Guest Blog — Transforming Bloodnet

The National Blood Authority’s essential blood ordering service is transforming its digital platform. Delivery manager Shane Sithamparanathan talks about how they successfully passed their alpha assessment and are full steam ahead in beta.

Staff working in the National Blood Authority Office in front of data management screens.

Caption: The National Blood Authority office.

The National Blood Authority (NBA) manages the ordering of blood and blood products around Australia. We operate a 24-hour service to ensure that essential life saving blood and blood products get to where they’re needed. Approximately 28,000 litres of blood are ordered and tracked through our platform each month.

The need for transformation

The NBA received feedback that our platform was not meeting user needs. Hospitals had difficulty filling in forms and were unsure how to track the status of their orders.

The Queensland Department of Health first developed an online system for ordering and tracking blood products called ORBS (Ordering, Receipting Blood System) in 2009. This was so successful that it was proposed to the NBA as a national system in 2010. A bespoke application called BloodNet was developed. Since 2010, new functionality has been added.

While BloodNet has been fulfilling the basic requirement of ordering and receipting blood and blood products, new functionality has significantly reduced the system’s response time. Hospitals found the system to be running slow and the look and feel dull and outdated.

BloodNet version 5 is transforming the way BloodNet is operating and aims to not only upgrade the technology and platforms, but also give its user interface a fresh new look. In addition, we are improving data structures, cleaning our legacy data and improving data quality to decrease slowness of the system.

Using the Digital Service Standard

The NBA has been using the Digital Service Standard to ensure our services are simple, clear, and in line with user’s needs. Our team takes full ownership of what we do and we empathise with our end users and their pain points. I am very proud of the work we have done.

Digital transformation is a big organisational cultural change and challenge. Our senior management is very supportive and actively guides the team to deliver the new wave of BloodNet version 5.

We worked hard to align our deliverables with DTA’s Digital Service Standard criteria. We made a number of team and organisational adjustments to meet the criteria.

Brought a multi-disciplinary team in-house

The team consisted of: delivery manager, product manager, user researchers, system architect, developers and ethical hackers.

Upskilled internal staff

Since the concept of the Digital Service Standard is new to the NBA, an expert delivery manager with knowledge and experience of the Digital Service Standard was specifically included to guide and upskill the team.

Implemented Agile

The team adapted to agile principles, tools and techniques, and held fortnightly sprints, daily stand-ups, regular walk-throughs and responded to feedback. With these processes in place, continuous improvements were easy to achieve. Furthermore, communication across the team improved significantly thereby increasing collaboration and transparency.

Conducted user research

A total of 187 hours of user research was conducted during the discovery and alpha stages, which included visiting 138 people across 39 hospitals/laboratories in 9 different cities.

Product owners and user researchers led the research, however, they were also accompanied by technical team members. This allowed each member of the team to have an opportunity to take part in the activity and obtain greater understanding of user needs and the environments they function in.

Developed a prototype

With the development of empathy maps, user journeys, and service blueprints, the team were able to derive common themes of problems and formulate a hypothesis. Several design sessions were carried out to sketch and conceptualise various options, which led to developing paper based prototypes. From paper based, the prototype evolved to HTML/semi-working prototypes which was iterated based on more analysis and continuous user feedback. This was a key step in validating research findings and ensuring our user needs are being met.

Challenges in meeting the Digital Service Standard

While the DTA was a great source of information, the team encountered the following challenges:

Assessments

The format of the Digital Service Standard assessment and types of questions that were asked were sometimes challenging. Fortunately, we had DTA staff members assist us with a mock assessment prior to the formal assessment — this helped immensely.

Cultural change

There were initially a few challenges with the concept of digital transformation and agile delivery within the organisation. During the discovery the team’s mindset evolved and now user-centred delivery is a core part of our work.

I now encourage all team members to participate in user research and I take them with me to research across the country — this has really helped build their empathy for users.

Where to now?

We are now in Beta and spending time on detailed analysis as well as further research and development.

In July, we organised our biggest user reference group event. Over 30 end-user representatives visited our National office in Canberra, and attended a workshop run by our Product Owner Rebecca Helandma and the project team.

We received constructive feedback and we are excited to incorporate it into our upcoming sprints. Because we are an agile team, it is very easy for us to include essential improvements suggested by our end users.

Some of the things we’re working on right now include:

  • ensuring the system is built for longevity and ease of maintenance
  • setting up our release process and transition plans for users
  • identifying appropriate metrics and KPIs for the performance dashboard
  • continuing user research and testing to make sure we are on the right track

The team has designed a simpler platform that makes it faster and easier for hospitals to order and receive life-saving blood products.

We are the first agency — that is required to use the Digital Service Standard — to pass its alpha assessment independently.

The NBA is a great example of how a smaller agency can build their digital capability by bringing digital skills in-house and upskilling existing employees. We hope that other agencies can learn from our experience.

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