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IT systems fail to support FACS service delivery

by Pallavi Singhal •
Free resource

Correction: This story has been updated as the original version published on 21 October 2013 contained two errors. FACS Director-General Michael Coutts-Trotter has issued two points of correction in a letter to Intermedium.

Firstly the original version of this story stated that “Major changes to FACS’s IT environment are on the horizon with the planned dissolution of BusinessLink”. Mr Coutts-Trotter has advised that “There’s no decision to dissolve Businesslink. Businesslink provides vital systems and services for FACS”. The article has been updated to reflect this advice.

Second, a reference in the original article to findings in the 2012 NSW Commission of Audit report that “In 2010 this cluster, with around 3,000 staff, was supported by an astonishing 15 corporate service providers…[and] relied on 76 different corporate systems” was misattributed as a reference to the family and communities cluster, and in fact referred to the former Communities NSW cluster (now in the Department of Education and Communities) and its relationship with shared services provider ServiceFirst. This reference has now been removed.

The Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) has struggled to meet its service delivery obligations in an environment plagued by substantial administrative and structural problems including inadequate ICT systems. 

The nature of the impact of ICT systems on the agency’s service delivery efforts was revealed at a Parliamentary Inquiry into Ministerial Propriety in NSW on 14 October 2013. The Inquiry surrounds recent revelations about caseworker shortages in the Department’s Community Services division and its failure to properly manage over 40,000 cases of at-risk children.

Speaking at the Inquiry, newly appointed Director-General at FACS Michael Coutts-Trotter presented a strong criticism of the wider Department’s ICT systems.

“My observation would be that the systems inside this department are imperfect at best. They are in fairly significant need of upgrade and repair. What that means is that in trying to bring all this data together there is an awful lot of manual handling between databases,” said Coutts-Trotter.

“It is a complex and difficult environment, made more difficult by the…proliferation of different measures within the organisation over a long period of time.”

The current ICT environment at FACS includes SAP ERP systems and human resources systems that are provided by NSW Government family and community services cluster shared services provider BusinessLink.

The Commission of Audit report found significant problems in its level of service provision and internal integration. “Nine years after its establishment, BusinessLink is now in the process of integrating its three SAP systems,” said the report.

Governance of information management and technology functions is housed inside the Corporate Services division at FACS, and overseen by Deputy Director-General Margaret Crawford. Corporate Services is currently responsible for the provision of Department-wide shared services, both internally and through external bodies such as BusinessLink.

The Corporate Services division is likely to continue in its role of providing and managing FACS’s corporate and shared ICT systems and services, no matter what the future holds for BusinessLink.

FACS is currently under the spotlight due to issues in its Community Services division, which is responsible for the provision of child protection services, parental support, and foster care and adoption services.

In 2008, a Special Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection Services in NSW (the Wood Inquiry) recommended urgent updates to FACS’s primary community services database, the Key Information and Directory System (KIDS), which was originally implemented in 2003. However, NSW Minister for Family and Community Services Pru Goward scrapped the updates in 2012 after $12 million was spent over two years to improve the system.

“The costs of continuing the project outweighed what the department advised were limited benefits to Community Services of successful implementation,” she said at the time, according to Fairfax.

The Wood Inquiry found that the system’s poor data quality, complexities and problematic design features made it difficult for caseworkers to use. The need for an improved system was reiterated in the NSW Ombudsman’s 2011 Special Report to Parliament, which also identified the requirement for a better reporting tool.

“Our experience using KiDS to perform our complaint and review work supports the finding of the Wood Inquiry, that extracting relevant information from KiDS is a difficult and time consuming process,” said the report.

“Given that around 100,000 child protection reports are being sent to CSCs [Community Services Centres] each year, a consolidated child/family history reporting tool could potentially achieve substantial efficiency savings and improve the quality of casework decisions.”

A spokesperson from FACS advised Intermedium that “planning is underway to deliver more advanced reporting tools so our staff can continue to provide a thorough service for our clients”.

View the Department of Family and Community Services profile on GovFacts >>>

Related Articles:

With Businesslink gone, will FACS outsource corporate services?

NSW community services outsourcing needs IT systems support, says Committee

Opinion: Coutts-Trotter required at FACS as a pair of safe hands; leaves behind ICT stewardship legacy that may be hard to match

For more information, please contact the Editor (02) 9955 9896.

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