Robert gives update on Services Australia vision, key whole-of-gov initiatives

By Shannon Jenkins

Wednesday July 8, 2020

Stuart Robert
Stuart Robert has appointed Judi Zielke acting CEO of the ARC. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Government services minister Stuart Robert has announced the next stages of his whole-of-government service delivery vision, including the replacement for Centrelink’s welfare payment platform.

In a National Press Club speech on Tuesday Robert outlined four principles which reflect what Australians want from government: getting help should be simple; systems and people should be helpful and intuitive; services should be respectful of time and people’s circumstances; and processes should be transparent.

As part of the first principle, he said Australians would soon be able to access information and services in one place, “tailored to their individual circumstances, regardless of government structures or the level of government the service comes from”.

“To achieve this, we will need to have systems that interact with each other seamlessly and can assess the needs of the customer not simply at a transactional level, but also across multiple policy domains,” he said.

In November Robert announced the government would create a whole-of-government architecture. On Tuesday he confirmed the initiative was “well under way”, less than a month after the Digital Transformation Agency revealed more details about the plan.

Read more: DTA embarks on whole-of-government architecture plan to enable APS reform and streamline services

“It is mapping current capabilities against our needs going forward, with the goal of identifying and investing in the strategic platforms and technologies that can scale across agencies to deliver services consistently and effectively. Buy, build or develop once and use many times,” Robert said.

Part of that November announcement was the news that Centrelink’s outdated welfare payments platform would be replaced, with Infosys selected to deliver an “entitlements calculation engine powered by Pegasystems”.

Robert has now confirmed that Services Australia would be implementing a new “Entitlement Calculation Engine”, with the capability to “replace the heart of the 30-year-old system running on the mainframe”.

“This will mean welfare entitlements will be calculated faster, more accurately and enable government to more readily explore the effects of new policies prior to rolling them out,” he said.

“Given the tried and tested scalability of the platform, the government will also be able to re-use the platform in other areas that require similar functionality – starting with Aged Care, and then expanding to other initiatives such as Veterans income support and the modernisation of our health systems.”

Read more: Robodebt defeated: Commonwealth caves in and accepts debt and 10% penalty both invalid

Robert also flagged that the Digital Transformation Agency has been working on a whole-of-government “permissions and permits platform”, which would deliver a new visas and permits processing capability. He said the project was a “priority”.

Other current and upcoming projects include:

  • A common set of API standards for government systems to be able to talk to each other, agreed with all states and territories. APIs are currently being rolled out for providers to connect seamlessly with the National Disability Insurance Agency.
  • A national approach for digital identity across all states and territories to make supporting customers easy and consistent.
  • A Payment Utility linked to the New Payments Platform that will be reused across government for making payments to customers.
  • The PEGA business rules platform that will help calculate entitlements as we roll out new capabilities across government.
  • The beta myGov, “capable of scaling up to include digital identity and become a fully-fledged all of government customer experience”.

On being more “helpful”, Robert noted the Australian Data and Digital Ministerial Council has been “pursuing an unrelenting agenda of simplification and alignment across the commonwealth” to make better use of public funds, and to use government procurement as a job-making tool.

He noted new platforms and technologies should be scalable or repeatable across government.

“The commonwealth is ready to play a leadership role in this, initiating procurement reforms that will enable the private sector to work collaboratively to deliver whole-of-government and potentially whole-of-nation platforms,” he said.

“At the same time, we must look at procurement reforms that promote the role of Australian innovation and ensure that we prioritise Australian jobs and capabilities as an integral part of delivering such strategic platforms.”

In response to the principle of being respectful and inclusive, Robert said the government would need to reimagine its telephony services with a single whole-of-government voice biometric service, ensure every caller’s needs are met, while also giving them opportunities to access digital channels and assistants.

A renewed shopfront experience which supports both self-service and complex cases would also be crucial. Finally, the government must simplify processes and integrate data and systems so that services can fit to everyone’s unique life stages and circumstances.

Robert said the new myGov beta site was part of this goal, and has been made available in 110 languages, along with other improvements.

On Transparency, the final principle, Robert announced that the government has been looking at the sovereignty requirements that should apply to data sets held by government, in addition to the existing Protected Security Policy Framework.

They would consider whether data sets of concern to the public should be declared sovereign data sets. These would only be hosted in Australia in an accredited Australian data centre, across Australian networks, and could only be accessed by the Australian government and local service providers.

“We need to ensure that Australians can trust that government will appropriately manage the information that they provide to us, whether it is for a tracing app or for the Census,” Robert said.

“Through the Data Availability and Transparency legislation the government will seek to introduce in the period ahead, we will ensure services are designed so we don’t have to ask Australians to provide the same information repeatedly. This will enable us to streamline the processes of applying for a service, benefit, permission or permit, while providing visibility and transparency of that process.”

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