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On the last day of NPS & CRCs

Steven Doggett, Business Development Consultant

On the last day of the NPS & CRCs being in existence, the team at Unilink has been reflecting on the changes and would like to wish all probation staff well for their transition to one unified Probation Service. A special mention to MTC for our collaborative work together on OMNIA and the positive impact that our digital solutions have had on the delivery of probation services.

So, what makes the application appeal to probation users? Steve Doggett our UK Probation Consultant explains the answer lies partly within decades of deep domain knowledge in UK probation, leading to an application that can cope with a labyrinth of complex legislation and a conceptual design centred around systems theory. It is no secret that desistance and therefore the work of the probation service is a team effort. It makes sense that in our application the user interface and design are therefore based around the whole team and all the different roles working within it. The workflow originates from and flows back to each user, balanced through intuitive dashboards and the interoperability to swiftly access data from across a caseload, team or organisation.

Another key theme was that of integration and Omnia was designed to combine previously separate, case management services and risk assessment and sentence planning tools. We added in enhanced service user involvement capability, SMS messaging and google maps integration to make things easier for staff. The application itself is presented through a slick, responsive user interface that can be used on mobile devices and navigated in a simple intuitive way. Little wonder that probation staff in London & Thames Valley and those working alongside them such as HMIP inspectors only have praise for the application.

The key principles behind the application’s success are a combination of inclusive design and deep probation domain expertise and know-how. This application was designed with and for users, by users and its disruptive influence will be long felt after the transition. It is an example of how the probation service family can come together to truly innovate and transform services for staff and service users. The team estimates that over 1000 hours of user research went into designing and iteratively developing the application with hundreds of users (personas) from across the probation landscape.

Probation practitioners say it is highly intuitive and far easier to do the day job, with embedded risk and needs assessments regarded as a fundamental shift in how services are delivered collaboratively with service users. Integrated SMS text messaging, intuitive dashboards, and the ability to send workflow through tasks was a gamechanger for admin, senior probation officers and offender managers.

HMIP’s 2019 inspection of London CRC reported that:
“The Omnia case management system is enabling staff to improve the quality of their work with those under probation supervision.”

The whole project was predicated on principles of successful agile delivery from the offset with SME led user research and discovery sessions, prototyping designs and weekly show and tell sessions. Our partnership with MTC is an example of how to deliver enterprise-class software well and deliver what users need to do their jobs better and more simply. In line with GDS principles, Users were involved throughout the product design, development and even after the roll-out of the software. The staff group has previously spoken very positively about how well the business change was managed and the benefits of the new system presented to staff.

Discussing the future of the Probation Service at the Justice Select Committee, Rob Butler MP for Aylesbury commented that during his visit to Thames Valley CRC staff there were very proud of their new Probation IT system, Omnia. They demonstrated and explained how more sophisticated it is than that of NPS.

In that session, Justin Russell, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Probation shared that he too has seen the case management system and probation officers were really pleased with it:
“We have had very positive feedback from probation staff in both Thames Valley and London about that new system; it feels much more intuitive, and it is quicker to do assessments. I hope there are elements that can be transposed.”

David Hood, managing Director at MTC commented that from his perspective introducing the case management system Omnia has been a fundamental shift forward from the systems that are currently used in the NPS—NDelius and OASys. “For probation staff it is a fundamental tool in delivering the service.”

A further quote submitted in evidence to the Justice Committee said ‘The difference between NDelius and OASys with Omnia is night and day. Omnia captures everything, it’s so clear.’

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