​Australian government takes Govpass hosting internal

Vault Systems has lost the contract that now lies within the capability of the Department of Human Services and the Australian Taxation Office.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The federal government has decided to take the hosting element of its digital identification play, Govpass, in-house, ending the contract with cloud services provider Vault Systems as a result.

A spokesperson for the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA), the government entity charged with Govpass, told ZDNet that Vault Systems, operating as the wholesale provider for Gulanga, was engaged for a period of 12 months and that the contract has since lapsed.

Vault was charged from January 2017 with providing a hosting environment for the digital identity system prototypes.

The company, which is accredited by the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) at a protected level, allowing it to store highly classified government information on its cloud platform, only went public with its Govpass hosting contract in December.

"Privacy and protection of personal information is at the heart of the DTA's work on digital identity. Building trust in how the government stores personal data is not something we compromise on," former DTA CEO Gavin Slater said at the time.

"Vault's open standards cloud has been the perfect solution for Govpass, providing a level of security and sovereignty that is a critical to making the process of proving who you are to government simple, safe, and secure."

Already responsible for operating the digital identity system's components, the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) have now assumed responsibility for hosting the components that Vault previously had.

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Facing Senate Estimates in November, DTA CDO Peter Alexander revealed the ATO, DHS, and Australia Post would be charged with the responsibility of Govpass in the first instance.

"They hold a lot of identity data already," Alexander said. "It could easily be extended to jurisdictional providers and commercial providers, who are talking to banks, the Australian payment network, and others who can provide identity."

The ATO has suffered a handful of outages over the past 18 months, from "one-of-a-kind" SAN outages to mainframe reboots. DHS has also been dealing with its own 18 months in the spotlight, thanks to the Centrelink robo-debt debacle that stemmed from its data-matching system automatically comparing the income people declared to the ATO against income declared to Centrelink incorrectly, in some cases.

"Generally speaking, the capability of the Australian government and the Australian Public Service to deliver good technology solutions has been pretty sound," Alexander said. "We have had some issues, of course, and very well publicised ones ... I would not describe them as systemic. I would say they are outliers.

"We have invested in technology and made technology choices which are less flexible than would be ideal, and have proven to be significantly complicated to change and adjust.

"The way we would describe it is that they are not agile systems when we need to make a change, particularly in our big service delivery agencies, the changes have been complicated."

Soon, Australians will be able to receive the government-accredited Govpass, with the first pilot pencilled in for delivery in October.

Revealed during Senate Estimates in March, the initial pilot will enable 100,000 participants to apply for a tax file number (TFN) online. Minister for Human Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Transformation Michael Keenan, echoing remarks previously made by the DTA, said this will reduce the processing time to a day, when it can currently take up to a month.

Australians are able to complete their TFN application online, but this needs to be printed and taken along with identity documents to an Australia Post Office to be finalised. There are 750,000 applications for TFNs each year.

In a pilot starting from March 2019, services including grants management, business registration, student services, and some Centrelink services are expected to become available, and the DTA anticipates that around 2.8 million transactions will be moved online as a result of this.

The DTA spokesperson said it continues to use Vault for hosting in relation to other projects and initiatives.


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