Speaking at the Sydney CeBIT Conference on Tuesday 25 May 2010, Federal Human Services CIO John Wadeson described the adoption of virtualisation and thin client technology as, “the final outcome on this journey” toward truly mobile service delivery.
Centrelink, which forms part of the Human Services portfolio, is in the process of adopting a virtualised IT infrastructure and is using it to improve access to welfare services in remote and disaster-affected areas.
Mobility is something that Centrelink has been striving towards for many years, said Wadeson, who recounted less efficient times where officers would be sent out to find remote stations with nothing more on board than a stack of paper files and a satellite phone that never worked– often returning with as few as 2 transactions completed.
Other early attempts at mobile welfare processing involved primitive laptops, which Wadeson described as “luggables” and which he says resembled large plastic xylophones with an awkward aerial.
These days, thin client technology allows Centrelink’s Mobile Offices, or ‘drought buses’ to access the central Centrelink server in Canberra from any of their destinations along the south-east coast of Australia.
The Mobile Office initiative comprises 2 fully mobile, self-sufficient trailers equipped with all the facilities required for processing Centrelink, Medicare or Australian Hearing services. They are all linked to the Telstra 3G network.
While at CeBIT, the medium visited one of the Mobile Offices on display at the trade show, and found the staff to be very positive about the improvements that virtualisation and thin client infrastructure have delivered to their service capability. They added that they were never without connectivity, even in extremely remote areas.
Far and above the 2 transactions performed by Wadeson’s early welfare expeditions, the staff claimed that they had served no less than 450 customers when they were called to Coffs Harbour during the floods last year.
The Human Services CIO described this technology as, “just what we need to get where we’ve been going since we first went to the outposts in the 1990s.”
“We have got to get out of government offices and get to where the community is,” he said.
Under the Federal Budget brought down on 11 May, the Mobile Offices will receive $4.7 million in 2010-11 for general running and maintenance costs. Wadeson did not indicate whether there were plans to expand the Mobile Office fleet, but the staff on board told the mediumthat they certainly hoped that there were.
However Wadeson did suggest to the eGovernment delegation at CeBIT that Centrelink was in the market for a new fleet of PDA-like tools to assist Customer Liaison Officers reduce waiting times in conventional Centrelink offices. Centrelink is rumoured to be considering the iPad for this purpose.
Centrelink was allocated a further $14.7 million in the recent Federal Budget to continue to develop its virtualisation infrastructure.