After a difficult 2015 in terms of information and communications technology, Centrelink had a sorry start to the new year with major errors in its welfare payments system causing havoc for clients and leaving the communications team with plenty of fires to put out.
In many cases, agencies work with systems that are decades out of date simply because they are so large and costly to replace, and still get the job done, more or less. The creaky old welfare payments system used by DHS is the best known example and the project to completely replace it is expected to cost about $1 billion.
While the opposition claims the portfolio’s continuing ICT woes result from it being starved of funding and staffing, Minister for Human Services Stuart Robert hopes to gain new insights into “wholesale public sector ICT reform” from overseas. Ideally, his department needs the new system up and running yesterday, but the history of such eye-wateringly large and expensive technology projects in the public sector suggests the risks are great.
Robert left yesterday for several “counterpart meetings” in France and the United States and said they would mainly focus on what his interlocutors could tell him about upgrading the big systems that support public servants. The minister said:
“Discussing how our international counterparts have upgraded and integrated their government ICT systems will be instructive as we undertake wholesale public sector ICT reform here in Australia.”
Robert, who is also responsible for Veterans’ Affairs, confirms he will specifically discuss the massive Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation project in the overseas meetings:
“This is critical national infrastructure that underpins the entire social security system, which delivers over $100 billion in payments each year.
“The project has been developed following extensive consultation with international governments, private sector organisations, major ICT enterprises and lessons from similar technology transformations at home and abroad.”