By Evlynn Hayes

Lessons from SA Health’s digital transformation: how to keep driving change in the public sector

Transformation doesn’t happen overnight, and it certainly helps when you can look through the successful lens of a reimagining of your services.

South Australia Health saw an opportunity to consolidate their multiple systems to improve the customer experience for Seniors Card members.

In this article we step through the lessons from their journey. It will provide insights and blueprints for similar agencies who run on complex, siloed systems, exploring how they can continue to drive adoption, improve user experiences and evolve their Salesforce instance.

After all, if there is one thing that COVID-19 has taught government agencies, it’s that digital transformation can’t be put on the back-burner, nor does it need to take years to make a change. While organisation-wide change can be difficult in the public sector, the past 18 months have proved that agencies can drive transformation even just by taking the first few steps toward digitisation.

Enter the lessons of digital transformation from SA Health, who undertook their digital journey a few years ago. Now with the benefit of hindsight, we speak to Evlynn Hayes, from the Office for Ageing Well at SA Health to uncover the lessons that other public sector services can apply to their own systems and processes.

Acceleration of digital transformation with managed service

In a world where almost every service, meeting and interaction now has a digital equivalent it’s difficult to imagine how our services were delivered without the digital tools we rely on every day.

During the pandemic, our digital services were suddenly an integral part of digital communication to a third of the population in South Australia. 

Today, our department, SA Health is not only drawing on but relying on the digital systems we implemented. This was critical for navigating the pandemic — and research from Boston Consulting Group and Salesforce indicates that digital service delivery has helped build trust among the public — but it’s also provided the foundations we needed to start introducing new innovations that have been on our wishlist for many years.

Critical communications for COVID-19

Our digital transformation had started well before COVID-19. It turns out that the timing was critical, as SA Health is the lead agency for managing the pandemic response in South Australia. And we are in a unique position to speak to hundreds of thousands of older South Australians to deliver critical messages from a trusted source from the Office of Ageing Well.

Very quickly we could share reliable information on COVID such as safety, testing, and vaccines. We extended that to offer information on mental health, connecting with others and even what you can do from your living room in lockdown.

It has been a real benefit to our members, as well as to the department. I think the executives are starting to realise why digital transformation is vital and that, contrary to some assumptions or stereotypes, many older people rely on digital service delivery.

We have seen that many people just want to do things online. We will always offer the phone line, but more and more older people are now digitally savvy. In fact, across all demographics, digital has been well and truly adopted.

Lessons for government agencies on digital transformation and IT services

At the beginning of this process, my wish would be to have a big project with all these milestones and kicking goals. Digital transformation projects are often earmarked as enormous projects.

In hindsight, we benefited from a more agile approach with a small team supported by tech experts. Together we worked to respond to changes along the way. The benefits of our partnership with Simplus is that we have flexibility to solve problems as things change and new projects emerge.

In an environment where there’s lots of cost restrictions, we really did have to take small steps. We didn’t just get handed this huge budget to say, right, go and do this. As it turns out, that helped us build a strong foundation and we can now respond as things evolve. 

Looking back, with the support and expertise of the Simplus Managed Services team, we achieved all of our aims and so much more. I wish someone had told me what could be achieved at the start of our digital transformation.

Key insights from our digital transformation journey

Initially we had an urgent need to update outdated technology. Shifting to digital solutions also allowed us to increase efficiency across our processes with customers, departments and businesses.

As with many digital projects, customer experience became our primary driver to find ways to actively engage our community. We have seen significant uptake in our services from older Australians, which was an unknown factor before we started. Initially this took us by surprise, and we’re now able to sharpen our services more directly to our customers. We also needed to put in controls to ensure we were adhering to regulations like those set out in the Spam Act. 

In the beginning, we had to work on ensuring buy-in across the organisation. With the older demographic, as soon as you mention digital transformation, the question was, “Why?” Of course we know there are lots of reasons why, and our project outcomes are strong evidence that we’ll need to continue evolving digital services and engagement for older Australians.

On our wishlist was to find ways to create revenue, or at least offset our costs. We can now do that through our business partners, which brings value to all our stakeholders, businesses and extended community.  We also wanted to future-proof our tech stack to ensure we had a foundation that was flexible enough to adapt to whatever might come our way in the future. 

Flexibility is the key to technology for government agencies

Government agencies have a unique set of challenges in that things can change rapidly. For example, in South Australia, we are heading into an election in March. And a lot can change very quickly. With changes in minister or portfolio, we have to be prepared to shift into new departments, and be able to pick up and shift while maintaining continuity with our members.

So our flexible technology setup allows us to keep our community informed, and better serve our members in South Australia.

Find the right technology partner for IT services

I always circle back to the point about finding a partner that understands your needs and takes the time to understand your business. This is really important for us as things change so quickly and our work is very nuanced.

For us, the consistent workforce has been valuable for us: to have familiar faces and the same voice on the end of the video call every week. I truly feel like Simplus is an extension of my team.

We have gone from strength to strength, and we have now set up new projects that are bringing additional value to our community and to our members. At the moment we are just about to launch a business partner portal, and an online discount directory.

Now I can see that it was the right combination of Managed Services for our team that helped to accelerate and innovate into new solutions for our government department.

Want to hear more about how we drove digital transformation? Join our upcoming webinar

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