Human Services Minister Chris Bowen has announced a reform of the human services portfolio which includes consolidating the IT function of its constituent agencies.
Centrelink, Medicare and other smaller organisations will become part of the Human Services department, bringing together their back office functions, including IT, by the end of next year. Centrelink CIO John Wadeson will head up the new IT force which will take shape by the end of 2010. The services will be co-located with 20 offices to be moved together by the end of next year, and 40 offices by 2012.
The reforms would save money, Bowen said, which Human Services intended to plough back into its service delivery. Any staff reduction would come from natural attrition he said, but stressed that the reforms were mainly about moving staff from basic tasks to service delivery rather than retrenching them. A Centrelink spokesperson said that they understood this would also hold for IT staff.
Bowen also heralded a technology upgrade to enable easier transfer of information between the agencies so that customers will have the option to pre-fill forms.
"You shouldn't have to remember multiple usernames and passwords for multiple websites. The upgrade of online services is in response to an ever-increasing demand for this option," he said. "Technology is revolutionising how services can be — and are — delivered but, without broader changes, it can actually exacerbate the confusion and information overload," he said.
Human Services hoped to make all forms online compatible by 2013, according to Bowen. Currently Human Services supports over 17 million online transactions a year. However, he said he wouldn't force people to use the online services.
The minister's office has not yet answered queries as to how much the agency intended to spend on the upgrade, or save from the consolidation. It has also not yet indicated if it would hire any external help.
The easy flow of information did not mean that the government would have a master file on the department's customers, Bowen said. "We will not house an individual's personal sensitive information in one place, vesting all control with one body or one card. This is not an Australia Card and we will not be merging agency databases," he said.
The idea was to bring IT platforms together, not information, he said. "Apart from the limited data that is already shared between agencies like Medicare and Centrelink, no more information will be shared, unless the individual concerned asks us to share the information for their convenience," he said.
Human Services had been working with the privacy commissioner from the beginning, he said, working on a memorandum of understanding to cover the reforms. Personal health information in particular will be excluded from the reforms because of its particular sensitivity.