Last week the Federal Department of Human Services (DHS) took an important initial step toward the goal of achieving full portfolio integration, with the release of a single Managed Telecommunications Services Request for Tender (RFT) to cover the needs of the Human Services Portfolio agencies, including DHS, Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support Agency (CSA).
As part of the tender release, DHS published comprehensive details of ICT infrastructure reform plans, as the document Service Delivery Reform Program Overview.
This Overview indicates how the integration of the Human Services ICT infrastructure will proceed over the coming years. This integration forms part of the Federal Government’s Service Delivery Reform initiative, launched by then Human Services Minister Chris Bowen in December 2009. The intention of the Reform is to make it easier for customers to engage with the DHS agencies through the physical co-location of DHS offices and an integration of their functions.
The reform initiative as a whole will be heavily reliant on the success of the planned consolidation into a single platform of the disparate ICT infrastructure of the DHS portfolio agencies.
The single platform will come about through a unified ICT strategy, common governance structure and streamlined procurement processes. The new platform will support a workforce that makes up nearly a quarter of the Australian Public Service.
The move is likely to result in the pool of suppliers currently serving the DHS becoming considerably rationalised, as redundant software and hardware is eliminated via the progressive implementation of the Reform.
However, it will also create new opportunities for vendors, as new supply arrangements, such as the Telecommunications Managed Services contract, emerge where they did not previously exist.
Below are some examples of the infrastructure reforms that are outlined in the Service Delivery Reform Program Overview.
ICT Hosting Services for external agencies
In July 2010 the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) entered into a shared services arrangement with DHS that will see DHS manage DVA’s ICT infrastructure needs for five years. The documents show that the Department is intending to extend its shared service offerings to more agencies external to the Human Services portfolio.
This has the potential to dramatically increase the level of ICT capability that DHS will require. It may also strain DHS staffing levels, as a recent article in Computerworld has already suggested.
The end of outsourcing
At present, the Human Services portfolio has a variety of ICT infrastructure management arrangements in place. It maintains managed services (outsourcing) arrangements Medicare and the DHS Child Support Program, with IBM Australia and HP Enterprise Services respectively. While Centrelink has avoided going down the outsourcing route, it nonetheless has substantial enterprise level contracts in place with IBM for the management of its mainframes.
Under the plans outlined in the Overview, the outsourcing arrangements will cease, and all ICT infrastructure will be managed internally. However, this does not mean that opportunities for service providers cease altogether. According to the Overview,the DHS will replace current arrangements with, “one integrated, high quality ICT infrastructure technology and business capability – internally managed with the assistance of selective co-sourcing providers”.
Data Centre rationalisation
DHS intends to replace its seven separate data centres, which it describes as displaying, “inconsistent disaster recovery and high availability”. The portfolio plans to migrate its current core systems in a unified manner to more efficient and sustainable facilities over the next three to four years.
Unable to wait for these longer terms plans to materialise, Centrelink has already established the Hume Data Centre in Canberra as the first step in this process. I signed a two-year, $5m contract with Canberra Data Centres for the lease in August last year.
Portfolio-wide common desktop environment
According to the Overview document, ICT integration across the portfolio agencies will include the adoption of a common Windows desktop environment for all portfolio agencies. With all DHS agencies obliged to procure from the Whole-of-Government Desktop Hardware Panel (WGDP), this is likely to mean that DHS will periodically provide its desktop requirement specifications to the Department of Finance and Deregulation (Finance), which will then aggregate this requirement into the quarterly bidding process it now conducts with WGDP vendors.
Corporate applications, such as payroll and human resources systems, will also be standardised across all of the Human Services agencies. This includes SAP finance and HR systems, Microsoft Office and Adobe Acrobat PDF Reader.
One seamless email system
Earlier this year, DHS Deputy Secretary for ICT Infrastructure, John Wadeson added to suspicions that the ubiquitous Microsoft Outlook/Exchange platform will be favoured against IBM’s Lotus Notes for the portfolio-wide rollout. Both Centrelink and Medicare currently run Notes and will therefore have to migrate to the new platform if this is the case.
DHS have indicated that they are receptive to the use of open source and open standards software where it is appropriate. The preparedness of DHS to move in this direction is in stark contrast to the attitude of the security agencies (such as those in the Attorney General’s Portfolio) which cite a range of concerns including access to code by non-vetted developers, lack of contractual certainty about maintenance responsibilities and disaster recover y and business continuity concerns.
Portfolio infrastructure and storage clouds
DHS will consolidate three distinct agency mainframe environments, three distinct agency midrange environments and three agency-specific approaches to storage into one DHS portfolio infrastructure cloud and one DHS portfolio storage cloud, according to the Overview document.
These planned changes are some of the most strategically significant to emerge from Canberra in some time. Only time will now tell whether they are a harbinger of changes that envelop all FMA Act agencies.