GO NEUSTART: Closer to the client with a mobile app – NEUSTART


​​​​​​​The NEUSTART association offers social work and offender reintegration as well as victim support and preventative measures. To be able to respond to new requirements posed by digitisation, the association now relies on a mobile app. This gives NEUSTART a digital tool that greatly facilitates communication with its clients, representing an important step into a digital future for the association.

Communication with our clients has changed in the last few years. Smart phones have become more important and NEUSTART wanted to keep up with this trend.

Paul Wawerka, Neustart

Smart mobile phone app that strengthens client relations

NEUSTART has been active in the fields of social work in cooperation with the justice ministry, offender assistance (probation assistance, ex-prisoner assistance), victim care and prevention since 1957. The non-profit is represented by some 1,600 full-time and volunteer employees at 32 locations in Austria and assisted some 45,000 clients in 2021. To document their activities, write reports and for expert assessments, its staff uses a documentation system that allows the social workers to record client contacts. “Communication with our clients has changed in the last few years. Smart phones have become more important and NEUSTARTwanted to keep up with this trend,” Paul Wawerka, Technical Project Manager at NEUSTART, describes the starting point.

Looking for a smart mobile app
The association went looking for a mobile solution that would allow for secure document exchange and confidential communication between clients and counsellors. Additionally, it was supposed to offer additional services such as appointment reminders. “The new app was supposed to offer functions such as appointment reminders and document transfer. Furthermore, it was supposed to allow users to send technical questions, keep a diary and communicate agreed goals including the associated deadlines,” Zillner states.

Strengthening client relations
Digitisation is an essential topic for NEUSTARTtoo and keeping up with this trend was the main reason to push development in this direction. Younger clients, in particular, had repeatedly uttered the desire to be able to send messages. “We went looking for a mobile solution that would not only comprise a chat function, but also strengthen client relations and improve their commitment to show up for appointments,” Zillner argues. After calling for tenders, the association opted for DCCS, one of Austria’s largest IT specialists. “DCCS offered the most suitable solution at a fair price,” Wawerka reports. Moreover, the association had already had good experiences with the IT solutions provider after it had implemented its existing documentation system.

“Trials and internal feedback loops helped us defining these detail requirements and taking them into account in implementation.”

Paul Wawerka, Neustart

Swift implementation with data security a top priority

Swift implementation, despite pandemic
​​​​​​​NEUSTART went into the first workshops, which were held exclusively via online meetings due to the pandemic, with a detailed catalogue of requirements. “We had weekly work meetings with content and technical sections, as well as an acceptance of the sprints every two weeks. This agile approach, which we chose together with DCCS, proved very successful,” says Wawerka. A cross-platform approach with MS.net5/PostgreSQL back-end and React Native front-end (for Android and iOS), running on Linux, was chosen as the technological basis. In addition, DCCS developed a server synchronisation service for easy document exchange. Great emphasis was placed on high usability. The project team included all hierarchical levels, from social workers to the management level at the Austrian locations. “We tested the system in all areas of our Salzburg location. This allowed us to gain valuable experience and optimise some of the details,” says Zillner.

Data security a top priority
One of the major challenges of the project was data security. This task was tackled with a specially developed multiple encryption technology and additional security tools. To reliably protect the clients’ confidential data, only moving data is stored and encrypted in the documentation. “We tested the system using penetration tests to ensure data security,” says Wawerka. Yet solutions also had to be found for detailed issues, such as how appointments can either be sent automatically to clients or controlled manually. “Trials and internal feedback loops helped us defining these detail requirements and taking them into account in implementation,” says Wawerka. For the roll-out to social workers and clients, NEUSTART ​​​​​​​created an instructive video as well as an information brochure to assist them.

We are now more present and closer to the client. We were also able to increase the binding adherence to appointments and thus improve care.

Miriam Zillner, Neustart

Simple document transfer at less effort and faster processing times

Simple document transfer via app
The new mobile GO NEUSTART app that has been available on the Apple App Store and Google Play since November 2021, clients and social workers can exchange personal messages, goals, appointments, feedback, documents and information on offences. Apart from document exchange, the app’s messenger function facilitates communication between clients and counsellor teams. Besides, the app allows clients to keep a confidential digital diary that only they can access. Additionally, the app features a feedback function clients can use to provide feedback on the counselling they receive via an online questionnaire. Social workers, on the other hand, can transfer chat room messages (for instance that a client can’t come to an appointment) into the central documentation system, saving them time. The app and integrated services are already being used by many clients. “The app receives lots of positive feedback, from both our clients and counsellors. The messenger function is a great addition that facilitates personal counselling which is particularly important to us,” Zillner adds.

Less effort, faster contact
For NEUSTART​​​​​, the new app primarily brings administrative simplification, for example through the quick, easy exchange of documents or the fast and uncomplicated sending of appointments and reminders. “For example, electronically monitored house arrest requires a detailed weekly counselling plan. We can now also send the plan to the clients very easily via the app,” explains Zillner. They benefit, for example, from automatic appointment reminders that can be customised. The chat function is particularly practical for exchanging information with personal counsellors at any time – even while on the road. “It increases our presence and brings us closer to the client. We have also been able to increase commitment to appointments and thus improve care,” Zillner is convinced. The app project makes NEUSTART ​​​​​​​a pioneer in Europe, as it is the first organisation in the field of probation services to use an application in this form. Following the successful project, the association is now planning to develop an additional app for social workers. It is also supposed to be linked to the documentation system, facilitating field workers’ tasks.

Kontakt Christof Thoma

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