Department of Employment gets visual to fill Australian jobs

The Australian Department of Employment has realised the power of visualising its data to see more jobseekers fill roles around the country and more services offered to those that need it most.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

After the 2013 federal election, the Australian government separated the Department of Employment from the larger Department of Education, leaving the separate, smaller organisation to kick-off its journey into digital.

One of the main areas of the Department of Employment is their jobactive initiative, which provides services to the unemployed out of 1,700 locations across the country. The initiative is the Australian government's way of getting more people into work; however, the department does not deliver the service itself -- rather for-profit and not-for-profit contracted providers do on its behalf.

The department is very hands-on with these service providers. Stephen Moore, CIO at the Department of Employment, told ZDNet he is responsible for providing the systems for the service providers to use as they need to interact directly with the department's income support systems to determine who in the community is eligible for support.

Moore said that the processes of determining how to pay for outcomes and checking if a customer has reduced their income support payments or obtained full-time employment became tedious with the amount of jobseekers on its books.

The department set out at the end of last year to find a better way of doing things, starting with a vendor to partner with that could provide a better analytics capability than a spreadsheet.

"One of the issues for us is that it we've provided reporting capability for quite a long time, both management and operational reporting, but we reached a point during last year where we thought there were opportunities to actually drive better performance," Moore said.

"We started looking around to see what products there might be that we could provide for our jobactive providers where we could raise the bar a bit on analytics and help them understand what was going on -- how they were achieving their results and where they could achieve better results.

"We have some quite large providers who probably have this sort of capability themselves but we've also got some smaller ones for whom that sort of capability is probably not cost effective."

Moore said the department had to determine what was actually needed, and that the chosen provider -- business intelligence and visualisation software firm Qlik -- was also very good with its marketing.

"One of the things was ideally the ability to provide to each of our providers -- their data on what they're doing with some comparisons about how they're going against everyone else, but do that in a cost effective and sustainable way," he said.

"I guess this is where Qlik came in because one of the capabilities of Qlik is a thing called 'row level security' where I could publish the analytic apps, and, depending on the security of the user, [the service provider] gets to see their data."

The CIO said one of the things that attracted him to Qlik over the others vendors was its ability to produce the analytics, then publish, and have it in use instantly.

"Much more efficient than me having to split up the data myself and put it into a number of paddocks, one for each provider. I could actually rely on the capability to do that," Moore said.

"We did a proof-of-concept -- it appeared also that Qlik was quite easy to use and would speed up our ability to produce reports."

He also said the creative visualisation analysis provided the ability for less sophisticated users to tinker with the data the department gave them to produce their own analyses.

"One of the things I probably haven't really appreciated is the power of data visualisation; the ability to turn that data into a picture probably has a bigger impact than I thought," Moore added.

"If we can give our people that are running these contracted organisations insights into their service that they can't otherwise get, and they can use those to improve their performance, then that's a win for our customers who are the unemployed.

"We've got about 750,000 jobseekers on the books receiving services and in any given year we place between 3-400,000 of those into a job. If I can have a 1 percent impact on that -- that's a big impact in people's lives."

The decision to employ Qlik was made in February. By April, Moore's team had rolled out its first set of apps to providers.

"One of the things that turned out to be very good was how quickly we were able to implement it," Moore said. "The way we went about it was we actually purchased the licences for each provider and their developers, and a set of licences for viewers. The size of the organisation determined how many apps we rolled out."

Three months was a relatively quick move by government, with Moore feeling it important for government to be more "agile".

"Government services need to operate within the broader community and the broader community is more and more using digital services. Therefore if we're not, that's a problem because that's what people are used to -- and there are also greater and better opportunities in the digital space to enhance services," he said.

The Department of Education is currently undertaking work in the mobile app space and is about to trial its first "gamified" mobile app for jobseekers, as Moore said this is what people are doing out in the real world.

"If government isn't doing that then I think government services start to look a bit ordinary and potentially irrelevant," he said. "I would argue we've been pushing the boundaries pretty hard."

Moore said he and the department intend to do more with its data, but the next step in the journey is to think about its traditional reporting function and whether the Qlik solution will augment that process or even replace it.

"That's something we're working through at the moment but we've got a few things to work through with our providers and one of our approaches -- which we can do quite readily -- is put out our apps as beta versions to get feedback," he said.

"We started with three apps. We've got a couple more out there and another one just about to go out and we'll start to expand this."

For Moore, he has enjoyed the ability to build beta apps and not having to make the decision on publishing before all involved get to have their say.

"Maybe that's a bit different for governments. Maybe we haven't tended to do that in the past but I think that's something that more and more you'll see governments doing and it's certainly part of the Australian government's digital transformation agenda," he said.

"This is the space where I can do that with my users and hopefully get to the right answer more quickly. We see this as an opportunity to drive the outcomes that we're trying to achieve full stop.

"I think there's a huge potential for all sorts of government services and certainly in our space where we can help our jobseekers help themselves and we can enhance and make our services more attractive for employers. If we do those sorts of things we're going to be more successful over all.

"There are so many opportunities -- I think it's exciting."

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