Large complex programs, like the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) are notoriously difficult to implement. With the importance of the NDIS, the benefits it will provide and the general contribution to Australian society, we owe it to ourselves to do it right.
The recent review of the NDIS identified its ICT system is not fit for purpose. The usual approach adopted for large government projects is to outsource the development of the system to a single party so there is one party responsible. However, as has been experienced with the Queensland Department of Health, accountability for the performance of the organisation, implementation of the scheme and operation of the ICT system remains with the government department.
Many of these types of implementations are destined to fail from the beginning because there is no clear understanding of the requirements. The requirements for ICT systems must be based on the business processes, responsibilities and accountabilities of the organisation and there must be explicit linkages between business processes, the requirements for systems capability and the systems functionality to deliver a workable system.
Too often, information is lost between the different phases of the system and what is delivered is not fit for purpose.
The IT challenges faced by the NDIS
Rolling out the NDIS is a very big, very complex job which requires the close cooperation of the Federal Government, all the state and territory governments, disability support organisations, local area coordinators, other government organisations, specialists and many other providers.
The coordination required to deliver an efficient system that results in most of the funding being provided to the intended recipients rather than being soaked up along the way, is extremely challenging.
The review has looked at the alignment of processes, systems, and the expertise of people to deliver on the objectives of the scheme. The review has found inadequacies with the systems and processes, how responsibilities and accountabilities were defined and also how knowledge was retained.
All of this is understandable with the rushed implementation of the trials but these are critical issues that must be addressed before the implementation and during the next trial stages.
They will be re-locating the NDIS National Office to Geelong in July this year and this threatens loss of knowledge and further setbacks to the implementation.
There will no doubt be political pressure to be seen to be making progress and, as the review points out, there is contention between the short-term priorities and the future priorities that will deliver future sustainability of the scheme.
What’s the solution?
Firstly, we need to make sure any knowledge that has been gained is retained. This includes the operation of the trials and the interactions between the various parties. The best way to capture this information is in the form of a business model that represents the detailed interactions or business processes, roles of individuals, how systems will be used and how compliance will be managed.
The business model should also be used to simulate the expected operating environment of the NDIS, capture all knowledge, communicate to all parties concerned, incorporate changes that are discovered, drive the development of ICT systems, deliver an operating model and allow future changes in the operations.
There are a set of excellent recommendations in the review of the NDIS and the management has already indicated it has accepted and are acting on these recommendations. Further to that, they need to capture the learning, clarify the responsibilities, plan for knowledge transfer, measure performance and provide standard operating procedures in a manner that ensures they are applied consistently and compliantly.
This requires a business management system that implements the business model described earlier. This business management system must be capable of being used nationally by all participants and to evolve as the scheme is implemented and matures. There needs to be recognition that each of the components – people, processes, systems and documents – are inter-dependent and cannot be approached on a piecemeal basis.
The NDIS is a huge program that is expected to employ over 10,000 people and provide services to 450,000 people. This is a massive investment that has broad support across the community and it is critical to get it right. A modelling approach will ensure that the program is implemented effectively and on time.
Bruce Nixon is the CEO of business management systems provider Holocentric.