Skills gap may slug $496m Immigration IT revamp

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) has revealed the latest round of upgrades to its AU$496 million Systems for People initiative will go live in April — but analysts believe skills shortages may disrupt the project.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) has revealed the latest round of upgrades to its AU$496 million Systems for People initiative will go live in April — but analysts believe skills shortages may disrupt the project.

The upgrade will go live on at the end of the month, in the fifth upgrade for the nearly two year-old initiative.

Major components for the upgrade include a new application to better manage the case work load for general skilled migration staff, an improved client service base for students, and greater support for border business processes with an interface improvement to its records management system providing client information on a single portal screen.

The program is nearing its halfway point, with the system expected to be fully rolled out by some time in 2010, a DIAC spokesperson told ZDNet.com.au today.

Analysts believe however that the timeframe for deployment and the budget may yet continue to expand.

"Given the size of the project the key challenge going forward will be to make sure that both the government and the vendors have enough access to skills, with the shortage in mind — and its pronounced in Canberra — projects like this are really stretched," said Phillip Allen, vertical markets research director at research company IDC.

"There have been increases in budget, part of which are due to the higher cost of getting skills into Canberra," said Richard Harris, research vice president at analyst firm Gartner. "It hasn't been a huge blowout, but certainly this difficulty has put a lot of pressure on the overall project cost estimates."

DIAC began the rollout of the system in mid-2006 after the mishandling of departmental records led to the wrongful detention of Cornelia Rau and Vivian Alvarez, prompting a complete overhaul of the way it managed client information at its Canberra headquarters and offices around the world.

Gartner's Harris said that a substantial amount of the department's information had been siloed — difficult to access and share — between various sections prior to the 2006 debacles.

"It's a very major undertaking: the project amounts to a fundamental reshaping of the way information is handled within the department," he said.

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