In December last year, the Victorian government announced $1.7 million in funding for a new online portal that would replace forms faxed in about family violence.
Up until then, Victoria Police had been faxing in 71,000 paper forms to the Department of Health and Human Services for referral on to family violence and child protection agencies every year.
“Child protection services have been using this outdated technology for far too long. These reports will now be processed immediately to ensure a coordinated response in real time,” Minister for Families and Children Jenny Mikakos said at the time.
Replacing the unwieldy process on the face of it seems like a quick and easy win.
But the idea of swapping out paper for online reporting had been discussed since as early as 2006, with no successful forward motion, DHHS CIO Steve Hodgkinson revealed.
“When I was last in a whole-of-government role, that application was talked about then. And it still hadn’t been delivered in 2016,” he said in a session at the Salesforce World Tour conference in Sydney today.
“Why? Because it’s a complicated application, it involves collaboration across police and different agencies, and it seemed difficult.”
Hodgkinson rejoined the public service in December 2014 after eight years as a public sector analyst.
He said once his team put their heads down in mid-2016, the new Siebel L17 family violence web application was up and running within six months.
“We found that it wasn’t actually that hard. We didn’t have to go to procurement - we did it in house - we worked closely with police, and what we’re finding now is the value coming from that application is changing our thinking in how those referrals are processed,” Hodgkinson said.
“It’s generating new insights which have led to the next version of that system, which is currently under development and will be released next month.”
The portal kicks in once police officers have attended a family violence incident and enter the details into their core LEAP system.
LEAP uses the force’s LEDR Mk2 (electronic direct reporting) application to pass the L17 details on to the portal, which determines where the report needs to go and notifies the relevant agency, which then retrieves the report from the portal.
As well as ditching the paper process, the portal means agencies now know what others are working on as well as the status of any L17 report, and can update the forms with new information that is immediately accessible by others.
What got the portal over the line after so many years, Hodgkinson said, is what he calls the “platform plus agile” approach.
He argues that organisations need to focus more on the platforms underpinning their IT operations over trying to be agile.
“We all know that we want to become more agile. To do things in smaller increments, be more outcomes oriented, get more productive, motivate teams etc,” Hodgkinson said.
“But agile on its own all too often in government leads to a dead end. We do something that is agile that ends up with fantastic innovations that go screaming into a brick wall as soon as they have to be scaled.
“Agile is not enough. In order to be agile in government you need to start with a platform.”
IT shops have gotten themselves into a “nonsense” way of thinking about applications as “discrete things right up the vertical stack”, Hodgkinson said.
“I never want to go to market to buy an application ever again. What I want to do is make strategic choices about platforms, and then in an agile way develop applications on top of that,” he said.
“It changes the whole landscape. Platform plus agile equals more business systems more quickly, which equals more data, which equals more insight.”