Govt spending $250,000 each month on NDIS app

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

The federal government is spending just under $250,000 every month on developing a new NDIS app, as debate around the financial “sustainability” of the scheme continues.

Questions have also been raised over the need for the My NDIS app, which will provide in an app what is currently available to NDIS participants through the web browser, with the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) unable to say how many, if any, people asked for the service.

The NDIA has been working on the My NDIS app since late 2019, and is planning to launch it within months. The app will offer access to budgets, plan timelines and the management of claims.

In an answer to a Senate Estimates question on notice, an NDIA official revealed that there are 13 full-time equivalent staff working on the NDIS app, at a monthly cost of $246,267.

This team is working on procurements, tech feasibility evaluations, building prototypes of the app, evaluating user experience and user interface design to suit accessibility needs and actually coding the app.

The team is also working to identify issues with the app, engaging with stakeholders on it and engaging with NDIS participants for user stories, interviews and testing sessions.

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13 full-time equivalent staff are working on an NDIS app at a monthly cost of nearly $250,000

More than $1.5 million has also been spent on private contractors and consultants for work on My NDIS, including $1.393 million to DB Results, $112,000 to Optus and $11,000 to Clayton Utz.

These contractors were selected from a Digital Transformation Agency panel, with the work not going out in a public tender.

The NDIA ran a pilot of the app in July last year with 422 participants, and is planning to launch it more widely in the next quarter.

The NDIA said that work started on the app in July 2019 in response to the Joint Standing Committee report on the NDIS ICT systems, which recommended that the agency “work with service providers and participants to co-design future enhancements to the portals and ‘Provider Finder’”.

But former NDIA Technology Authority head Marie Johnson said a new app was not recommended in this report, and that the co-design which was called for is still absent from the process.

“All these years later, there is still an absence of co-design. This is a major governance defect. The NDIS app is not co-designed. How can you design something that you don’t understand? Assumptions by consultants and bureaucrats who know best and then serve the result up for ‘user testing’…is not the same thing as co-design,” Ms Johnson told InnovationAus.

“Given the evidence presented to the public hearings at the time and in the current inquiry on independent assessments, any ‘new’ systems without co-design will be repeating the very causes of the current system chaos.

“This is putting sticky tape over the systemic defects – and it will break.”

The NDIA was unable to say how many NDIS participants had asked for an app.

“The NDIA does not hold structured data on how many people asked for the My NDIS mobile application,” the agency said.

While the app will initially not be linked with other government services or data, Department of Social Services secretary Kathryn Campbell recently said that the plan is to eventually have one app covering all government services.

There are ongoing concerns about the implementation of technology in the NDIS scheme, centred primarily around the introduction of independent assessments, which have been dubbed “robo-planning”.

Melbourne Disability Institute director Professor Bruce Bonyhady, a key architect of the NDIS, said this robo-planning would “blow up” the NDIS if the government continues its plan to make the independent assessments mandatory.

The federal Opposition has called on the government to abandon the plan, saying it is in a “mad rush” to turn the NDIS into a “human-free robo-system”.

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