A range of factors, not least the realities of operating in the NDIS market, are prompting many of our clients to look at how they can make better use of digital systems to reduce their overhead costs, create efficiencies and improve data integrity. These drivers are often counter-balanced with concerns about losing connection with clients (because digital is less personal) and the anticipated reactions of staff. Sometimes this is because experience tells organisations that some of their employees are active resistors of digital. There’s also the sheer workload – any digital introduction or change requires a change management approach, staff training and active line management of employees to ensure that they are using the technology as intended. If resources are released from process work, there’s also an opportunity to redeploy employees to more valuable activities.
There is no shortage of cautionary tales about failed digital implementations, so not for profits need to make sure that you are putting your limited assets and capacity for digital investments in the right place.
So when is it appropriate to digitise and when should you keep it human?
Predictable, repeatable processes
Digital systems – such as CRMs – generally work on a workflow model, with a structured, step by step process of if x, then y. They are ideally suited for a predictable, repeatable process. Depending on the process you are digitising, you may be able to automate significant parts of the process – for example generating reports, invoices, payment claims. You can also use systems to drive consistency in employee implementation of processes, such as client intake. In these circumstances, workflow and validation set up can offer efficiency, consistency and improved data accuracy in following internal processes.
Dealing with volume
As soon as you try to scale something, any existing inefficiencies in your business just get multiplied. If you’re working off spreadsheets and paper folders, you’ll very quickly run out of road. If you want to scale up, you’ll need those predictable, repeatable processes to be automated as far as possible, and to drive efficiency and data accuracy.
Dealing with data
We’ve mentioned data a couple of times now, and digital really is the most reliable way of collecting and managing data. This is particularly important when you need to share data within a team working across diverse sites or in the community. Digital systems that can be accessed by your staff whilst working with a client allow for information to be shared between shifts. As well as managing risk in relation to client care, this can also improve the customer experience, as they should not need to repeat the same information across multiple members of your team.
Digital systems also allow you to analyse and report data much more effectively. As well as retrospective and real time reporting against KPIs or other business measures, once you build up a good body of data, you should be able to identify patterns or spot trends that inform business and operational planning.
For any organisation operating under NDIS or Aged Care standards, digital systems allow you to record information that will be required for audit and reporting purposes. Many of our clients have implemented digital systems for incident reporting and management.
Dealing with distance
Videoconferencing services such as Skype, FaceTime and Zoom are free and easy to use, as long as you have a decent internet connection. Internally, they allow for employees to engage across sites, reducing lost time in travel. If your services do not require physical presence, they also allow for services to be delivered into rural and remote locations. Telehealth services are one example of this.
The reasons we’ve discussed to date for going digital largely relate to improving the efficiency and accuracy of your back office processes, but digital can support the customer facing end of your business too. Often we hear concerns that going digital will remove the human interaction and alienate clients, but you shouldn’t assume that everyone wants a one to one discussion with another person for every transaction. 86% of Australian households have internet access and, according to Deloitte we’ve reached ‘peak smartphone’. Online banking and social media are two of the most popular uses of our domestic internet connections (at 80% each) and in 2016-17 over 50% of households used the internet for health services. This should be evidence enough that a significant number of people are happy to manage personal aspects of their lives online, at their convenience. So, if you are thinking about how to make your ‘front of house’ activities more digital, here are some things you should consider:
- Who is your target market, and what’s their access to and comfort with digital? If you are going to implement a digital solution you should consider your customers access to technology, and – particularly in remote areas – to a decent internet connection. You should also think about their digital literacy and ensure that you design your digital solution to be accessible to your client group. When answering this question, beware of making inter-generational assumptions about the use of digital.
- Offer choice: it’s unlikely that all of your clients will fall on one side or the other of the digital divide. Pushing everyone to a digital solution is likely to result in customer frustration if they can’t get the technology to behave as they want it to. So, offer people the option to engage in person or via digital. But don’t just assume you can lift your offline processes and apply them to an online solution – you are likely to need to make some adjustments.
We’ve been working through some of these changes at CBB. For example, we have digital options for appointment booking and are increasingly using webinars and videoconferencing to connect with our client organisations and their employees. These offer our clients greater convenience and ensure our salary packaging and consulting services are accessible to clients who work across multiple sites and operate in remote areas.
Whilst we talk about the digital revolution, none of these changes have to be revolutionary. Instead they can be managed as a series of incremental changes as part of an ongoing commitment to continuous improvement.