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Tech-savvy DHS Minister fully involved in Digital Transformation

by Judy Hurditch •
Free resource

Significant digital transformation is in store from the Department of Human Services (DHS), Minister for Human Services, the Hon Stuart Robert, told Intermedium in an in-depth interview. 

It will be happening in parallel with the massive Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT) Programme.  Tranche One of the Programme – a procurement process to identify a commercial off-the-shelf integrated technology platform and associated services is due to be finalised by the end of calendar 2016. The whole Programme is expected to take the better part of a decade.

Robert candidly described himself as one of the ‘big tech-heads in government’ and for good reason:  He is qualified at Masters level in Information Technology, and was involved in many mission critical, large scale ICT projects in the telecommunications, banking and mining industries with IT specialist GMT Recruitment (from 1999 to 2007).

It is this background that has gained him a position in all of the Government’s key ICT decision making forums, including the Digital Transformation Committee of Cabinet.  There can be no doubt therefore to how central he is to the future IT architecture of government and he makes no bones about the fact that he is fully committed to the use of whole-of-government platforms.

He strongly supports the need for one government website, instead of the 600 that currently exist.

He also strongly supports myGov continuing to develop as the single platform for digital citizen accounts, with the current Income Security Information System (ISIS) and ultimately its replacement under WPIT, providing the back end for core citizen transactions. 

He would like to see the eMarketplace being developed by DHS for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) be the only eMarket platform for government, and for there to be just one payment system across government.   

Also on his list is the use of one platform for verifying citizen's digital identities.  “This is a key focus of the Digital Transformation Office (DTO)”, he said.

While only sworn into his role on 21 September, Robert is already fully cognizant of the scale of DHS operations, citing that 8 million citizens already have myGov accounts, that 123 million online transactions occur each year and that DHS is a world leader in the number of apps that have been made available to citizens.

“This makes the DHS ICT environment extremely complex and mission critical to government, and I am acutely aware of my responsibilities to ensure that the WPIT project does not suffer cost or time blowouts”, the Minister said. “It is for this reason that I have an industry-based expert advisory group”.

The advisory group comprises:

  • Mr Martin Stewart-Weeks (Chair) - Stewart-Weeks is the principal of Public Purpose Pty Ltd and works as an independent consultant and advisor for the corporate and public sectors, and with a range of not-for-profit organisations;
  • Mr David Pitchford - Pitchford is the former chief executive of the UK’s Major Projects Authority (MPA) within the Cabinet Office. Established in 2011, the MPA oversees approximatley 200 government projects worth £400 billion. As chief executive of the MPA, Mr Pitchford led the 2013 review of the UK Department for Work and Pensions Universal Credit programme;
  • Ms Akiko Jackson - Jackson is an independent management consultant who focuses on large-scale corporate transformational change management, strategy development/execution and risk management;
  • Mr David Curran - Curran has more than 30 years of experience in IT and financial services, including transformation programmes; and
  • Ms Kathryn Campbell (Secretary of the Department of Humans Services) is an ex-officio member.

Robert stressed the key roles that CIO Gary Sterrenberg and Departmental Secretary Kathryn Campbell, (whom he noted in passing, is a one star General in the Army Reserve) also played in the ICT transformation and the reliance he placed on them.

DHS is expected to push on vigorously with its digital transformation agenda and provide early features and benefits to citizens, without waiting for the entire WPIT program to be concluded, Robert told Intermedium.

The ability for DHS customers to track the progress of their claims in real time was an important early goal, he said, given the 56 million calls per annum that customers make to DHS, many of which could be eliminated if they had access to cognitive and visual tools for self-service. 

The lack of such a capability had been a major criticism in the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s September 2015 Department of Human Services: One year on from the Centrelink Service Delivery Report. 

In addition, the more that customers can do themselves, using cognitive technologies, the more the transaction can be trusted, the Minister said, citing the enhanced use of Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology.

In the near future, the Minister expects DHS will use biometrics to identify citizens via their voice print.

“We are starting to use blended digital channels utilising Telstra’s capabilities – including video interaction that utilises technology similar to FaceTime along with photos or scans of relevant documentation”.

He painted a scenario where it will shortly be possible for an indigenous person in a remote location to interact with DHS without having to provide documentation to prove identity.  Utilising the NBN, along with FaceTime, a call could be placed to a DHS contact centre to initially identify the person – for example by an Elder – but once the person’s voice print was captured this would be sufficient proof of identity for ongoing video/ FaceTime interaction with DHS from the remote location.

“This is world leading stuff that we are doing, and we plan to keep implementing such innovations in a phased way at the same time as creating the WPIT building blocks”. 

“These ongoing digital enhancements are being treated as discrete projects and that there are no legislative impediments to any of the transformation work that DHS is doing, meaning we will just keep going with them”.

In keeping with a long standing tradition at DHS precursor Centrelink, the Minister said that no consulting house will own the work – instead DHS will “buy in the services they need, when they need them” and retain responsibility for the project outcomes.

He said that DHS has engaged a spread of suppliers to achieve a strong blended team of suppliers and DHS personnel which will significantly reduce risk due to the skills and experience of team members.

The Minister said a broad range of stakeholders are working closely with the department on Tranche One of the WPIT program. In addition to the Expert Advisory Group already mentioned, the Minister listed the following contractors as assisting DHS with Tranche One of the WPIT Program:

  1. Ernst & Young (EY) – providing procurement, strategic, ICT advisory and business architecture services;
  2. Boston Consulting Group (BCG) – providing strategic services;
  3. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) – providing procurement, strategic, program management and business design services;
  4. KPMG – providing program management services;
  5. The APIS Group - providing program management and business analyst services;
  6. Peoplebank – providing service delivery program management and risk services; and
  7. DudleyMann International – providing specialised services to assist in the procurement stream.

When it came to project accountabilities, Robert did not mince his words.  “I have a very clear view on all of this.  Someone must be in charge.  In the same way that I am accountable to the Prime Minister and to Parliament, those involved in WPIT at DHS, including suppliers, are accountable to me”.

Using a cricketing analogy when referring to vendors, he said “I am particularly averse to the idea of being sold the ‘first eleven’ and having the ‘second eleven’ front up to provide the delivery”.

Tam Shepherd is currently acting in the role of A/g Executive Director, WPIT Programme at the equivalent of Deputy Secretary level.

He is supported by a team of three General Managers (the equivalent of First Assistant Secretary level), covering off Commercial; e Government and Digital Projects and Procurement responsibilities. 

Nine National Managers (the equivalent of Assistant Secretary) are also in the team with three of these (covering the functions of Project Management Office; Change Management and Communications; and Simplification) reporting directly to the Executive Director and the rest reporting to the General Managers.

The Minister was very clear in his ultimate transformation responsibilities.  “Digital government is here.  Many of the DHS projects are on the digital government critical path and I cannot and will not let them fail.”

“This means I have to run this project with a firm hand.  I will utilise some Defence project management precedents for holding people to account.  For example, I will publish a ‘projects of concern’ list if necessary and I will ensure that suppliers will not be entitled to bid for any new work until they remedy any problems they have caused.”

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