamlined reporting to funders, supporters and research bodies such as the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

This hasn’t been easy to design into MA Connect, given the inconsistent and often rapidly changing requirements of government agencies, and has caused some challenges and delays along the implementation journey.

Because the quality, timeliness and accuracy of the data in MA Connect is improved, the back-office work burden surrounding data management has been reduced, and there are fewer gaps in the data. The implementation highlighted areas of improvement required in Mission Australia’s data collection and processes, that required intensive support and training to the frontline staff to remedy. But perseverance is a Mission Australia value and the effort is now paying off.

For example Mission Australia can now collect rich data from people attending group sessions, for example, where families with children with psychosocial disability can meet together to combat isolation, support each other and participate in capacity building activities. According to Bennett;

Now, we’re gathering information from nearly 1,000 more people because the old system didn’t allow us to collect that.

Accelerating impact

Mission Australia’s ability to deliver specific services has been enhanced by MA Connect. Beverley Aufai is the Homelessness Services Program Specialist for Mission Australia in NSW, and works with caseworkers who support people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

Reflecting on last year in the height of the COVID-19 restrictions, she says “The fact that workers can do their work on MA Connect on an iPad out in the community, has really helped.” Additionally, the workers can complete their case management tasks where it makes most sense – in the office or out in the community, and they can complete it straight after meeting with a client.

Aufai also highlights that, now, caseworkers’ suggestions about MA Connect can be used to shape updates and enhancements, because the system is far more flexible and adaptable than the previous legacy system.

Rachelle Elphick, Area Manager for Mission Australia in Northern Sydney adds that the platform ensures staff have far more visibility about the services and support being provided to clients.

Mission Australia staff providing service inside a clients home
Powered through Dynamics 365, staff can complete tasks wherever it works for them, in the office or out in the community (Source: Mission Australia)

MA Connect’s dashboards, she says “are like a daily snapshot within a program – what needs to be done, what’s escalating, what needs to be actioned, when the last client update was, when they were last seen. Anything that needs to be approved or assigned, the amount of time that people have been with us, their caseload numbers, the risk assessments that are outstanding. So there’s a bit of a to-do list, that people can see in the dashboards, which we’ve never had before.”

The administration overheads on Mission Australia staff have meanwhile been reined in, and there is greatly improved data quality across the organisation.

This means, according to James Toomey, that staff can spend more quality time with individual clients, or see more clients overall because they are not burdened by administrative tasks.

With the digital foundations now in place, use of MA Connect will be expanded to include more features. For example, Mission Australia’s award-winning Impact Measurement program will soon be integrated into MA Connect, to enable even more sophisticated analysis of client outcomes.

Toomey says that one important key to the success of the initiative has been Mission Australia’s continued partnership with Microsoft which he says shares its overarching values and vision.

He says “We are always focused on achieving the best outcomes for the people that we serve.

Our sense always with Microsoft is that their staff also view those consumers not as widgets or bits of code, but they understand they are real humans who have real stories, who have real experiences.

Experiences that can now be securely recorded in MA Connect to ensure expedited access to services that make a real difference to the quality of people’s lives.

Mission Australia Team