The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) is going ahead with release nine of its mammoth Systems for People project this weekend, an effort which had its content rejigged because of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's detention policy.
DIAC CIO Bob Correll
DIAC CIO Bob Correll said that the department had brought forward development work on compliance, case management and detention portals from release 11 to release nine so the government would meet its policy timelines on New Directions.
"What we've really had to do is adjust the program for Systems for People consistent to policy changes for government," Correll told ZDNet.com.au.
It hasn't been the first time it's happened. "Throughout the life of the Systems for People program there's been a range of different government decisions on policy being made," Correll said. Since the project started in 2006, the previous government had made policy changes on security aspects, while Rudd had implemented a commitment to ending indefinite detention.
DIAC hadn't received any significant funding increases or had deadlines set back to deal with this shifting of the goal post. Instead Correll just juggled the load.
"We did have some additional funding, marginal funding if you like, that came in to cover new policy aspects of it," he said. "Most of the platform was covered by the fact that Systems for People was already putting in play the portals to cover compliance, case management and detention related services."
The next release was going to be in November. A major part of that release is a generic visa portal, which will replace the legacy mainframe that had the visa policy hard-wired into its legacy software.
Instead, the policy will be contained in a rules engine in an Oracle automation policy software package. The software has already been implemented; it was part of the technology stack that IBM put to DIAC in 2006 when the project started. Then it was RuleBurst's Haley, which was bought by Oracle last year.
The $3 to $4 million software implementation had already proved its worth, according to Correll, by sitting behind the online Visa Wizard, which helps visa seekers discover which visas they need. It greatly reduced the time seekers required to understand what they needed, Correll said.
Since the Wizard's launch it's seen 1.6 million page views. It also supports the Citizenship Wizard, which has been viewed by 88,000 people since its launch in December. The legal section of the department loved the software, Correll said, because it showed reasoning behind visa decisions.
Although the Oracle software was just a part of the IBM stack, Correll said that the department would have swapped it out if it hadn't worked properly. "It all worked well and there was never a need to consider alternatives beyond that," Correll said.
The software currently touches thousands of external visa seekers and many staff inside DIAC, such as call centre workers who use it to help answer visa queries, but it will gain much greater use when the visa portal release, relying on the Oracle software goes through in November. The majority of the DIAC staff would have some interaction with the portal, Correll said.
Most of the portal had been built, he said, and was moving into testing now. When testing was finished, the department would start moving the 140 odd subclasses of visas onto the generic portal.
Once the visas were on the new portal, if the government wanted to make changes to a visa, it could be done in a couple of days.
The next release after November will be in March/April. After that, there was only one to go before the whole project was finished. The June/July release will see the end of the Systems for People development effort.
The budget will then need to be allocated for system maintenance. There will be some cost savings as legacy systems such as the visa mainframe were switched off or reduced in scale, but they wouldn't totally offset the cost of running the new systems.
Correll said that the business as usual costs for the new Systems for People systems were more than those for the legacy systems, but the new systems did a lot more, which would see efficiencies across the business. It was exactly what British efficiency expert Sir Peter Gershon recommended in his report last year, according to Correll.