Nearly AU$250,000 spent per month on staff costs to develop NDIS app

In addition to spending around AU$250,000 per month on staff building out the app, as of February, a handful of tech vendors have already walked away with over AU$1 million to help the agency deliver the solution that senators are not convinced NDIS participants even want.

During Senate Estimates in March, it was revealed the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) would be soon launching an app for NDIS participants, with the aim of giving users a better experience than is provided via the web portal.

At the time, senators raised concerned that NDIS participants didn't actually call for an app to be made, and that money on its development was being unnecessarily spent.

The NDIA has since responded to a handful of questions taken on notice, with one detailing that the idea for an app came from a recommendation the Joint Standing Committee on the NDIS made in its report, NDIS ICT Systems, which recommended "the NDIA work with service providers and participants to codesign future enhancements to the portals and 'Provider Finder'".

That report also called for a chatbot.

According to the NDIA, in direct response to that recommendation, it began consultation in August 2019 with participants on current and future online services.

It did not say how agreement on the development of an app was reached, saying, "The NDIA does not hold structured data on how many people asked for the my NDIS mobile application", but said of those trialling the app, 570 pieces of feedback had been provided to the agency, which "has been used to drive enhancements and improve features".

"Feedback demonstrated a desire for a simple and easy to use way to facilitate participant interactions with the NDIA. A mobile application for the NDIS myplace portal would meet the needs of many of its users, including the desire for an easily accessible interface," it added.

There are 422 participants in the trial of the app. By contrast, the original trials of the NDIS captured about 30,000 people.

Work on the app began in July 2019. As of February, a total of AU$1.55 million has been spent on the app, across five suppliers: DB Results, Optus, yReceipts, HBLL, and Clayton Utz.

As at 31 March 2021, there were 13.2 full-time equivalent employees working on developing the My NDIS mobile app.

NDIA said the monthly cost of this team is AU$246,267.

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

"The NDIS mobile app resources work on a range of activities and requirements, including: Conducting procurements and technology feasibility evaluations; building prototypes; evaluating user experience and user interface design to suit accessibility needs; coding the app; working with Services Australia to develop inter-system connections (eg APIs and myGov); identifying issues and prioritising the product feature backlog; engaging with stakeholders and change management coordination; engaging with participants for user stories, interviews, and running test sessions; and managing the pilot group," NDIA wrote.

The current version of the app will not link data from other government agencies, but agency representatives during Estimates said in the future it could plug into myGov through the use of a common identity and login capability, such is currently the case with Medicare and the Australian Taxation Office.

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

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

NDIA said the roadmap for the My NDIS mobile application future functions currently includes: Additional accessibility features, such as high contrast mode and iconography; revised homepage navigation; enhanced claiming, such as a lodging a recurring payment; in-app web chat; and case tracker visibility, for example ability to lodge and track an enquiry.

Addressing the National Press Club last month, former Opposition Leader and now Shadow Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten detailed his plan for how a Labor-run NDIS would take shape, such as through strengthening the disability watchdog and introducing greater accountability of how money is spent in the NDIA and the NDIS.

Shorten also took the opportunity to point to the recent appointment of Linda Reynolds as the minister now responsible for the NDIS, after taking over from now-Minister for Employment Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business Stuart Robert. Shorten said there are things that Reynolds would need to do if she wanted Australia to believe she was not there to "simply continue Stuart Robert's work of demolishing and privatising the NDIS".

"She's got a very easy act to follow," he said. "But her test can't be that she's just not as bad as Stuart Robert. This is her chance for redemption."

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