||Australia: ICT Integration Underway in Australia
||Thursday, December 27, 2012
Electronic and Mobile Government
||Jan 08, 2013
The Australian Government’s Department of Human Services is spearheading the country’s largest ICT integration programme to support a US$1.25 billion Service Delivery Reform program. This reform streamlines on-line access to medical services, social security benefits, and child support services. FutureGov speaks to CIO Gary Sterrenberg.
When Australia’s Department of Human Services (DHS) became a “mega-agency” in 2009, the ICT team faced major challenges in integrating agency-wide platforms that supported provision of health, social services, child support and disability services to thousands of Australians.
The DHS was formed in 2009 after the Federal Government announced a massive shake-up of the welfare portions of its agencies. This shake-up involved merging Medicare, Centrelink, the Child Support Agency, Australian Hearing and Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service (CRS) Australia into a new mega-agency.
At the time, ICT managers faced the massive task of integrating different agencies’ technology assets, while continuing to deliver services at the front-line. The full scope of this project directly touched all aspect of DHS’ technology systems and supporting agencies.
The overall project included integrating HR and finance systems, consolidating data-centres, rolling out a common desktop based on Windows 7, migrating different email systems including Lotus Notes onto Microsoft’s Outlook/Exchange, and going to tender for a raft of new contracts.
The DHS is now part-way through a US$387 million (A$374 million) Service Delivery Reform (SDR) program to consolidate the merged agencies’ data centres, IT systems and contracts.
In October 2011, Gary Sterrenberg joined the DHS as its Chief Information Officer to take this ICT integration to the next level. He took over from Centrelink’s retiring CIO, John Wadeson, moving from a previous role as general manager for technology at ANZ Bank.
Charting the journey
“The first step was to talk at length with management and staff, and gain a full appreciation of directions and policies,” recalls Sterrenberg. “We needed to maintain customer services delivery, while tackling the back-end integration of platforms.” Overall governance issues were pretty much in place; the next step was to ensure a seamless agency-wide transition, without affecting client service delivery.
As a lead service delivery agency, with a 37,000 strong staff, the DHS needs to handle its ICT integration in stages. The scope of this integration directly affects millions of clients, including five million on-line Centrelink customers, A$16.8 billion (US$16.4 billion) worth of Medicare payments, and nine hundred branch offices nationally.
Consolidating data centres and networks
Agencies were running separate platforms—among these were four separate networks for Medicare, Centrelink, Child Support, and Commonwealth Rehabilitation Centres.
There were 14 separate data centres holding client records being managed by agencies. Plans were refined to rationalise these data centres into three.
As a start, the DHS has moved out of its data centre in Bruce, Australian Capital Territory (ACT), and one run by telco carrier, Macquarie Telecom in NSW. It is also vacating another facility in Burwood, NSW. By 2014, the plan is to have three data centres – one in Hume, near the ACT-NSW border, and two in the southern Canberra suburb of Tuggeranong (ACT).
Apart from the data centre amalgamation, the DHS deals with large volumes of data, previously residing in mainframes–-and averaging 30 per cent growth annually. Bulk of this data volume incorporates financial information held by Centrelink.
Client information at data centres is now kept separate to comply with Federal and State privacy legislation. Agencies benefit from data centre rationalisation and shared services, and as a result, manage to reduce the cost of running data centres and supporting infrastructure.
Delivering common architecture for desktops
On the desktop front, from October to December 2011, DHS deployed 500 desktops using a new common desktop architecture based on Windows 7 and Outlook. By June 2012, the agency will roll out another 10,000 desktops, and by the end of the year, another 15,000 desktops.
Among other initiatives, the DHS is reviewing its telecommunications network services. There is a move toward unified communications, and using multiple rather than single telco contracts. Additionally, more services will be brought in-house, while replacing large outsourcing deals.
Online citizen portals and social media
The DHS plans to link 20 agencies under a common authentication umbrella and information portal. This initiative is supported by www.australia.gov.au, a portal that offers clients an entry point to dealing with the Australian government. Clients can register for online services through a password-generated ID log-in account, and track entitlements for Centrelink, Medicare, or Child Support Services.
The DHS’ technology reform is about empowering citizens, notes Sterrenberg. “The emphasis is on customer service delivery, while integrating and streamlining the ICT platforms. An integration effort simply cannot go wrong, because in the end, it affects services to citizens in need.”
The DHS is assessing the use of social media apps, which offer the best channel to reach more deeply and broadly into communities—ideal platforms for DHS, as its mandate is to implement and support welfare programs. Among these, Facebook, Twitter, and smart-phones apps will soon support service delivery programs.
The agency needs to connect with Australians at crucial points in their lives: for example, when between jobs, in need of medical care, or needing disability support.