Government 'under-resourced and underprepared' for NDIS online rollout: PwC

After conducting a review of the Australian government's National Disability Insurance Scheme payments portal, PwC has recommended the government revisit its readiness to deliver such a large-scale initiative after IT disruptions plagued the initial rollout.

PwC has found that the federal government was under-resourced and underprepared in rolling out the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), which resulted in a number of disruptions to the online MyPlace portal including delays in payments being issued to service providers and those with a disability.

In its report [PDF] National Disability Insurance Scheme MyPlace Portal Implementation Review - Final Report, PwC made six recommendations to the government, which included the appointment of an experienced chief operating officer and that the NDIS monitor payments and service recovery against agreed performance metrics.

The NDIS is expected to provide all Australians under the age of 65 who have a permanent and significant disability with "reasonable and necessary" financial support.

Following the direction previously given by the Productivity Commission, the NDIS began its national rollout on July 1, 2016, and in the seven weeks since, the NDIS claimed it had processed over AU$65 million worth of payment requests. However, speaking on 774 radio in Melbourne on Friday, Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services Jenny Macklin said that fewer than 1,000 people with a disability were actually receiving support packages.

The MyPlace portal is where those enrolled in the NDIS arrange bookings and services with providers and is also the location for submitting payment requests, previously known as claims. A payment request is submitted by the end user, and if approved, the funds allocated to them within the portal allows them to pay for services, such as medical appointments.

Minister for Social Services Christian Porter and Assistant Minister for Social Services and Disability Services Jane Prentice said in a joint statement it was undertaking the PwC review as a result of disruptions the payments system had faced over its first few weeks in operation.

Such disruptions included the inability to upload provider data to the portal, which Porter said resulted in delays to payments being issued by the agency, and multiple concerns being expressed by providers and participants.

According to the report, the NDIS IT solution was built using Department of Human Services (DHS) existing IT systems in attempt to maximise re-use of existing government capabilities. The repeat pattern capabilities were configured to meet the needs of the NDIS, with 19 DHS patterns re-used and another three "enriched" with scheme requirements and an additional three new Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) patterns developed, PwC said.

"Although IT system defects were identified that created gaps requiring further development, none of these defects prevented the implementation of the minimum viable product," PwC found.

"As NDIA transitions to full scheme, the IT system will need to be uplifted from the current minimum viable product to full IT support."

PwC found that the payments blunder was in part caused by the data migration the NDIA undertook between the Department of Social Services (DSS) Siebel system into the DHS SAP system.

"The controls regarding participant and provider payments in the SAP system are stronger than the interim Siebel system and this has contributed to payment failures. As a temporary solution, the system controls in the SAP system have been relaxed with these to be restored once the system is stabilised," the report says.

"Functional and user acceptance testing was completed before 1 July 2016, however, issues with migrated data was still being identified and resolved post go-live. Testing on data in non-live environments was not able to detect all data issues that led to payment failures post 1 July, 2016."

PwC said that the NDIA did not implement a comprehensive service delivery operating model when rolling out the scheme, and that stakeholder engagement, training, and preparedness was insufficient, with necessary training materials not finalised for staff and providers by the rollout commencement.

"Based on the available evidence sighted and interviews conducted, we have found that the IT system has been built according to the agreed business case and government outcomes," PwC said.

"Although IT system defects were identified that created gaps requiring further development, none of these defects prevented the implementation of the minimum viable product."

The report also said that the root cause of the payment system failure was not a single catastrophic event, rather a series of "compounding issues".

"The full scheme IT implementation ran out of time to fully complete the required implementation activities and proceeded with the acceptance of the identified implementation risks with the intention of applying maximum response to the problems," the report says.

"However, the change effort and overall program was under-resourced and underprepared in order to provide the accurate and timely support required by participants and providers when faced with IT challenges."

The NDIA's capabilities were previously reviewed in early 2014, with PwC saying it was already highlighted to the government that the interim IT system would not be suitable to handle the transition to the full scheme rollout, and a fit-for-purpose IT solution was required for the full online launch in July 2016.

PwC found, however, in this report that the IT system had been built according to the agreed business case -- approved by the government in May 2015 -- and government outcomes.

PwC said the decision to launch the NDIS IT system was made despite concerns over the readiness of some people, providers, and participants, with the report noting the decision to go live was based primarily on IT system readiness as opposed to business, people, and sector readiness.

Another recommendation made by PwC was that the NDIA undertake a comprehensive stakeholder and change impact assessment in order to fully understand the needs of those using the portals.

PwC said that continuous development and adaptation of the IT solution placed additional stress on the NDIA, and that stakeholder engagement, training, and preparedness was not sufficient, with necessary training materials not finalised for staff and providers by June 29, 2016.

"During the IT solution development, there is evidence that some key business readiness activities were either identified too late or not completed effectively," the report says.

DHS is also in the midst of updating its own ageing welfare payments system, which is currently responsible for processing over AU$100 billion in Centrelink payments annually.

Last month, the department announced SAP as the preferred tenderer to upgrade the system, slated to cost the Australian government billions.

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