Case study – Fair Work Ombudsman

Mediation Online Booking System

Summary

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) has undertaken a series of short projects to leverage technology to re-design Mediation booking processes. Developed with the customer at the heart of the process, the end to end digital service now enables disputing parties who may not wish to communicate with each other to find a mutually convenient time to access mediation. It has significantly reduced the manual work required of customers and staff and allows connections between different systems (including between the FWO’s systems and customer devices) so that all parties can be automatically updated if there is a change. The connected data enables customers to link appointments to their own calendar systems and has significantly improved attendance at appointments made. The linked systems also enabling better reporting and reduce the risks of data loss through manual handling.

Agency overview

The Fair Work Ombudsman is an independent statutory office. Our jurisdiction is set out in the Fair Work Act and our services are free to all workers and employers in Australia.

Our main role is to:

  • promote harmonious, productive and cooperative workplace relations 
  • ensure compliance with Australian workplace laws 
  • monitor certain 457 subclass visa arrangements

Introduction

Our accredited and impartial mediators work with parties (mostly employees and employers) who hadn’t resolved their dispute in an earlier intervention to reach a settlement during mediation, which is a confidential scheduled telephone conference. Participating in mediation is voluntary, with parties controlling the outcome.

Mediations involve approximately 4,500 matters per annum, all of which have historically been manually data entered.

Historically, in order to arrange teleconference mediations, scheduling had to be organised manually by having FWO mediation scheduling staff contact customers to organise an acceptable time. This was a labour and time intensive process that included calling the customers, confirming times, sending out emails manually and then making bookings into the mediators’ Outlook calendars manually. The intensity of the process was further compounded by customers regularly requesting to reschedule booked mediations.

Mediators and their administrative assistants also had to update Nexus (our Case Management system) with booking details by copying and pasting details from Outlook. This was required for all 4,500 teleconference mediations which each last 90 minutes.

The FWO set out to create a digital solution which would remove manual registration and automate the mediation booking process for the customers and enable them to find mutually acceptable mediation times though the use an automated online interface. There were two key projects which involved creating the Mediation Online Booking System (MOBS) and then building Mediation functionality into our Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution, CustomerNet.

Project objectives

For MOBS the project objectives were:

  • to free up labour resources required for manual scheduling of mediation through phone or email correspondence
  • enhance the experience and effectiveness of mediation scheduling
  • connect different systems within the FWO and between the FWO and its customers to ensure better accuracy
  • automatically update customers as to any changes to bookings
  • send reminders via email/SMS on a regular basis
  • allow parties to indicate when a matter was withdrawn or resolved prior to mediation. The booking portal then can effectively function as a complete system for the logistical management of a dispute
  • make automatic calendar bookings once a mediation conference is confirmed

The key objectives for then migrating Mediation in our CRM solution were related to further automation, including:

  • integrate with FWO’s online portal that customers use to create a seamless Front-end Dispute Resolution pathway which all work can pass easily between all front-end dispute resolution teams
  • removal of manual registration of 4500 matters per annum
  • removal of manual approval steps
  • removal of duplication and data entry across systems
  • reduce risk of data loss by automatic connection

Project execution

As there were no comparable ‘off-the-shelf’ products available, the FWO had to utilise its own in-house IT resources and talent to build the system entirely form the ground up. Everything that makes up the product was coded from scratch by FWO staff.

During the development process the Mediation team worked closely with our IT branch to design a system that met our unique requirements, and which would provide the best features and value to our customers.

These features include:

  • sends SMS reminders about booked mediations to both parties 
  • tailors booking times based on the time zones of the customers 
  • allows bookings to be made by mobile and email 
  • allows customers to reschedule if times are not suitable 
  • automatically generates a booking in the mediator's calendar 
  • sends finalisation emails if mediations are cancelled or resolved 
  • checks the mediator's Outlook calendars for available time slots LIVE! 
  • identifies bookings where an interpreter is needed

Project outcomes

Since the deployment of MOBS in July 2016 some 1,750 mediations have now been scheduled through MOBS. Importantly customers have had the freedom to choose dates and times for scheduled mediations which meets their needs, and to then synchronise the appointment into their own personal calendars on the device.

The most significant statistic is that since the introduction of MOBS 98% of all scheduled mediations have proceeded on the scheduled conference date compared to 65% with the former manual processes and the mediation intake success rate has gone up from 67% to 83% post MOBS introduction.

This drastic improvement has not only allowed us to vastly improve our service offering but also eliminated a great deal of inefficiency that was occurring by manually relisting matters on these occasions.

Comparison Table


Pre MOBS

Sample period from

1-5-16 to 31-7-16

Post MOBS

Sample period from

1-10-16 to 31-1-17

Number of Matters referred to Mediation

917

705

Confirmed mediations

Bookings where both parties have confirmed

389 (43%)
429 (61%)

Resolved prior

Bookings that are no longer required due to matters being

resolved prior to mediation

95 (10%)
74 (11%)

Withdrawn by applicant

Bookings that are no longer required due to the applicant

withdrawing or the matter not falling within the FWO jurisdiction

126 (14%)
81 (11%)

Total intake succes rate

includes all confired mediations, resolved priors and

withdrawn matters above

67%
83%

Matters not booked

Where intake process has not been successful due to

the Respondent being uncontactable or due to parties declining to participate

307 (33%)
121 (17%)

Booked mediations that proceeded

Checking the mediator's calendars and work out the percentage

flagged drop-outs versus overall bookings on calendar

65%
98%

The deployment of Mediation into CustomerNet has eliminated manual processes including:

  • requirement for mediators or administrators to open records to update bookings 
  • customers entering their own data and information 
  • need to copy and paste parties details to make the booking through integrating internal systems 
  • requirement to check MOBS for expired bookings 
  • a mediator will no longer need to email an administrator to schedule a matter

Project impact

The impact of MOBS has been felt most significantly within FWO in the form of the massive savings in time and costs associated with organising and scheduling mediations. This has allowed FWO to redirect staff resources—which had been previously dedicated exclusively to scheduling and administration—to providing additional pre-mediation education and guidance which will assist the parties to resolve a dispute.

It is estimated that across the mediation scheduling team of 4 staff, MOBS has saved 10 labour hours a day or 50 hours per week, which works out to 1.33 full time equivalent APS 4 staff, or an equivalent saving of approximately $116,000 p.a.

By migrating end-to-end process of Mediation into CustomerNet we have:

  • removed internal manual registration of 4500 matters per annum, saving approximately 0.7 FTE per year
  • removed manual approval steps, saving 3 FTE per year
  • successfully integrated with FWO’s online portal that customers use to create a seamless Front-end Dispute Resolution pathway which all work can pass easily between all front-end dispute resolution teams

Overall the most important impact is that our customers have reported that the system is simple and easy to use, they can enter their own details and all records are accessible and compliant and the flexibility provided to find a mutually agreed conference time between parties has enabled more of our customers to access our mediation services and have their disputes quickly and informally resolved.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017