Achieving Sustainability - Part 1
Updated: May 5
Prior to the arrival of Covid-19, around half the provider organisations in the Aged Care and Disability sectors reported an inability to generate financial surpluses. The impact of the pandemic will likely push some organisations even further from financial sustainability. Blue Bike works extensively across the broader Human and Community Services sectors, so we see a wide range of capabilities, capacities, and maturity. Let’s look at maturity uplift as a means of enabling greater financial sustainability and client value.
Setting the scene: Commonality
Whether a provider is in the Aged Care, Disability, Mental Health, Allied Health, Social Services sectors, there are often common services delivered, including:
· In-home care
· Residential accommodation
· Day programs
· Clinical consultation / therapy services
We’d argue that the points of commonality across many providers are much greater than points of difference, as shown by the wagon-wheel of common functional needs depicted below:
All this complexity creates a problem
For many providers, the combination of operational complexity plus lower process, data, and technology maturity severely limits their ability to avoid high overheads that come from manual administrative functions. Manual processing can lead to “quality” issues that create revenue leakage (i.e. bleeding money when services provided aren’t billed, and payments aren’t reconciled with service provision), or package balance inaccuracies, or missed shifts. Many providers run a team of admin staff who are buried up to their elbows in spreadsheets and paper files.
Of course, different organisations have different strengths and weaknesses, although we see many with little data management capability. All of the 26 functions in the wagon-wheel involve the capture of data – whether that be via pen on paper, or a cloud-based business tool.
If “data” is the deficiency for human and community services organisations, then why?
Here are a few reasons:
1. The lack of a common data model:
a. Does Chris Citizen in your case management system = Chris Citizen in your rostering and scheduling systems, and = Chris Citizen in the invoicing module of your finance system, and = Chris Citizen in your incident management system – all with the same NDIS client number?
b. If you lack this alignment your admin team will probably be doing a lot of manual work to ask and answer simple questions or perform simple functions.
2. No designed data architecture:
a. Architecture is about designing where and how data is captured, shared, and flows through your organisation. This needs to be designed, not evolve.
3. Inadequate governance and management of data. Who owns the data and is accountable, responsible for your data and its quality?
4. Inadequate ownership and management of the processes that capture, modify, and share data.
5. Limited ability to aggregate data in real-time.
What does good look like?
We’ve seen providers with 1990’s era process and technology architectures, we’ve seen others with a full-suite of cloud-based business tools, and everything in-between. Moving to the cloud is a topic we’ve heard providers ponder with some fear, uncertainty, and doubt. This FUD factor usually relates to questions of security, data privacy etc. Organisations should validate the capabilities and compliance of cloud-based tools prior to adoption. Overall, the question of whether or not a provider should move to cloud-based tools reminds me of a question a colleague asked me in 2008: should I get another Blackberry or get one of those new iPhones?
Adopting a suite of cloud-based tools can bring many benefits, including:
· Minimising the risk of core systems and tools becoming outdated
· Less demands for on-premises technology infrastructure – that needs to be maintained and managed
· Heightened mobile capability – a significant issue in these times of working remotely and significant for a mobile workforce
· Typically, modern cloud-based tools will be easier to use and bring more sophisticated functionality than their on-premises predecessors
· Lower capital cost as organisations are paying a subscription fee versus conducting a large systems-integration project
· Many cloud-based tools are adequately configured off the shelf (COTS) so don’t need extensive customisation to meet the needs of the majority of provider organisations
· Process efficiencies from collaboration, workflow, and automation - built-in
The clincher - data maturity
Cloud-based tools bring one critical aspect of functionality which is a big part of the sustainability solution for provider organisations. That is, they have the ability to exchange data (often in near real-time) with other cloud-based business tools. Process maturity and data maturity go hand in hand. One fails without the other, both are essential to improving financial sustainability. Importantly, data flows through processes, is captured and altered in systems, by people! This is not a technology subject. This is an organisational maturity subject.
The good news
Adopting a suite of modern cloud-based tools and aggregating the data in those systems to support workflow, automation, reporting doesn’t necessarily require the multi-million-dollar investment that was required just a few years ago. And this is where we loop back to one of the first points in this blog: Every provider organisation is different, but we often see that the fundamentals across services, clients, people, process, data, and technology are similar.
Commonality creates opportunity
We urge organisations to recognise the commonality of their major functional needs. Adopting tools with minimal customisation can dramatically reduce the cost and time to implement. Legacy process design is often a product of legacy tools, legacy data forms, and entrenched ways of working. Adopting new ways of working aligned with new tools can deliver benefits to sustainability, functionality, and experiences (clients and staff).
There is potential to choose business software vendors who have relationships and experience working with other vendors. You can benefit from relationships where the data links have already been built, where they have already sorted portions of their common data model and have learnt from working with provider organisations in the human and community services sector. The wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented.
See Part 2 of this blog for a view of what the future can actually look like!
Author: Steven Balderstone