From inadequate to outstanding, from paper to cloud
Cafcass is determined that the right technology underpins business improvement. We’ve been living and breathing this for the last ten years; as we’ve significantly improved as an organisation, we’ve also significantly improved our technology. These improvements aren’t unrelated.
During a period of ever increasing demand for our services and Government budget constraints we’ve had to transform how we work, and IT has played a critical role in making this happen. We’ve overhauled the IT offering to our people who are working with children and families all over England. We’ve introduced better systems, and better processes at every step to help staff do more, better. And in the process, we’ve made huge reductions in annual IT spend and reduced staff sickness absence by 50%.
When we started back in 2008 we were rated as ‘Inadequate’ by Ofsted. Our people, approximately 1,800 of us, were located across 100 regional offices. The vast majority of Cafcass people are social workers, which requires them to get out and about, meeting families and often working for hours at a time in family courts. Back then most of our staff only had access to office-based desktop computers, meaning any written work they had to do, and there is a lot, had to be done back at base, staff were carrying huge bundles of paper around. So we started by upgrading the core technology and making it possible to work with just a laptop from anywhere. We made fundamental changes to the technology underpinning the business, contributing to major business improvements while managing increases in cases, without increasing headcount. Just some of the things we did were:
- Doing away with multiple, unconnected ways of tracking and reporting on cases and moving to a single case management system;
- Making remote and mobile working universally available;
- Introducing Skype and video conferencing;
- creating interactive digital tools for children and young people so our staff could open these on their tablets and use them during sessions with our service users; and
- Introducing a single electronic postroom to scan incoming case documents straight to the social workers, and a single central call centre to manage external calls.
In summary we created a fully flexible and truly paperless operation. All this happened under a traditional single supplier contract and enabled us to make substantial cost savings in our core IT budget with the added benefit of being able to reduce the size of our estate bringing even further savings. These changes contributed to improved ratings from Ofsted. In 2010 we moved to ‘Requires Improvement’, then in 2014 we were rated as ‘Good’. But we didn’t stop there.
In 2015 we set out a three year technology strategy, taking us to the end of some key contracts, and to deliver on our ambitions to be an even better organisation. We’ve moved our contracting model from a single major supplier, to a network of partners, mostly SMEs, and we have a more flexible and future-proofed technical environment than ever.
Cafcass now operates from 34 offices, and has entirely cloud-based technology, from our call centre to our case management system, from our HR system to our video conference service. Every member of staff has a modern smartphone and hybrid laptop. Everyone has the tools to enable them to work from any location, any time. We have more powerful data than ever before to understand our business, and support the wider sector.
We’re proud to be able to say that we delivered, on time. In 2018 we were awarded ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted. We’ve supported the workforce in coping with continuing increases in demand, staff wellbeing remains high, and we also shaved another 20% off the running costs of our IT.
We won’t be standing still. We’ve got ambitious plans to continue to innovate and develop our technology, we’re exploring new and exciting digital tools and ways to engage with our service users – the families and children we work with so that their experience of dealing with us continues to place the child at the heart of our work and is always getting better. We’re looking at how we can harness and make use of artificial intelligence in parts of the business and to support our ever-more sophisticated analytical and research functions.
I’d personally like to thank our people for their ongoing willingness to support and embrace change, and to technology partners old and new for helping us to reach this point. There are exciting times ahead!