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Sterrenberg: Integration Program saves DHS hundreds of millions, ISIS to remain for 4 – 5 years

by Judy Hurditch •
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Department of Human Services (DHS) resources working on the DHS Integration Program contributed to the completion, almost a year ahead of schedule, of almost all the technical aspects of its 2012 - 2016 ICT Plan, according to CIO Gary Sterrenberg.

Sterrenberg, now in his third year as CIO at DHS, not only credits DHS staff, contractors and suppliers with this achievement, but readily acknowledges the ground-breaking work of those that came before him.

The department undertook the ICT Integration Program, and in effect established the largest ICT shared service arrangement in the Federal government. The Program’s aim was to consolidate core ICT infrastructure across the whole DHS portfolio. The major focus in its first year (2010–11) was delivering the ICT foundations needed to support the merger into the one Department of three major agencies (Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support Agency), plus the comparatively much smaller DHS.

Sterrenberg says the transition is largely complete, with 50,000 MS Windows 7 desktops, 260,000 connection points, 2,500 kilometres of structured cable and 600 kilometres of fibre now in place.

All that remains are the final stages of the Managed Telecommunications Services arrangements and the migration of DHS’s second data centre to Canberra Data Centre’s premises. Telstra was awarded the $833m telecommunicationscontract in June 2012. A related Telstra contract for Internet Based Network Connections with Finance on behalf of DHS is worth $175.5 million over eight years to June 2020.

The $223.6m Canberra Data Centres Contract, which has a start date of 1 December 2011 and has an end date of 30 November 2021, follows DHS’s earlier $4.8m Lease at Hume Data Centre, ACT.

Sterrenberg said that hundreds of millions of dollars in savings had already been achieved as a result of the work done to date. DHS’s platforms are stabilised, the architecture has been simplified and 5,500 applications have been either decommissioned or rationalised down to 1,000.

Referencing his banking background, Sterrenberg told Intermedium that what now remains has ‘core bank-like quality’.  He said that when he joined, there were 127 ‘priority 1’ incidents per month.  These critical incidents have now been reduced to 1.5 per month.

Throughout this period, DHS has introduced innovations to meet the needs of not just the four core DHS agencies, but also of its IT Services client, the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The rate of change in the way people are using government services is driving DHS and its vendor communities to respond in new and different ways. “I did not realise how quick the growth would be and how fast user demands for change would come,” Sterrenberg said.

He is particularly pleased with how his agency is responding to such citizen demands. He cited the Express Plus mobile phone apps, developed in just six weeks and launched in August 2012, which became the first authenticated government app in the world.  He said that by December 2014, it became the ‘channel of choice’ for many DHS clients.  The apps have been downloaded 3.5 million times, are responsible for more than 36 million transactions per annum and transactions are continuing to grow. 

Speaking of his wider ICT environment, Sterrenberg said “the transaction rate is enormous.” “We have 12 billion data base calls and 21 billion transfers from one set of infrastructure to another per annum”.

Sterrenberg cites Express Plus Connect as a good example of DHS innovation. A multi-tenanted videoconferencing solution which  allows a hearing impaired  person, their signer and a DHS officer to potentially be in three different locations and can be made available via a digital television screen in a client’s home.  It can also as readily be used for interpreter services. This application is currently is its pilot stage.

Even with such achievements behind them, he says DHS has no let-up to its ICT agenda. Calendar 2015 is crowded with major activities.

As to the future, Sterrenberg sees an end to the development of bespoke systems by agencies. In his view, these will be replaced by ‘industrialised systems’ developed commercially to meet specific industry purposes. 

One such already in place is the Accenture Tax Administration System platform, on which the Australian Taxation Office implemented its new processing systems under the $780 million ICT Change Program that commenced with a Business Case in 2004 and was declared finished in 2010. 

Sterrenberg is clear about the future of DHS’s mainframe. “It has served us well, but our intent is to move to the mid-range to take advantage of converged infrastructure”.  Sterrenberg says the change will be ‘steady as she goes’. 

With so much achieved already, the next step is to improve system diagnostics, according to Sterrenberg. He says the time taken to resolve problems needs to improve and that DHS is now researching monitoring tools and talking to industry. 

As to advice to suppliers who wish to work with DHS, Sterrenberg said that he needs vendors to align their offerings on the outcomes DHS needs to achieve.   

One desired outcome was a simpler and more contemporary application landscape. Another was to perform code change impacts assessments faster. Sterrenberg is faced with a legacy environment where there is limited documentation and corporate knowledge for many of the in-house applications.

Sterrenberg says DHS is sure that its dominant stack has removed complexity and in that sense is working well for DHS.  The stack is:

  • SAP for the Unified Service Layer;
  • Microsoft for desktop and collaboration;
  • SAS and Teradata for analytics; and
  • Telstra for telecommunications.

Sterrenberg acknowledges the Income Security Information System (ISIS) has provided 20 years of value but feels it is nearing end-of-life and must be replaced. The architecture of which will be decided through the normal processes.

DHS was successful in obtaining business case funding of $16.2 million over two years in the 2013-14 budget to examine options for the ISIS replacement. Government has now decided to provide funding to replace the Centrelink ICT System. The implementation timeframe for a replacement to ISIS is likely to be multi-year and Intermedium has previously estimated its total replacement cost to be between $1.2 to $1.5 billion. 

Sterrenberg expects ISIS will be in place for at least next 4 - 5 years and sees that it will therefore continue to require enhancements and maintenance in that period. He says that as yet, there is no clear view about whether the SAP Service Layer can support the potential range of ISIS’s development needs.

Also not yet clear is what database, mid-range and analytics presentation layer should be adopted by DHS as it finalises the rationalisation of its stack.

As to the ‘next big thing’ at DHS, Sterrenberg says it is a focus on big data. DHS currently stores around 13 petabytes of data, and is finding that there is a strong appetite for evidence based policy decisions across DHS.

In Sterrenberg’s view, the market has changed forever, with new strategic partnerships evolving to take the place of ‘order taking’ sales personnel who expect that DHS will go on purchasing additional licences. Industry needs to create value propositions that align with his agency’s stated outcomes to be successful in the future, he said.

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