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DHS system overhaul confirmed

by Justin Hendry •
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The Federal Government will replace the 30 year-old IT system used by the Department of Human Services (DHS) to manage welfare payments, with an approach to market for design and delivery requirements forecasted for early next financial year.

The new system to replace the Income Security Integrated System (ISIS) will advance welfare reform and boost efficiencies in the welfare system, according to Social Services Minister Scott Morrison and Human Services Minister Marise Payne. "You can't fix the system if you can't change the engine which drives the system and makes it work.”

Despite partnering with the private sector for system development and delivery, the ministers have vowed that ownership and management of the system will remain within government.

“This important long-term investment will allow the Government to properly address the challenges facing Australia’s welfare system, maximise the benefits of e-government, reduce the costs of administering the system for taxpayers and help crack down on welfare cheats,” said Morrison.

The Model 204 database, the main database of the current system, shoulders over 50 million daily transactions and provides 7.3 million people with close to $100 billion in payments each year, despite first making an appearance in 1983. And at least 25 per cent of these processes require staff involvement at some stage of the transaction. 

“If we want a flexible and modern social security system that meets the needs of those who rely on it, then we need flexible and modern infrastructure. This will ensure changes governments make to our welfare system can be implemented quickly and cost effectively,” said Morrison.

Payne said that “the 1980s technology propping up the current system was built for an era of paper records. It is costly to maintain and incapable of taking full advantage of the digital age.”

The project is expected to be implemented over seven years and will be one of the world’s largest social welfare IT system overhauls, with the cost of replacing the system estimated by the National Commission of Audit at between $1.2- $1.5 billion.

Friday’s confirmation of an ISIS replacement by the ministers follows the final report of the McClure Review.  Commissioned in December 2013 and handed to the Government in late February 2015, the review recommended a major reform of existing welfare payment architecture through the development of a new IT system to meet present-day customer and service delivery needs.

The review stated: “Redeveloping the income support IT system in conjunction with income support payment reform is necessary for Centrelink to provide simpler, easier to manage claims and support services.”

“A new IT system would enable greatly enhanced self-service opportunities, make change in circumstance updates easier and enable greater use of technology now in regular mainstream use such as downloadable applications.”

The new system is expected to be built around the needs of the customer and made better use of data analytics. “Improvements to real-time data sharing between agencies will mean that, with customer consent, their information won’t have to be provided twice,” said Payne.

"Improved data sharing will also significantly increase the Government's ability to detect and prevent fraud and non-compliance.”

Payne said that an Advisory Group made up of public and private sector leaders would soon be established to manage the early stages of the project. Engagement with IT industry partners would then follow suit.

Morrison has previously called ISIS “walkman-era technology” and Payne has likened it to “running a turbo-charged Commodore 64 with air dams and a spoiler in the age of the iPhone”, according to News Corp.

While the 2015-2016 Federal Budget will reveal the scope of the redevelopment, benefits could be seen as soon as late-2016.

The system is expected to be completed by 2022.

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