Using tech to lift whanau

Using tech to lift whanau

The solution to helping the most vulnerable in Aotearoa rise above the challenges they face? It's technology, says Whanau Tahi chief executive Stephen Keung.

I’m thinking that I need a long-handled moustache so I can lift my profile in the technology sector. Or maybe I need to sell accountancy software.

Instead I’m the clean-shaven CEO of a tech company called Whanau Tahi that leverages technology to help whanau and the most vulnerable in Aotearoa climb out of an inter-generational quagmire of ill-health, poverty and deep-seated issues.

Half of prison sentences in Aotearoa are handed out to Maori, who make up only 15 percent of the general population. Many Maori have become long-term dependents on social services and are disenfranchised, lacking the tools to change a bleak outlook. Yet accountancy and point-of-sale software systems get a lot more column inches than we do. Don’t get me wrong. Those technologies are doing a great job making profits but we’re helping people get well, even to survive. We’re helping people get jobs, get educated and helping their children forge a better life path.

Measuring outcomes from selling accountancy software may be easy to quantify, simply by looking at a profit and loss sheet. Measuring the outcomes from changing the lives of whanau, one day at a time, needs long-term metrics, both quantitative and qualitative.

But wait, I’ve got some data and results.

One of our clients is the Tuwharetoa Whanau Ora Collective. They deliver social services in the central North Island of New Zealand and they adopted our Whanau Tahi Navigator software in the first quarter of 2014. Frontline case workers deal with clients spread over a large geographical area, often in remote locations. This can make it difficult to keep in contact and assess needs.

Since adopting the software, they’ve been able to better assess and define whanau needs. Outcomes have been very successful in education, employment and health and disability. The average number of days to achieve outcomes has fallen dramatically with employment. In Quarter 1 2014, it took an average of 589 days to achieve an employment outcome which could be a training course or equally a job. This was reduced to 157 days in Quarter 2 2015. What’s more the actual amount of outcomes has increased.

In Quarter 1 2014, case workers for The Collective achieved one employment outcome. In Quarter 2 2015, this had risen to 33. In health and disability, there were five successful outcomes in Quarter 1 2014. In Quarter 2 2015, this had increased to 43. Education has seen similar success. Our software has allowed The Collective to connect services to families that most need them. Whanau are placed at the centre of a network of available resources in the social services and health sectors.

What we’re doing is actually not that revolutionary in terms of the software. Rather it’s how we’re doing it. We connect up the right resources to entire whanau instead of just one person. It’s our understanding of the issues that makes all the difference. We’re an IT company that didn’t start out as an IT company. We’re owned by Te Whanau o Waipareira, the urban Maori authority tasked with improving the lives of Maori and vulnerable communities in West Auckland. We stumbled into IT. We knew we needed something to connect a vast canvas of dots in the social services and primary health sectors but couldn’t find what we wanted on the shelf. So we got the right people on board and made our own software to connect primary health providers to whanau.

Last October, we bought HSA Global so we could connect to secondary health providers. We rebranded it as Whanau Tahi Connected Care - WTCC. I’ve got outcomes here too:

- A 35 percent reduction in hospital bed nights through WTCC.

- 42,000 whanau in Aotearoa are serviced by the two Whanau Tahi software platforms: WTCC and Navigator

- 70 percent of ‘Whānau Ora’ providers use our software instead of the free IBM system provided by government.

Whanau Tahi chief executive Stephen Keung.

Timing is everything. On 8 August 2016, Jodi Mitchell, CEO of SimplHealth wrote in Idealogthat the collective ‘we’ in the health technology sector need to move our operational model from “transactions between vendor and buyer towards a relational model, where partnerships operate with the understanding we are all working for the best healthcare result.”

I agreed with Mitchell when I read that. Ironically, eight days later, we announced the acquisition of SimplHealth who, amongst other things, manage the NZ ePrescription Service. What I’m really interested in is how SimplHealth systems will give us the capability to track outcomes across the entire chain of social and health services – from planning to delivery to contracting to payment and through to data validation. Connecting up more dots.