Friday, 08 February 2019 00:16

FACS iPad app IVY puts the human back into human services


The NSW Department of Family and Community Services' IVY app is claimed to have cut 70,000 hours of administration, freeing front-line staff to spend more time with social housing tenants.

The efficiency gains have resulted in one third — 22,000 — of the department’s yearly visit targets being completed in 60 days, while also delivering faster follow-up actions and improved care outcomes for the housing clients.

The app runs on Apple iPads, with its name IVY meaning “I Visit You", reflecting a core component of the department’s mission. Due to its success, other state governments and community housing organisations are speaking to FACS about learning and adopting the app.

Along with child protection, FACS is responsible for social housing for the NSW Government. With a portfolio of 130,000 properties owned and managed all over NSW, it is the biggest landlord in the southern hemisphere.

The work to manage these assets and tenants has historically been labour intensive with some 600 client service officers looking after 350 to 450 properties each. The CSOs perform standard landlord functions such as rent management, social behaviour and property care, but have the extra responsibilities of social housing because FACS is a government department, and specifically a human services department. As such, it is interested in ensuring tenants live as much of a happy life as they can, in tune with their neighbours and successfully moving on to education and employment where possible or, if not, to be a good tenant who pays their rent on time and looks after the property.

The CSO relied heavily on paper forms and back-office data entry, taking them away from the people they need to be with. FACS needed trained staff to be out in the field but in effect, they were tied down with administration instead of seeing more tenants.

This problem of improving the effectiveness of a client service visit thus seemed a good project when FACS launched its Housing Connect digital transformation program several years ago. This brought about new channels for FACS clients and the people who interact with clients. “It’s a myth if you're poor or elderly or disadvantaged that technology is not for you, but we’ve proven that wrong. It doesn’t matter your socioeconomic status. You have a right to choose how to access Government services,” says Lance Carden, FACS director, Customer Service and Business Improvement and Housing Connect.

A typical visit prior to IVY was very time-consuming, explains Roger McLean, FACS client service officer. The CSO spent time in their office both before and after the visit, looking up details about the property and tenant, navigating between systems to get information to complete forms, and then on return to the office scanning documents, making follow-up calls and other actions.

Yet, after IVY the visit is “absolutely amazing”, McLean says. “IVY has simplified the way we conduct our field visits. It’s so user friendly. We touch the screen, push a few buttons, check yes or no options, set reminders, write in notes … it’s made our role a lot better and allowed more time on the field.

“You can schedule multiple visits prior to going to the field, and your tenancies are showing in IVY so you know which properties or units to visit – you can get through it quickly.”

Some FACS clients enter into rent arrears because of financial issues, Carden explains. Using IVY the CSO can collaborate with the client to reach an agreement and payment plan, allowing the client to fill it in on the iPad then and there, with a debit arrangement being sent to Centrelink for action. Prior to IVY, it may be difficult to engage with the clients on this topic and if the client filled in a paper-based form the CSO still had to scan and send it later that day when back at the office, or potentially the next day depending on their schedule.

IVY has freed CSOs to spend time in the field interacting with FACS clients, but it does not end here. The clients directly benefit by the enhanced level of service CSOs can provide with greater time and an arsenal of resources in their hands.

A specific elderly couple in Queanbeyan are clients, Carden explains, and paid their rent on time, related well with the neighbourhood, and generally were good tenants in all respects. As such, nothing about their situation raised alarms with the FACS team. Yet when an IVY-wielding CSO visited, she identified some property care and personal care issues and made a referral to the aged care team on the spot, through the iPad app. Prior to IVY it would again have been the situation of waiting until back in the office to make calls and referrals.

“It’s an excellent reflection on what we can do with technology and bridging gaps, particularly with our tenants who often need support and assistance,” says Carden.

IVY was piloted in November 2017 and launched statewide in the first half of 2018. Over 600 CSOs in the field use it, and 150,000 forms have been completed which would otherwise have been paper-based and manually processed.

It took two and a half years to develop, with the first 18 months being detailed design. Carden explains any project needs subject matter experts but in FACS’ case, it knew there was a challenge in convincing 600 front-line staff about using an iPad app in the field. It was imperative the product did not interrupt the human-centric work of the officers, and that it was fit-for-purpose. It was essential the design fitted the CSO so the project team brought in staff like McLean who could translated the nuances of how they work in the field. Unlike a conventional project, McLean and his fellow CSOs didn’t merely provide insight, but were trained as project managers, business analysts and change managers. They brought their knowledge into the work of making the app, to ensure it was as finely-tuned to the CSO as possible, Carden states.

The team selected Apple’s iOS as their platform for reasons relating to quality and features, and partnered with Telstra and TigerSpike to create the app.

The app is pushed to the department’s iPad fleet via MDM, and CSOs are trained in other features and functions of the iPad in general beyond IVY to help them get the most out of it.

To ensure client data is not at risk if an iPad is lost or stolen, IVY includes a time-out feature and sits behind three levels of authentication. Devices can also be remotely erased.

Yet, losing the iPad may not be a real problem; the feedback the IVY team have received is staff take pride in the devices feeling their job has been recognised and they are appreciated. They understand it is not a quick-and-dirty app but time and money was invested into it and provided on a quality device.

“We encourage them to use the device for more than just IVY like email and all other functions for work, even to use it at home because we want them to love it and use it more and more. Some stalwart CSOs we expected to have challenges in adopting are the ones embracing it. It’s blowing us away. They say absolutely we’re going to find new ways to do this,” Carden says.

FACS has received interest from social housing departments in other states as well as other community housing providers in NSW.

“It’s absolutely transformational in social housing,” Carden says, “It’s transforming the way we run our business and other states are keen to do the same.”

BELOW and the picture above: FACS tenant Kate McDonnell and FACS client service officer Briana Magno use IVY together.



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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.



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