In a sign of things to come, the federal Human Services Portfolio, which includes Centrelink, Medicare Australia and the Department of Human Services, launched a hotline to assist with the seasonal post-budget onslaught of phone enquiries.
A number of ICT infrastructure consolidation initiatives are planned that will bring together the Portfolio’s six agencies and support widespread service delivery reforms, including a single website and single phone number for Australians to access all Department of Human Services agencies, by the end of 2010.
Human Services’ Deputy Secretary, ICT infrastructure, John Wadeson, says that ICT will be at the forefront of the Portfolio’s consolidation and reform process. Speaking at last month’s CeBIT Australia conference, Mr Wadeson outlined a number of significant changes to ICT operations that he hopes will assist the reform agenda and be in place by the end of the year.
Beyond the single phone number and single website, new ICT projects will include the development of an intranet as well as a merger of the separate financial and administrative IT platforms used by the different Portfolio agencies. At the same time, assurances have been given that the client databases managed by the Portfolio agencies will be kept separate to comply with privacy requirements.
One of the central components of the Portfolio’s service delivery reforms is the rollout of a program of physical co-location of Centrelink and Medicare offices, currently in operation at Narooma and Bateman’s Bay on the NSW South Coast. Human Services Minister Chris Bowen has indicated that a further 20 co-located offices will be opened at various locations around the country before the end of 2010.
Mr Wadeson suggests that there is an important role for ICT in ensuring the rollout of co-locations runs smoothly. “We have to make sure when the offices do co-locate, that everyone can access all the systems they need” he said.
But the really large task is the plan to create a unified systems environment accessible from a common desktop. Also in Wadeson’s sights is the implementation of a single staff ID card as well as integrated data centres.
The Human Services Portfolio is one of Australia’s key service delivery providers. Its agencies cater to 99.9 per cent of the population, send out 400,000 letters every day, manage the access and workstations for 40,000 staff across 1900 access points and handle 7 billion customer transactions every year.
The Portfolio is also one of the Government’s biggest ICT purchasers. According to Intermedium data, the Human Services Portfolio has signed $863.5 million in ICT contracts year to date, a figure which is expected to increase when year end figures are compiled.
Considering the size and scope of the Portfolio, it is unsurprising that Mr Wadeson has described the consolidation and reform process as a ‘gigantic task’. But he is optimistic the impact the reforms will have, stating that they “will deliver real positives for customers and staff alike, as well as positioning government for the future of service delivery”.
It is understood that the government is considering a further consolidation of ICT resources beyond the portfolio to the Australian Tax Office and Department of Immigration and Citizenship. In an interview with IT News at the CeBIT conference, Mr Wadeson suggested that the long-term plan is to establish “a single piece of infrastructure that will house the back-room environments and data centre environments for all these agencies”.
In looking at the directions the Portfolio will take, it should be noted that Machinery of Government legislation to fully incorporate Centrelink and Medicare Australia into the Department of Human Services, is not planned to be introduced until August 2011, a date that is well after the coming federal election.