There is one conversation that most people in the disability sector will do anything to avoid having. It’s not about SDA, or assistive technology, or even the Portal. It is:
“What on earth are we going to do about our IT systems?”
As Shiung pointed out last year, “technology is rarely responsible for most organisations’ difficulties.” But there is little doubt it is responsible for a lot of our stress levels. Most providers report having some sort of problem with their IT system. Yet for nearly everyone in our sector, IT is not an area where we have much expertise or confidence. Very few people get into this business to spend their days doing due diligence on a new invoicing system, or developing performance criteria to assess a new rostering system.
But whilst knowing the most appropriate way to deal with changing IT systems might not be instinctive for many providers, it is an unavoidable part of modern day service delivery. As we grow, shrink, pivot, realign and evolve, the systems that underpin the people-facing work we do need to change accordingly. To deliver great supports, we need systems that match that our quality and intention.
Is it worth it?
The first thing you need to consider is whether change is actually worth it.
Every organisation has pain points between an IT system, service delivery and organisational processes. But very often, changing IT system means trading one set of deficiencies for another. Usually at great financial, operational and cultural cost. We also need to be careful not to scapegoat IT for everything that is not working in the organisation. So before making any decisions, providers need to do some significant soul searching to determine whether changing IT systems is right for them.
That all being said, there are some situations where it is necessary to take the plunge. These will be different for each organisation. But generally speaking, it might be a good time to make the swap if you have grown significantly in size, substantially changed your service model or developed a new strategy.
If you have a clear understanding of the financial or service impact of using your current system, then that will assist you to build the case for or against making a change. Knowing that you could save a certain amount by not needing to manually record all services for upload to the Provider Portal, for example, might be enough to make the swap worthwhile.
Once you have decided to make a change, the next step is to do your due diligence when choosing your next system. If you take any shortcuts in your research, you are likely to regret it later. Here are some things you must do:
Talk to people from all levels of your organisation about how they use the IT system. You want to try understand what they need from an IT system, what things are working for them at the moment, the problems they are having and how they would like to see these problems fixed.
Consider how this new system will integrate with your existing ones.
When exploring the features of a new system, be conscious of how much of what you are being promised is a functionality now rather than being on the ‘roadmap.’ The ‘roadmap’ is a classic piece of IT lingo. Never rely on any feature that is not available in the present.
Is the system modular? It might not be worth paying for an Event Management function if you are never going to use it.
How accessible is the system? It never ceases to amaze me how many IT systems made for the disability sector aren’t compliant with web accessibility standards.
Make sure you test the systems. If a software vendor says the rostering functions connects seamlessly with all major accounting software packages, send them a handful of dummy shifts and ask them to generate a payroll file for you to test. It is also good to give the people who will be using the system the opportunity to do the testing.
Ask for references. Then ask for some more references. Then ask for even more references.
Consider whether the IT system will grow with you. You want something that will be an improvement today, but also align with your strategic and business plans for the coming 3, 5 and 10 years.
But if we can ask only one question, it should be:
Does this system align with our mission, values and culture? If culture eats strategy for breakfast, culture eats IT systems for every other meal of the day.
Overall, technology is designed to make our lives simpler. Whilst it has the potential to break our spirits, going back to pen and paper is usually not an option. But if you put your culture at the heart of every decision you make, the question of what to do about the IT system will really not be so hard after all.