How the NSW Department of Family and Community Services' (FACS) Housing Connect digital transformation program is helping staff spend more time with the tenants who need them.
As one of the largest social housing providers in the world, the New South Wales Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) manages more than 120,000 properties across the state.
As you might imagine, that means a lot of paperwork – and up until recently, the tenant visitations relied on physical record keeping, which was not only administratively intensive, but was prone to errors through manual data entry.
As part of the department’s broader digital transformation, FACS partnered with Telstra and mobile technology company Tigerspike to develop I Visit You, otherwise known as IVY, a bespoke iPad application which streamlines the data collection in client service visits and hooks directly into FACS’ backend systems.
By digitising this aspect of visits, FACS’ Director of Customer Service & Business Improvement Lance Carden, estimates that the administration time for each visit has been cut down by 50%, giving client service officers more time to be present with tenants.
"Our vision is using modern technology to transform FACS and make our processes simpler, giving us more time to support those in need."
Lance Carden, Director of Customer Service, FACS.
“The vision of the Housing Connect Program is using modern technology to transform our processes to make them simpler, to move our staff away from administrative functions and provide them with more time to spend with our community and those most in need,” Carden says.
Since its April launch, IVY has facilitated more than 22,000 client service visits and more than 4,000 property condition reports, reducing administration time by a full our each – in addition to providing FACS’ Client Service Officers (CSO) and tenants alike with the assurance of knowing that there’s no paperwork to get lost or incorrectly input.
“We designed IVY to support the processes that occur out in tenants' homes, but the app works so well that our staff are using it for the front counter, because it's much faster than some of our existing systems,” says Carden.
An unexpected benefit of the iPad app is that it actually changes the physical relationship between tenants and CSOs – moving them to the same side of the table to collaborate on the tablet, rather than the more detached act passing papers back and forth.
Designed across 11 weeks, Lance attributes the app’s rapid uptake among staff to the collaborative approach to design, which included extensive surveying, consultation and workshops with the people who’d be using the app every day.
"Getting it right the first time was really important for us, and that meant that we needed to test our IVY app solution extensively,” says Carden. “So, we tested it in both Orange and in Waterloo, under different circumstances, both offline and online, in remote locations, in city high rise buildings, to make sure that it worked in every possible scenario that we could have our staff working in."
Although it’s a good problem to have, one of the dangers IVY ran into was that the feedback from early testing was so positive that staff were clamouring for more aspects of their workflow to be integrated into the app, potentially blowing out the project’s scope.
Lance attributes the project’s success to a decision to delay additional features until after the initial launch, rather than adjust the project’s scope mid-development.
"I think getting our 600 client service officers on board was one of our biggest challenges. There'd been a history of ICT not always being a great success for our staff, and so, with that in mind, we had to convince our staff that IVY at least was actually going to save them time and enhance their work experience.
"One thing FACS recognised was that it wasn’t just a change in software – IVY represented a culture change as the workforce moved from being primarily office based to spending most of their time out in the field. To bring staff onboard with the new approach, FACS hosted more than 130 training sessions across metro and regional areas to build technical skills and establish mobile workflows.
IVY is just the most recent project FACS has completed with Telstra, a partnership that has flourished due to the two organisations’ commitment to quality, Lance says.
"One of the strengths of our partnership with Telstra is that they get us," says Lance. "They spend the time out in the community with our staff, focusing on what it means to be a client service officer, and understanding what the role is, and then helping us build that into digital solutions that make sense, not just for our staff, but the people that we work with in the community."