To illustrate how the Ministry of Social Development has significantly evolved to adapt to an increasingly digital world, CIO David Habershon cites the successful uptake of MyMSD.
MyMSD provides an intuitive and user friendly self-service channel for the Ministry’s customers to view upcoming payments, manage upcoming appointments and update their income details.
Going live in late September 2015, it hit 50,000 users with only limited promotion through staff and word of mouth. There are now over 300,000 clients signed-up to use the service with well over two million logs-ins to-date.
“The Simplification programme is producing these sorts of tangible results by redesigning transactional services making them more client-centric through digital channels. Involving our clients in the design was really key to making MyMSD usable. It is now easier for clients to do things for themselves, avoiding unnecessary visits to our offices,” says Habershon.
“Frontline staff have more time to help with complex customer enquiries,” he adds.
Habershon notes that rolling out innovative, customer centric programmes like MyMSD requires a new way of working across the ICT team.
The core of innovation
Under the strain of existing and outdated practices; the need for a new way of delivering software change was urgently required, he states.
“Innovation needs space – the time and the capacity to look at things differently,” he says. “However, it’s an investment. It’s been a case of finding opportunities to improve where possible, and making small changes alongside operational duties. We’ve prioritised improvement initiatives in our strategies and backlogs alongside operational work. “
Creating capacity has been a theme within the IT group for two years. However a lull in the ambitious work programmes of previous years gave opportunity to introduce an improvement programme focussed on automating application deployment. Automation means repeatability and consistency leading to significant reductions in troubleshooting and re-work, therefore delivering higher quality software environments. Introducing database virtualisation has also increased speed of delivery and reduced storage demands. Both initiatives have resulted in cost and time savings and in some cases allowed us to re-invest freed capacity in other innovation initiatives, says Habershon.
He explains they introduced DevOps as an innovative way for the IT group to continue to support the core operational systems at a time of rapid change and transformation in the way they deliver services.
He describes the business drivers for DevOps as taking away the risk of software releases previously based on long development cycles (big bang releases).Ultimately it is about delivering a better product to the customer – improved software quality, improved efficiency and improved customer responsiveness which leads to improved customer satisfaction. Importantly staff no longer have to work long hours over deployment weekends, which is counter-intuitive for a family focussed social agency.
“DevOps makes use of the smaller investments we had been making over the past two years in deployment automation and Agile, and is achieving some of the change we were seeking,” he says.
Habershon estimates in the first seven months of the transformation programme, the team has reduced the delivery cycle from many months to a six-week release cadence. Release cycles start with combined planning of both business and IT representatives to discuss, agree and commit to the work based on available capacity, he says.
The importance of culture
“Having everyone working together, means that we set the scene for aligning to the same goals, understanding risks, dependencies and key priorities.
“We have brought the business along with journey in the introduction of DevOps, which is an enormous change to the way we work, not just from an IT sense, but also how we interact with the wider Ministry. It is increasingly important that we build a much richer IT/business relationship,” he adds.
“There are still many challenges as we transition from our current state to a more Agile way of working but initial signs suggest that the future will be much brighter with throughput of business features, process improvements, quality, sustainable work flow and predictability being much better than anticipated,” he says.
This high priority initiative recognises the need to support the introduction of new technology and processes with a deliberate programme coaching and education programme to help people along the journey, both inside the IT group and across the wider Ministry.
“Cultural impacts are a key focus for the transformation,” he stresses. “We needed to recognise that we’ve performed IT for a certain way for a long time, with individuals who have invested heavily in existing processes. We all need to understand both risk and difficulty of changing. Many need to be convinced that the new way is better than the current way.”
“What we can show our staff, our colleagues across the Ministry and our customers is that we are now more able to deliver better results in a shorter period of time. We are able to be responsive to our internal customers as well as our external ones. We are delivering a better quality product in shorter time and with a more regular cadence.”