​Centrelink payments overhaul heads interstate seeking talent

The Department of Human Services will be setting up offices in Melbourne and Brisbane to avoid competing for talent in Canberra

A little over a year into the seven-year task of overhauling Centrelink's 30-year-old payments system, the Department of Human Services (DHS) is looking at moving some of the project delivery interstate to avoid a potential talent drain in Canberra.

John Murphy, deputy secretary for payments reform at DHS, confirmed this week that the department will be looking to deliver some of the functions of the Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT) program principally out of Melbourne and Brisbane, in addition to the nation's capital.

"Melbourne and Brisbane mainly because we believe we can get access to more people, a deeper pool of people who can come and work on this program," he said at the GovInnovate summit in Canberra.

"We do absolutely believe that spreading the delivery across at least three centres makes more sense than trying to run it all out of Canberra with the competition for resources -- particularly with other large projects such as Defence."

Murphy said delivering functions of WPIT from multiple centres makes sense, given the department is in the process of moving into tranche two of five of the project.

After announcing SAP as its core software vendor in August, Murphy said DHS is currently working very closely with the enterprise software provider now on what will be the co-design and build of a social protection suite.

"An industry strength solution that we will look to implement here in this country and SAP certainly has an intention to build a social protection suite that they can then market to other governments around the world," Murphy explained.

"We will look to co-design, co-develop the social protection suite with SAP, which will underpin what we do."

Having also announced appointments to its system integrator panel, Murphy said the department is in the process of signing four firms to that panel, being Capgemini, Accenture, IBM, and HPE.

"We kicked off [Monday] with Capgemini and Accenture, essentially going through what we're calling the competitive dialogue process which over the course of the next five weeks will be for those two firms to demonstrate to us their innovation, demonstrate to us their partnering potential, demonstrate how they will work and think with both ourselves, the department, and SAP, and then flowing from that we'll be looking to appoint a single system integrator next year and then allocate work packages out," he said. He added that DHS will be reverting to government shortly for approval to proceed to the delivery phase of the WPIT program.

Murphy said it is the department's intention to work with some major commercial partners throughout the seven-year project but said he also "fully" expects to engage with bespoke specialist change management firms as DHS moves into implementing major changes across its 35,000 departmental staff.

"We're doing a lot of work now around our business processes, what they need to look like in the future -- starting with a clean sheet of paper in most cases -- so really reimagining what our welfare delivery looks like," he said.

"We feel like we're well set up now to move into delivery phase -- but like any large program I'm sure it's going to have its challenges."

The second tranche of the project is scheduled to run from January 1, 2017, through to the end of June 2018, with Murphy explaining the department will then look to build out tranches three, four, and five.

"We've been talking a lot to customers, welfare recipients, we've had weekend sessions with students, we've had weekend sessions with indigenous people to understand their needs and really trying to ensure that we're building this from the idea of the customer as compared to -- which we've all seen -- where things get built from within head office and then rolled out," he said.

"We're very much adopting the philosophy of working with customers and working with our staff on the design here.

"We need to focus on the change across the department -- the technology will largely look after itself."

In jest, Murphy said he is considering awarding a prize for a better name for WPIT as he believes the use of the word infrastructure masks what the department is trying to do, which he said was really rethink and re-imagine the delivery of welfare, underpinned by technology.

Speaking earlier in the week, Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge explained what the overhaul of the system currently responsible for processing over AU$100 billion in Centrelink payments annually would mean for Australia's welfare recipients, in particular, students accessing Youth Allowance or Austudy.

"We're going from a world today where the system is stifled with unnecessary inefficiency and complexity to a world where there will be progressive transformational change," he said.

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