New disability authority overwhelmed by NDIS MyPlace rollout

By Tom Burton

Saturday September 3, 2016

The federal government has moved to substantially increase resources and upgrade the National Disability Insurance Authority’s operating capacity and management oversight. This follows a PWC review that found the lack of an effective overall plan had seen the authority  overwhelmed by the size, complexity and tight deadlines of the rollout of the new NDIS MyPlace portal.

The quick-fire report was commissioned by Social Services Minister Christian Porter, following significant complaints by providers and users about delays in payments, after the NDIS scheme began its first phase rollout on July 1.

The PWC report concluded: “It is important to understand that the root cause of payment failure was not a single catastrophic event, but rather a series of compounding issues which prevented a viable option to delay ICT implementation.”

“The full scheme ICT implementation ran out of time to fully complete the required implementation activities and proceeded with the acceptance of the identified implementation risks with the intention of applying maximum response to the problems.

“However, the change effort and overall program was under-resourced and underprepared in order to provide the accurate and timely support required by participants and providers when faced with ICT challenges.

“The NDIA was effective at managing some of the risks leading up to the ICT implementation, in partnership with DHS and DSS and with the support of state and territory governments.

“The residual execution risks of the program were found to be affecting the critical path on a daily basis. As evidenced in the readiness assessments, these risks were continuously managed up until go-live. The NDIA was less effective at managing the inherent risks of complexity, maturity and scale against a finite completion date.”

PWC said the decision to launch the NDIS MyPlace portal was made despite warnings the NDIA as an organisation was not ready.

“The Operational Readiness Go Decision was made despite multiple amber and some red milestone status across people, provider and participant readiness and training, suggesting that this decision was based primarily on ICT system readiness as opposed to business, people and sector readiness.”

PWC concluded that “throughout the review process, three key issues were identified as having caused significant challenges, and if left unchecked, will continue to do so.

“The first is that the NDIA’s Service Delivery Operating Model was not implemented and embedded in a way that would effectively support the size and scale of the full scheme ICT launch.

“The second issue is a flow-on effect of the first: in its current state, and even when stabilised in the short term, there is real risk that the NDIA operating model will not be able to cope with approximately 400,000 additional participants and their providers by 2019-20, when the full scheme is expected to be operating.

“The third is that there was a need for a more tailored change approach that recognised the broad range of individual impacts and needs in order to be able to understand the Scheme and use the ICT system effectively.”

Following Friday’s Sydney meeting of the COAG Disability Reform Council, disability ministers issued a joint statement effectively picking up all the PWC recommendations:

“The council acknowledged there have been significant issues in the first two months of transition to full scheme rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme since July 1, 2016. These include issues arising from implementation of the new National Disability Insurance Agency ICT system, particularly the myplace portal, which have had serious impacts on participants and providers around Australia whose payments have either failed or been delayed.”

“The council also expressed concern at broader operational problems and the flow on effect of myplace portal issues leading to a slowdown in the rate of plan approvals for the large number of people that have been deemed eligible for the NDIS since July 1, 2016.

“Although the council acknowledged that issues will arise with a major reform that has the size and complexity of the NDIS, there was unanimous agreement that the impact and scale of the recent issues was unacceptable for NDIS participants, their families and carers, and providers.

The council noted that in response to the issues that have arisen since the commencement of transition on July 1, 2016, and following a request from the chair of the council, the NDIA had:

  • Established an NDIS Transition Management Team to address all outstanding portal issues, plan approval targets and communication with the sector;
  • Appointed a chief operating officer to oversee all of the NDIA’s operational matters during the transition to full scheme roll out;
  • Ensured more robust reporting is undertaken on key metrics around portal issue resolution and plan approval rates; and
  • Established stronger information sharing arrangements between the NDIA, Commonwealth, state and territory agencies.

Porter released the independent review into the implementation of the MyPlace portal, after discussing the report and its recommendations with state and territory DRC members.

“I’ve discussed the findings with my state and territory colleagues, and governments will be working closely with the NDIA to help the agency set up the required systems so we don’t encounter similar problems in other areas of the roll out,” he said.

“The review shows there was no single system failure – rather, the frustrating ICT issues arose from a series of compounding events, linked to deficiencies in the NDIA’s governance, operations, change management and communication.

“As at August 31, more than 15,000 people had been deemed eligible for the scheme since July 1, 2016, with more than 4000 people in the planning process and more than 1600 people with approved plans.

“The NDIS is a large and complex reform, and I don’t think that anyone should underestimate the importance of what the NDIA has delivered so far, or the scale of task ahead of it during transition.”

Jane Prentice, Assistant Minister for Disability Services, said the recommendations of the report focus on continual quality improvements at the NDIA. This will embed their service delivery operating model and build their capability to successfully manage change.

“The impact and scale of recent issues was unacceptable for NDIS participants, their families, carers and providers,” Prentice said.

“Governments will support the NDIA through a process of continual improvement, to build systematic approaches to managing change and guiding people through new processes.”

The PWC report found a lack of an overall operating plan to support the major rollout.

“The NDIA currently has not implemented a comprehensive Service Delivery Operating Model (SDOM). This has impacted on the successful execution of the Full Scheme Launch and put the existing organisational operating model under stress.

“A NDIA Knowledge Tool is currently being developed with the intention to clearly define NDIA customer offerings, process, technology, information, organisational structure (including governance, roles and accountabilities), with mechanisms to understand the interaction between key components of the operating model.

“Continuous development and adaptation of the ICT solution has placed additional stress on the NDIA. During the ICT solution development, there is evidence that some key business readiness activities were either identified too late or not completed effectively. It has been reported in interviews that stakeholder engagement, training and preparedness was not sufficient, and necessary training materials were not finalised for staff and providers by June 29, 2016.

“Governance and coordination across the agency has been a reported challenge for the ICT implementation, with business plans and schedules across business areas being uncoordinated until as late as April 2016. The lack of one single program wide framework, operating rhythm and integrated schedule for program execution were noted as key risks for the project.

“In addition, no evidence of a holistic program plan has been sighted.”

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Stephen Grey
5 years ago

There is a danger of risk management being used as a container for things that are not uncertain, resulting is a false sense of comfort bolstered by a feeling that “It might not happen” even when something is bound to affect a project. It is useful to consider whether the matters being handled as risks are entirely uncertain or include significant elements of a different character.

Unpleasant facts and contentious decisions are often included in risk processes. These are quite different and better handled through planning and decision analysis. It seems, from reports such as this one, that many facts were not taken into account and possibly some serious decisions were not explored as diligently as they could have been.

It is hard to say from the outside but the paragraph “The residual execution risks of the program were found to be affecting the critical path on a daily basis. As evidenced in the readiness assessments, these risks were continuously managed up until go-live. The NDIA was less effective at managing the inherent risks of complexity, maturity and scale against a finite completion date.” suggests that an emphasis on risk management alone might have clouded the view. Complexity, maturity and scale are not the results of uncertainty. They are generally facts and sometimes the outcome of decisions.

Apart from anything else, when faced with a truly complex situation, simple linear planning and execution can be over run quite easily.

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