Social Outcomes and Technology Must Align for Lasting Social Services Reform
By Brian Lee-Archer, Director IBM Cúram Research Institute, IBM Industry Solutions
The introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in July 2013 marks the beginning of vast and far-reaching reform to social services throughout Australia, the likes of which occur once in a generation. Technology will play a major role in delivering more efficient and accurate social services, but the durability of the underlying business processes will determine whether reforms succeed or fail. A strong, consistent approach to social support – based on the fundamental goal of helping those who are truly in need – must inform governments on the use of technology to deliver better social outcomes.
Nation-wide social reform
When the NDIS comes into effect, disability services will become an acquired right under national law. That’s a significant change from the current system, in which services are largely contingent on state-level budget cycles and means testing: under the NDIS, any Australian who suffers a serious disability will be eligible for social support based on their assessed need regardless of their location or income. Moving to a national standard will, of course, require radically different procedures for assessing how social support is allocated throughout the system – the success of which will undoubtedly impact how much funding and public approval is received by reforms to other areas of the social services.
Technology will play a crucial role in the NDIS and other nation-wide changes to social services, but its use needs to be justified by sound business processes that clearly account for the basic socio-economic outcomes at stake. Broadly speaking, government leaders need to meet three goals: deliver a higher quality of social programs, in a faster and more cost-effective way, to people according to need. While investment in technology will make achieving these goals much easier, it needs to be done according to a rigorous model that can manage inevitable, ongoing changes to services and service providers in the long-term.
A very human revolution
I expect within five years, social media will be a key element of service delivery strategy, allowing service providers to connect more quickly and empathetically with beneficiaries by using already-familiar channels. Data analytics and modelling are already being touted as ways to more effectively predict and prevent recurrent social issues like inter-generational unemployment or geographic clusters of disability.
Investment in these IT platforms and systems will come at significant cost. Durable and flexible business models are needed to ensure that these investments deliver an appropriate social and economic return on investment.
To assist organisations address large social reforms like the NDIS I developed ‘RightServicing’, as a new business model focused on better social outcomes while meeting service delivery efficiency targets.
RightServicing: A new business approach for enabling a differential response in social program management
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Three RightServicing characteristics (there are nine in total) essential for a reform agenda are:
Segmenting, or grouping together people with similar needs and wants;
Managing Risk dynamically, with a focus on improved service and compliance; and
Micro Programs, which support innovation as a means to solve complex or interlinked problems.
A data driven technology platform can enable the segmentation of individuals according to a host of factors such as demographic indicators and socio-economic conditions. Once segmented, risk can be effectively managed leading to a differential service response. For some segments with complex needs, new micro programs can be developed such as place based services in an area of significant disadvantage.
RightServicing provides a way forward to manage a large social reform agenda. It advocates a move away from a traditional “one-size-fits-all” approach to a differential response based on need. The target is achieving better social outcomes at an affordable cost.