Uniting is a multi-service, not for profit (NFP) organisation, caring for the needs of a wide range of people from children to the elderly. It is proactively seeking out where the needs are in the community, and though it is financially successful with a total revenue of A$694 million in 2015, this is all ploughed back into the organisation.
Uniting is operationally independent of the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA), the third largest Christian denomination in Australia, founded in 1977 to draw together the major nonconformist denominations however its ethos imbues the care organisation. And if one word springs to mind to describe that ethos it is inclusivity. You could point to the church's radical support for LGBTI communities (gaining Rainbow Tick accreditation in 2015, Uniting is the first faith-based organisation in Australia to be officially recognised as LGBTI friendly) or Uniting's establishment, fifteen years ago this year, of Australia's (and perhaps the world's) first medically supervised injection service (MCIS) at King's Cross in Sydney. This is not an organisation that shies away from a challenge.
In all Uniting operates a dozen or so 'lines of service' of which by far the largest is residential aged care; others include carer support, support in the community for older and disabled people to live independently, counselling and mediation services, children and young people, and crisis care. With more than 8,000 employees and 3,000 volunteers the NSW/ACT business is the largest part of the grouping of independent businesses that make up the Uniting Care network across Australia.
IT is about people
The NFP sector has tended to lag behind when it comes to innovation and the adoption of new technologies. However its needs are not that different from those of any customer-focused organisation like a bank or a telecommunications company. Uniting's current CIO Renzo Mostacci, appointed in February 2015, came from a very different sector having spent six years as CIO of Coates Hire, Australia's largest equipment hire company serving large construction as well as mining. Before that he was CIO at the State Transit Authority in Sydney. “I like working in organisations that are highly operational,” he says, “and Uniting is certainly one of those when you consider the number of staff and the number of services we operate. I am pushing for a different view of technology. Rather than just tidying up what's there already I wanted to bring some of the learnings from other industries.”
The care sector in Australia, as elsewhere, has evolved from a block funding model to a much more flexible pattern whereby clients are in charge of their own budgets, with a strong emphasis on care in the community. “This so-called client-directed care (CDC) model means we have to reassess our capabilities around community services and how we can do that efficiently at scale. To address these challenges we are executing some exciting strategies at the moment.”
Mostacci set out to transform the way Uniting works and the way it engages and interacts with its clients. A technology-led transformation, he was convinced, was the way to maintain the organisation's market presence in an increasingly deregulated and competitive market, to adapt it to the changing models for delivering community and aged care services. Uniting’s nursing homes are also being transformed. It is called the ‘household model’, where staff create environments where residents can enjoy spontaneity, and have choices in how they spend their days. This means Uniting has had to re-think the way it works. Freeing staff from office-based reporting by encouraging the use of mobile devices makes service delivery much more effective, he points out, even in a residential care situation. “Our technology needs to be mobile. Our staff are ‘doing business’ in home-like environments – flexibility and mobility is key.”
Forging a strategy
Renzo Mostacci was keen to take up these challenges and delighted to have been given all the support, financial and managerial, he needed to implement a new strategy that would shift the organisation from its legacy of underinvestment in IT to a market leading position. Systems, hardware, networks and the entire telecommunications infrastructure came under scrutiny, and a strategy was designed to address the key opportunities and challenges facing Uniting.
Uniting IT strategy:
1. Connect with clients
2. Become leaders in the use of point-of-care technology
3. Understand our customers
4. Become a data-led organisation
5. Create a unified back-office system
6. Move to cloud based services
7. Become an agile IT organisation
The first strategy is all about improving customer experience across a diverse and, given the size of NSW, geographically scattered client base. To facilitate this the company has purchased a customer relations management (CRM) system, Microsoft's Dynamics platform, which is part of the wider MS AX enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to which Uniting is currently migrating all its back office systems, from financials to procurement and asset management. The second follows on seamlessly. The sector is facing a point-of-care (POC) technology boom, with devices and software that automatically collect data and information about an individual.
“The challenge for us and the health industry overall is to see how we make technology part of a coherent way of working and interacting with clients. If that information is stored in multiple systems it will not be very accessible. We are calling on the marketplace to bring innovation to bear on better integration of POC technology.” Uniting is working with key partners, notably iCare in the field of residential care and Icon Global on the community care side.
What does it mean to become a data led organisation? Over the last 12 months Mostacci’s team has established a strong capability in data warehousing and business information (BI) systems. It's one thing to sit on a large volume of information, another to use it to understand what is happening in the organisation in a way that allows better decision making and strategic planning. “We are transitioning to using those analytics to understand the current state better and for real time decision-making and following a path through that maturity transition from the past to the present state.”
Delivery and execution
The strategy has already delivered a new way of thinking within the business. When Mostacci arrived, it looked more like a federation, rather like a commercial group that has grown by acquisition.
A pitfall some organisations fall into when implementing large programmes of work, he says, is trying to build all the structures at one go. “It is not as cost effective as it may appear. The size and complexity often then results in considerably more rework as well as risk mitigation, which increase the cost of the project.” He doesn't want users to wait until everything is in place before they see the benefits, so he will deliver a series of smaller projects that embrace specific functions, starting early in 2017 with procure-to-pay (P2P) capabilities, quickly rolling out other areas such as finance, procurement and HR.
That epitomises the key final point of the strategy, introducing a more agile mindset into United's IT execution and its wider operations. He has hired some senior people to effect that agile transformation, and the total size of the IT team in Sydney will grow from its current level of 80 to almost 100 next year as the project cycle ramps up.
Successful delivery of the IT strategy depends on making the right technology choices and sound investments that are cost effective and future proof. Back office and point of care transformation and, essentially, phasing out on-premise solutions in favour of the cloud are interdependent aspects of how this will be delivered:
Key strategic approaches to technology:
• Platform First: Utilise enterprise grade solution platforms to simplify the technology landscape and provide consistent data, process and user experience.
• Mobile First: Provide the optimal user experience aligned to the changing work patterns of Uniting staff, where a high percentage of the workforce is working in non-desk and field based settings solutions are designed with mobility as a predominant user experience.
• Cloud First: Utilise cloud-based services as the preferred option for all technology investments to leverage future technology trends and take advantage of the significant investments and focus being made into cloud based services by the majority of technology developers and providers.
The move to the cloud will also be phased. “Cloud strategies are sometimes rattled off with little attention to business focus outcomes,” Mostacci emphasises. “Our strategy to move to the cloud is designed to ensure we can get the best capabilities out of the marketplace. We see the future as being in the cloud. Our new ERP and CRM, new analytics platform and new collaboration platforms will all be cloud oriented – but we are not rushing to move all our legacy and line of business systems to the cloud. We will look for the appropriate trigger points, where there will be significant benefit or cost advantage.”
Last but not least, in a highly people-orientated business, security is a constant concern. At every level, from strategy to architecture to design and implementation, a comprehensive governance and security framework is essential, implemented and managed according to business and government compliance requirements. “We are ramping up a whole end-user computing approach to enable significantly more mobility in the way our users work. At the same time we are delivering security through better mechanisms that are not just about constraining what they can and can't do.” It's important to have a consistent security theme across all the projects and programmes, and that security is set at the appropriate level for Uniting.
It should be emphasised that the IT team sees itself very much as a front line agent in delivering Uniting's services, sharing the single objective of making life better for the people of New South Wales. That's why Renzo Mostacci came here in the first place. “It has been and will continue to be quite a challenge to bring about a digital transformation that will help level the playing field for Australians, but it's one I truly relish.”