The Department of Jobs and Small Business has given itself a year 2020 deadline for delivery of the biggest refresh to its jobseeker management application in 15 years.
It's CIO Kerryn Kovacevic has also made agile methodologies and relationship-building with business stakeholders key parts of her plan for success.
Speaking on Monday at Gartner’s Symposium and IT Expo, Kovacevic said the department adopted agile methodologies 18 months ago as it looked to move from an internal focus to a customer-centric approach.
“For a very long time we were a very big IT shop doing things internally,” she said. “Now we are outward-looking to serve jobseekers and employers. As we evolve we need to provide a much better, much more seamless service.”
“So our focus is really 2020, when we are looking to introduce a new employment system. And that system has to be a lot better than the one we have had for the last 15 years.”
Three things stand in the way of that goal.
One is legacy systems that Kovacevic as “pretty funky” and “old.”
“So it is a process of evolving that making it much more streamlined, sharing data, and also looking for how can we provide better solutions to our customers.”
“Customers don’t care if they are dealing with the Department of Human Services, or a JobActive provider, they just want to do the things they need to do, get the support they need, and hopefully get a job.”
The department has adopted an “agile approach” to deliver that outcome.
“It has been a good experience but we are still working our way through it,” Kovacevic said.
Adopting agile also revealed a second barrier: “We have very embedded processes and trying to change that approach is challenging,” Kovacevic said.
The third issue was relationships with business stakeholders.
Kovacevic has tried to address the third problem by working through the second.
“We have spent a lot of time really focussing on relationships and partnerships,” she told the conference. “That means demonstrating what we can do, how we can improve a service.”
That’s seen the Department’s IT team stage fortnightly “showcases” of recent progress. Business stakeholders are invited to review progress and make suggestions for next steps.
“That has been really useful,” Kovacevic said. “Now they have a much better understanding of what is behind changes, for example.”
Kovacevic said a July 2018 update to the department’s apps showed the process is working. The update was the most substantial the department had conduced in many years and required three days of downtime to implement.
“That is a pretty big challenge when the business has to keep going,” Kovacevic said. “That relationship that had been building up became very powerful because we were able to convince business stakeholders to give us more time.”
“We were able to negotiate closing the system down to make sure we had a successful release. That was unheard of in the past.”
The CIO has also worked with her own team to ensure they can work in an agile fashion, in part because the Department found it hard to hire people with the skills it wanted.
“We have been through a process of how do we upskill our staff. There’s a workforce planning piece going on at the moment.
"When you give people a clear path on how they can transition from their current roles to enhanced skillets, that is challenging at it takes time. It needs commitment.”
It’s not made any easier by the fact that the department cannot slow its work, so must press on with projects while retraining people at the same time!
“We have got to hit deadlines but that the same time we have got to find time to invest in our people.”
Kovacevic said staff have reacted well to the challenge, because they appreciate the investment being made in their skills and career.
“The level of motivation has been quite incredible and the level of engagement has been fabulous as well.”
The CIO attributes some of that positive response to the fact that agile gives workers a voice more often.
Kovacevic said the department’s testers, who previously engaged with projects near their end and then under pressure, are now involved earlier.
“Now testers are there from the very start. They are involved in design and in the initial build. So the engagement has been incredible.”