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Charity implements new digital platform for frontline staff in critical services

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To streamline operations and spend more time helping people, instead of paperwork or administration, Mission Australia has implemented a digital platform called MA Connect to house all information. This makes accessing critical information faster and improves the quality of care.

Having access to more accurate and timely data means people seeking help also don’t have to repeat their stories over and over, which can be a traumatic experience. Meanwhile Mission Australia builds a much clearer picture of the community’s needs, allowing the charity to make better decisions, faster. It’s also been able to use the new system to streamline how it meets the complex reporting required by its Federal and State Government funders.

Developed using Dynamics 365, MA Connect provides a secure and comprehensive view of the people Mission Australia helps. It supports a range of different work processes across its different services, and improves the organisation’s analytics capability ensuring it can deliver the right service to the right people at the right time.

Cloud-based and resilient, MA Connect also supported Mission Australia personnel working from home during the pandemic, minimising service disruption at a time when many of the organisation’s clients were particularly vulnerable and in need of support.

Agility and security

In the past, Mission Australia relied on a range of manual processes to collect and process information about its clients as well as a legacy platform called MACSIMS which was reaching the limits of its capability. Having been heavily customised over the years, the old platform could no longer be easily updated or refined.

James Toomey, Mission Australia CEO, explains that the organisation needed a modern, agile, but secure digital platform able to properly protect people’s often highly personal information so as not to “make vulnerable people more vulnerable.”

The solution had to be secure – but also be accessible to authorised personnel so that they could help people in need quickly.

Toomey also acknowledges the genuine thirst for such a system that was emanating from Mission Australia’s staff who understood that a modern digital platform would help them do their jobs efficiently and effectively.

According to Toomey, “the last year has taught us an enormous amount about how not only we can interact with technology, but how the people that we serve can interact with and use technology too.”

Implementing the new digital platform meant that clients no longer have to tell their stories over and over to different people that they interact with at Mission Australia. They explain their circumstances once. That information is stored securely with their consent in MA Connect, and it is instantly accessible to authorised Mission Australia staff. This stops wasting clients’ and staff time, means that important client information isn’t lost, and there is less chance of duplicating information.

Uptake is growing rapidly. By November 2020, 450 staff involved in 85 Mission Australia services were using the platform. Another 400 staff in 100 more services are gearing up to use MA Connect by the end of 2021.

According to Marion Bennett, Mission Australia Executive for Practice, Evidence and Impact, the youth workers, case workers, psychologists and counsellors who have access to the system report a better user experience with MA Connect. “The main benefit we were seeking was to make the user experience better for our frontline workers, so they didn’t have to spend as much time doing data entry or unnecessary administration tasks. Then they could devote the time saved to the thing they do best – giving one-on-one support to people in need,” said Bennett.

“When COVID hit and there were a lot of lockdowns, our service workers were working from home, they were interacting with clients often through Teams or through phone calls. MA Connect allowed them to enter the information about the clients from where they were, rather than having to go into the office.

“Last year was a time of extreme disadvantage and stress for many of the people that we work with. Obviously, we saw a huge jump in unemployment and people experiencing mental health concerns, compounded by the worries about COVID, rising domestic and family violence unfortunately, and loneliness as people lived in isolation.”

“Our service workers rose to the challenge. They did an amazing job staying in touch with their clients, talking with people that they hadn’t met before, welcoming new clients into support that they could give and MA Connect was a big part of that picture,” she said.

Besides helping Mission Australia achieve better experience for its workers and give more support to its clients, the new digital platform has also delivered more accurate data and streamlined reporting to its funders and research bodies such as the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. This hasn’t been easy to design into MA Connect, given the inconsistent and often rapidly changing requirements of government agencies, and has caused some challenges and delays along the implementation journey.

Because the quality, timeliness and accuracy of the data in MA Connect is improved, the back-office work burden surrounding data management has been reduced, and there are fewer gaps in the data. The implementation highlighted areas of improvement required in Mission Australia’s data collection and processes, that required intensive support and training to the frontline staff to remedy. But perseverance is a Mission Australia value and the effort is now paying off.

Mission Australia can now collect rich data from people attending group sessions such as where families with children with psychosocial disability can meet together to combat isolation, support each other and participate in capacity building activities. According to Bennett, this has allowed them to gather information from nearly 1,000 more people, which the old system couldn’t accommodate.

Accelerating impact

Mission Australia’s ability to deliver specific services has been enhanced by MA Connect. Beverley Aufai is the Specialist Homelessness Services Program Specialist for Mission Australia in NSW, and works with caseworkers who support people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

Reflecting on last year in the height of the COVID-19 restrictions, she commented “The fact that workers can do their work on MA Connect on an iPad out in the community, has really helped. Additionally, the workers can complete their case management tasks where it makes most sense – in the office or out in the community, and they can complete it straight after meeting with a client.”

Meanwhile, Toomey said that one important key to the success of the initiative has been Mission Australia’s continued partnership with Microsoft which he says shares its overarching values and vision.

“We are always focused on achieving the best outcomes for the people that we serve. Our sense always with Microsoft is that their staff also view those consumers not as widgets or bits of code, but they understand they are real humans who have real stories, who have real experiences,” he said.

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