Centrelink ready for government smartcard, vendor claims

Summary:Just weeks would be needed for Centrelink's identity management rollout to be streamlined to handle a proposed mass introduction of smartcards to either citizens or public servants, according to a vendor involved in the project.

Just weeks would be needed for Centrelink's identity management rollout to be streamlined to handle a proposed mass introduction of smartcards to either citizens or public servants, according to a vendor involved in the project.

"Our systems are able to accommodate those types of use cases," said Novell's government manager Costa Kapantais last week, commenting on a proposal recently made public that could see smartcards, which use a computer chip to store data as opposed to a magnetic stripe, deployed to millions of Australians and separately the public service under moves to cut costs and block identity theft.

"From the way that we've architected the system, we can easily add that capability within weeks," he told ZDNet Australia, adding a lot of that functionality was already present in the system.

Centrelink's ability to interface with the smartcards is critical due to its pivotal role in providing government services to the public.

Kapantais' company is currently involved in replacing Centrelink's legacy ID management solution -- dubbed the Security Access Management System (SAMS) -- with Novell software.

The software will provide the back-end to support a planned rollout of 31,000 fingerprint scanners to Centrelink employees -- a plan which predates the smartcard proposal, which is being developed by Special Minister of State Senator Eric Abetz, and the Minister for Human Services Joe Hockey.

But Kapantais said technically, there was nothing to stop the two technologies running concurrently.

The politicians' plan is moving closer to fruition, with the Australian Financial Review newspaper reporting this morning that federal cabinet had approved a scoping study to examine its feasibility.

Kapantais said back in March that Novell hoped to have the Centrelink system in production by the end of the year, but he admitted last week that time frame for completion had now been pushed back to the early months of 2006.

"Right now we've already got some components deployed and in production," he said. "Right now we're completing the development work and subsequently rolling out additional components this year and later on into next year."

The executive added the welfare agency had changed some of its requirements during the rollout, "because of Centrelink's increased focus on providing access to applications by other agencies."

Those agencies include the Australian Taxation Office and the Health Insurance Commission (now known as Medicare Australia).

While Novell's main job was to replace the SAMS system, it has also "been able to enhance the existing system to provide some short-term business outcomes" for Centrelink, according to Kapantais, although he was unable to immediately say what those outcomes were.

Key to Novell's involvement with Centrelink, he said, is the ability to give the welfare agency increased agility in its IT systems.

"They're consistently receiving new information from the government which forces them to change the systems," he said.

"Currently if they get a change of business requirements, it could take six months to build into it. Our hope is with the new system, we can do that in weeks."

"They're quite nimble in their mainframe and their primary and security systems, so they need that same flexibility in some of their other systems."

One of a kind
The simple fact that Novell was upgrading an existing system was unusual, according to Kapantais.

"There is literally no other organisation on the planet that deployed an identity and access management system in the mid 90's," he said.

"It's very unique on a global scale. There aren't many organisations that have that that level of maturity."

Topics: Enterprise Software, Emerging Tech, Government : AU, Privacy

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