Australia's NDIS goes live with first phase of digital transformation program

The Specialist Disability Accommodation within Australia's disability scheme has been overhauled from relying on 'off systems' to being completely visible.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

The agency responsible for administering Australia's National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) recently went live with its first piece of work as part of a multi-phase, multi-year digital transformation program.

Ron Coldebella, deputy CIO of the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), said that the agency went live with its newly revamped Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) approximately a month ago.

"The feedback has been very, very positive. In particular, it's been about the ease of use. But also really about visibility. People now know where things are up to," he said, speaking as part of the Salesforce Live ANZ event on Tuesday.

Coldebella explained that some of the common issues that the NDIA faced with the legacy system was not being able to answer queries from providers and participants, and staff not having visibility over what was being delivered to participants or being able to track programs because the platform relied on "off systems".

"For those who know, that really means practically we've got spreadsheets, we've got access databases, we've got Outlook, and it's not a great way to control what is a very important part of the scheme," he said.

Read: There are 84 high-cost IT projects underway by the Australian government

To put it into perspective, Coldebella explained the NDIS funds the disability sector to a tune of roughly AU$22 billion, and points out that a "large portion" of the total amount is spent on SDA.

"Unfortunately, our legacy system or the system that we've got in place at the moment, doesn't really support that," he said.

Upgrading the SDA is part of a larger piece of the work that the NDIA is undertaking to overhaul its Engage platform.

Eventually, Coldebella wants to see all the agency's legacy systems completely replaced and touts integrating Salesforce will be the solution to help them get there.

"What we're really looking for is really replacing everything as we move forward. This is obviously over a multi-year program, but it's one where in the end Salesforce will be used by all of our staff, all of our providers, but more importantly, by all of our participants. It's a major, major change to what we're doing," he said.

Coldebella attributed the success of the program so far has been helped by the idea that "the vast proportion of people aren't that comfortable with the current legacy system we have".

"As the deputy CIO, it was my job to decide how we move the program forward. We've really handed it over to the business, so they decide what the priorities are, they decide what the key areas of focus are as we move forward … it's really then become very much a joint exercise," he said.

On Monday, Shadow Minister for NDIS Bill Shorten criticised that while 433,000 people are getting support via the scheme -- a lot more than there ever use to be -- the scheme is a "bureaucratic monster", and believes it would worsen if the federal government's proposed changes to the eligibility assessment process went ahead.

The federal government has proposed to introduce "independent assessments" to the NDIS where participants would undergo a three-hour interview with contracted health professionals to determine their eligibility for support, instead of submitting a report by their treating specialists.

"I think these independent assessments are trying to import a worker's compensation approach into the NDIS. And by that, in workers compensation, if you lose a finger in a bandsaw at work, that's sort of losing a finger is losing a finger, and you can assess that and you can create a consistent compensation," he said during an interview with ABC Radio Melbourne.

"But for a lot of the conditions in the NDIS, it's about helping people set up their goals. Their circumstances vary from person to person. So, using some sort of mathematical algorithm, some sort of robo-planning system, and saying … hey presto, I think you'll find that most packages will come out pretty much the same."

The Australian National Audit Office had recommended in 2019 that the NDIA implement data-matching to thwart fraudulent claim, but robo-planning would seem a step further.

But the introduction of independent assessments to NDIS is not the only concern. The NDIA's forthcoming NDIS app due to launch in the next few months has also been on the radar of senators.

The disability app is being designed to be used by participants in the NDIS to claim expenses against their support plan, however, senators have raised concerns that the app will become another COVIDSafe app: Millions of dollars spent on technology that doesn't really do the job.

The intention was to fix a poor web experience, and allow claims to be made from a mobile device.

Earlier this month, the NDIA informed ZDNet that the new app has no links to a 2018 trial that used blockchain technology for NDIS payments. The trial was carried out by the Digital Transformation Agency, CSIRO's Data61, and the Commonwealth Bank, and "independently of the NDIA", according to an NDIA spokesperson said.

"That trial... used NDIS payments as the basis of its model. However, the NDIA did not commission the trial, nor did the Agency act on any of its findings," the spokesperson added.

Department of Social Services Secretary Kathryn Campbell said the long-term plan is to have one app for all Commonwealth government services.

"One to rule the world," she said last month.

"It would come up and tell you each of them. It would make life a lot easier and be able to tell people when they had appointments coming up, when they had obligations, when they had to return forms and the like and pay their tax. So that is our long-term plan for government digital."


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