Government agencies are seldom considered catalysts for digital transformation in other sectors. However, the disability service sector appears to have actively embraced the Federal Government’s open-source approach to innovation.
Early last year, the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), overseer of the public-facing National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), unveiled its Digital Partnership Program: an API-led initiative enabling registered providers of disability services to tap into the NDIA’s vast data assets and systems.
By granting access to this data, NDIA authorities hope to draw in industry partners to develop unique consumer products and services for clients – services that would serve to augment, rather than replace, the functions offered through the NDIS’s current customer interaction portal, myplace.
These NDIA-developed APIs (or Application Programming Interfaces) – which serve as a kind of communication bridge between different software systems – allow disability service providers to connect their ICT systems directly with the NDIA’s, simplifying app development and thus saving time and money.
Further, the NDIA notes, the APIs help automate NDIS operations processes, making it easier for disability industry participants to interact with providers.
A spokesperson for the NDIA said the availability of these APIs has “in many cases … been the catalyst for [digital transformation] within these organisations”.
APIs released so far include those for payment requests, service bookings, quotations, notifications, products, file uploads, reference data, and the NDIS plan budget. APIs being used to develop the My NDIS mobile app, however, are not part of the provider API suite.
Despite strong interest in the APIs issued under the Digital Partnership Program, the NDIA remains tight-lipped on which have been developed into products, with the spokesperson declining to disclose the number of organisations registered as partners.
A digital community effort
What surprised the NDIA, according to the spokesperson, was the “willingness” of the NDIS digital community – registered providers, plan managers, software developers, platform operators, and aggregators – to work closely with the agency to develop and improve its provider APIs.
“NDIS participants are experiencing increased efficiency and reduced process times when they access support services through registered providers and plan managers that are using provider APIs to enhance and automate their NDIS operations, including claim processing,” the spokesperson said.
So far, some software developers, aggregators, and platform operators have used the APIs to offer solutions for smaller organisations to connect.
They have been able to do so with “a lighter touch, reduced integration effort, and lower investment”, the spokesperson added.
“This trend has been pleasing as it has made the APIs available to a wide range of providers as end-users, regardless of their size, financial standing or digital capability.”
Those providers have been through a technical evaluation process to ensure they meet the NDIA’s data safety and integrity standards to protect sensitive personal data.
In some cases, this means having to undergo independent cybersecurity assessments (the NDIA did not, however, indicate which particular cases would warrant further assessment).
Before onboarding, the NDIA may enforce compliance with key information security standards, including the globally recognised ISO27001 and SOC 2, as well as IRAP certification, an independent information security assessment developed by Australian Cyber Security Centre for cloud-based services.
To gain access to its APIs, NDIA providers also need to be registered with the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission and can only access participant data that they would normally see through their NDIA provider portal.
Who’s working with the APIs?
Disability services provider, Supportability, is among a number of organisations working to gain ISO27001 certification, ensuring it can gain safe access to the NDIA’s vast data repositories.
Supportability chief executive William Jamieson notes: “We did some initial exploratory work in an API sandbox to provide some feedback to the Digital Partnerships Office on the API architecture and coverage.”
Though, he adds, “we haven’t used the API for production purposes”.
Meanwhile, another to leverage the Insurance Agency’s APIs, software company Lumary, is currently trialling a minimum viable product for automated claims processing.
The company offers a Salesforce-based customer relationship management (CRM) software for rostering disability support staff to participants and processing claims.
A focus on services and plans
Life Without Barriers (LWB), which consulted and offered feedback on the NDIA’s Digital Partnership Program, is also continuing its work to leverage NDIA data to support its clients. LWB also, coincidentally, uses Lumary.
Jason Collins, executive director of technology at Life Without Barriers, notes that the company was quick to take advantage of the national disability insurer’s API mix.
“Being in the pilot program, we had a good commercial exposure to the APIs, so we were able to get value out of it straight away.
“We have a few invocations in train now that are person-focused, such as for accessing service booking information in clients’ plans,” he said.
Additionally, he notes, the company has also done “exploratory work” with an assortment of other APIs. But he stresses the need to maintain an agile approach in the use of these connective technologies.
“APIs support the process to give insights into up-to-date information about an NDIS participant’s service booking. They need to be flexible based on the participant’s needs, and so we have to adapt too.
“For example, we might still be providing services, but their booking has changed, and we’re not eligible to charge for it.”
Collins also notes the substantial growth and investment in his IT team to support the LWB’s client services operations. The company’s tech team is now the largest department outside of client services, demonstrating its considerable focus on digital innovation.
However, it is still early days in LWB’s app development journey.
“We’re still in the discovery phase, and we will be led by people we support as to what they want from those apps.
“There’s no timing on it yet. Our focus is working in partnership with our operational teams to make sure we have access to this data and rosters so the work on the client-facing app can start soon.”
Life Without Barrier’s approach has gained positive feedback from professional consultancy firm Deloitte, with praise for the way it has handled data, analytics, impact measurement, and its ability “to break down clients’ thinking”.
Collins directed his praise towards the NDIA’s Digital Partnership Program.
“We’ve been impressed how quickly the agency has turned things around and really taken our feedback seriously.
The NDIS has, he reckons, clearly demonstrated it can be a catalyst for change, embracing a tech-friendly approach that can truly transform the disability services sector.