With over 40 years’ experience as an advocate and service provider to regional communities, Social Futures is an expanding social justice organisation based in Northern New South Wales (NSW), Australia. Its partnerships with the community and with state and federal governments have allowed Social Futures to grow its reach across NSW, delivering homelessness and housing support, youth and family services, and disability schemes. With core values such as inclusion, integrity and learning, this not-for-profit is accredited by the Australian Service Excellence Standards (ASES).
Ashleigh Martin is the Manager of Digital Innovation and Transformation at Social Futures, overseeing the not-for-profit’s strategic and operational use of information systems and digital technologies. “I’m responsible for helping set the agenda for how we use technology, both in the short to medium term, as well as into the future,” he explains. Martin brings with him over two decades of experience in the corporate sector, from the design and delivery of technical services, the development of business technology strategy, architecture and transformation programs, through to senior IT management and operational roles with large multinational corporations across Australia and Asia. His blend of commercial and technical experience lends him a unique perspective. “At Social Futures, I am privileged to be able to work along the full breadth of the transformation journey; from setting the strategic agenda and designing systems, through to rolling my sleeves up and taking an active role in their implementation,” Martin elaborates. When he joined in December 2018, Social Futures was in the midst of a significant growth in scale thanks to a new contract from the federal government as part of a national program to transform the disabilities services sector. Social Futures was chosen as the local area coordination provider for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The organisation close to doubled in size over an ambitious timeframe, now employing almost 300 staff across 21 locations. “With that expanded footprint and staff, we needed to establish new ways of collaborating with each other, new ways of making decisions, tracking outcomes and supporting staff services,” Martin says.
The organisation’s focus is on establishing new frameworks and systems, understanding best practices and sharing these across its many locations to ensure clients have a consistent experience no matter where they are. “The strategy for the board is one of thoughtful growth and expansion,” Martin says. “It means we’re setting our agenda to best scale our impact and maintain our unique organisational culture even as we grow.” This involves setting a clear plan while simultaneously remaining open and flexible. “We consider ourselves a learning organisation. We can change when we need to.” This is especially relevant as the human services sector moves to outcomes-based funding models. “Not only must we be able to demonstrate the impact we’re having but we also need to identify services gaps in our communities to better design programs and advocate for funding,” Martin says. His team has designed a comprehensive IT strategy, reviewed yearly, aligning current business needs with a vision of greater organisational effectiveness and tech sophistication. “In my experience,” Martin says, “without that set of principles to focus on, without a roadmap, you become reactionary. This has made us a lot more strategic.”
Social Futures is looking into how tech can best serve people: staff, funders, donors and clients. The sector as a whole is becoming more oriented towards customer service. New technology allows Social Futures to clearly track its progress and offer data-driven insights. On the funding side, this means being able to integrate with whatever platform funders use to track outcomes. On the delivery side, it is about efficiency. Social Futures information systems have moved from transactional local-based services to scalable dynamic utility-based offerings that better meet the needs of all stakeholders. Whether this is automating base level transactions or outsourcing transactional IT systems, the goal is to move the organisation’s ICT focus from solving problems as they come to using automated systems to avoid them altogether and allow staff to spend less time on admin and more time with clients. “We traditionally operated like a help desk ‘break, fix’ service,” Martin says. “Now, we focus our IT function on higher added value, co-designing solutions with staff to truly meet their needs.” The organisation leverages its status as a not-for-profit to gain access to technology that has traditionally been the domain of large, well-funded commercial enterprises. “In terms of scalability, tech has been an enabler.” Martin says.
Partnerships have been key in helping Social Futures achieve this mission and their partnership with Australian-based cloud service provider Lumary has been crucial to its success. In 2018, Social Futures was looking for help in managing its NDIS Local Area Coordination programme; Lumary has experience developing a suite of products for the disability and aged care sectors in Australia. “Social Futures takes a person-first approach to design, so we spent a considerable amount of time with the people who are going to be the beneficiaries of our tech solutions,” Martin says. “Lumary has always maintained a person-centred approach to its product.” Together they developed an application, migrating 7,000 records held across dozens of spreadsheets into a Salesforce client management system. Moving onto digital platforms such as cloud-based applications and data has allowed Social Futures to better coordinate its staff and unlock productivity. In moving its workforce management solutions onto Fusion5’s Empower HR platform, Social Futures saw an 80% reduction in payroll errors. By using cloud-based training, it ensures its almost 300 employees all have access to the same information and elements of its recruitment process are also automated.
“We talk about change management and it’s not always done well,” Martin explains. “What worked well in one area through ambassadors and training small focus groups might not work in another.” Checking in on progress is a major element of Social Futures’ strategy. Staff are engaged as early as possible in the design process for the implementation of new systems. “It’s been trial and error,” Martin continues. Moving towards becoming a data-driven organisation has been beneficial to staff. An online central depository of client information helps employees better manage clients. A second Lumary project around client management systems has seen success in the locations where it has been implemented. “We’ve made a lot of big changes in two years,” Martin says. “We envision a future where we can do more of what we do best and have capacity to scale.” With its digital transformation journey well underway, Social Futures has a bright future ahead. “With our strategy, we are always looking forward and our guiding star is to create positive social change wherever we can,” Martin concludes.