Mike Dunn, Head of Technology at Activ Foundation, shares the digital transformation story of one of Australia’s leading disability support organisati...
The technology behind the rise of Industry 4.0 is driving efficiency, interconnectedness and ever-more intelligent decision making across every industry and market in the world. But advances in AI, data analytics and Internet of Things (IoT) technology have the power to do so much more than drive profits and operational efficiency. Technology has the potential to lift up and support all members of our society. “The vision for Activ is for people of all abilities to have the same opportunities,” says Mike Dunn, Head of Technology at Activ Foundation.
Since 1951, Activ has been supporting people living with disability in WA to live an independent life of their choice. Today, the organisation supports over 2,000 Western Australian individuals and their families. Dunn, a father of two and Perth native, joined Activ in March of 2017. “I actually started out as an accountant back in the day. I did a finance degree and pretty quickly worked out that it wasn't for me, but that job really helped because it gave me the opportunity to move across to an ERP consulting firm. I started out at the service desk and worked my way up to a senior consulting role.” Dunn reflects that his time in ERP consulting “has held me in the best possible stead for the rest of my career, because now I'm all about building relationships, working with new people and getting them to buy into what you’re doing.” Following a stint in the mining industry, Dunn leapt at the chance to apply his skills as a people-focused technologist to a role that “contributed to improving people's lives. My wife worked at Activ 15 years ago and loved her time here, so when the role came up it ticked all the boxes,” he recalls. “I’ve been here for the last three years and it’s probably been the most rewarding and challenging job I’ve ever had.”
Dunn’s entrance into the role came at a time of significant change for Activ and the entire Australian disability sector. In 2012, the agreement was made to launch the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), which aims to provide around 460,000 people living with a disability under the age of 65 with funding for necessary support and services. This is a landmark reform, and has completely changed the environment in which disability service providers operate. “It’s a once-in-a-generation shift that’s completely changed the funding model and how the sector actually functions,” says Dunn. “The philosophy behind it is all about giving more choice and control to people living with a disability. The thing I really love about it is that it's transferred the power of disability support funding away from providers and put it in the customers’ hands. Now, customers have far more choice and control as to where they want to spend and where they want their services to come from. The NDIS aims to guarantee fairness, dignity and equity for people living with a disability, which aligns with our strategy here at Activ.” This historic restructuring of the sector has prompted non-profits like Activ to reevaluate their approach to be more commercially minded when it comes to attracting and retaining customers, as people with disability and their families are given more choice across an increasingly competitive space.
“The biggest challenge since I joined Activ has definitely been the fact that, as there have been massive changes rolling out across the whole sector, Activ has been rolling out its own massive technology transformation as well,” says Dunn. “Everyone, everywhere, has to deal with change in some way, but our team has had a double dose of it, having to contend with sector-wide change in tandem with tech transformation. It’s a tough gig, and they’ve all been truly fantastic.”
Activ’s digital transformation has been focused on three key areas: adopting new technologies to drive efficiency; implementing cybersecurity that doesn’t impede operations and, most importantly, finding new ways to allow its staff to spend more time with their customers.
As a driver of efficiency and customer centricity enablement, making Activ’s technology more mobile was a natural step for Dunn and his teams. “Our old systems were making our staff desk-bound,” says Dunn. “We needed to enable our staff to break away from their PCs and be present with our customers whilst still recording evidence of the service they are providing. We delivered on this via a series of sweeping software and hardware measures.” Activ has increased its network coverage, and introduced mobile devices that give employees access to insight-generating data on the go, as well as handle staff rosters, clocking in and out, reporting incidents and a host of other capabilities. “We needed to find a mobile tool that was easy for our staff to operate, whilst being robust enough to handle our evidencing and enabling better access to valuable data,” continues Dunn. “We have been extremely lucky to have found the partners that we did. In the applications space, after a lengthy selection process, we partnered with Lumary and EasyEmployer to deliver a simple customer management and rostering app. It allows our staff to view and accept their rosters, deliver services with all the required customer details available, evidence what they have delivered and ensure we are funded for that service. Lumary and EasyEmployer have brought their industry knowledge to the table, which has been a massive value addition for us, and have also delivered on our key objectives of mobility, cloud integration and delivery of efficiencies across the business.”
In this time of accelerated evolution for Activ, Dunn sometimes has to stop and marvel at how far the organisation has come. “This job was a real eye opener for me, since all my previous roles had been in white collar environments. I remember getting a taste of the challenge to come when, in my interview with Danielle Newport, the CEO, she asked me how I was planning on delivering the required change initiatives of an ICT transformation when none of our 1,000 support workers at the time had an email address,” he recalls. For Dunn the real goal of a technology leader is taking an environment where technology isn’t a priority and selling its benefits to a team of people. “Activ has a lot of people coming to work here whose primary driver isn’t technology. It’s helping people with living with disabilities to achieve greater independence. My job as an enabler is all about getting those people to come on board with what I’m proposing,” he says. “We have come on in leaps and bounds in the last three years.” From video conferencing to collaboration software, Activ’s staff are increasingly adopting, exploring and finding new use cases for the technology provided to them.
Looking forward, Dunn wants to expand the range of applications available to Activ’s team, as well as find new ways to harness the data that they’ve begun gathering and integrating into the Activ system. “This year is about applications. We’ve laid some really strong foundations, and we have a ton of data going through these systems” he says. “Now, we need to extract it, give it to our leadership team and start delivering the kind of insights that are going to drive further success. Activ will continue to play a role in ensuring that our customers have every opportunity in life, whether that be finding a meaningful job, independent living options, home ownership, greater social inclusion – the list goes on and on.”