Centrelink: No rest for IT integration projects

No rest for IT integration projects
Written by Simon Grose, Contributor

John Wadeson has a wake-up message for IT professionals who hope for a day when all their systems will be comfortably bedded down together.

-Integration is not going to stop because essentially it is driven by underlying forces of change," the CIO of Centrelink told a breakfast seminar hosted at the Hyatt Canberra this week.

-If you think you are going to get over this headache, bad luck, I'd suggest you seek longer term medication."

His other main message: be proud.

-We should never be defensive about IT, sometimes I think we present ourselves as the cause of the problem. Just what has been achieved is quite remarkable."

Wadeson is responsible for a system which distributed $63 billion to 6.4 million customers last year via 5.2 billion transactions. Centrelink's Integrated System for Income Support is used by around 25,000 staff and its mainframe stores 440 billion individual fields.

This ranks it amongst the five biggest databases in the world according to Wadeson, who said that ongoing pressure for systems integration is driven by economic change, social change, and policy change.

-If you spend about a third of the Government's money your life is in constant change," Wadeson said.

-These are business changes but IT is really the enabler. We foster that change, we make it happen, which is why we will go on changing and we will go on integrating."

The big integration project on his agenda is driven by policy changes championed by Human Services Minister Joe Hockey. When he assumed his newly-created portfolio after the 2004 election Hockey made it known that he wanted the formerly separate welfare payment agencies to coordinate their services to clients.

The Centrelink, Medicare and Employment and Workplace Relations systems are progressively being integrated, with the greatest progress being made between DEWR and Centrelink.

-We can go to the far end of their system and back within half a second, and they can do the same with us," Wadeson said.

Integration with Medicare is moving slower.

-It's a little bit clunky at the minute because they have to separately log on. We haven't got the integration fully there, but it's not two PCs at every desk."

Within Centrelink the trend is to develop and integrate systems to enable customers to have a bigger role in maintaining and updating their own accounts - saving costs and making for happier customers.

As customers make contact in person, on the phone, online and via mail, the business challenge is to update central accounts data so that they do not have to repeat their story.

-This is the integrated customer world that IT is now trying to support, and it's got some real complexities."

The process statistics show that the system is supporting the preferred trend. Self-service transactions peaked at 400,000 per week for the first two weeks of July, up from less than 300,000 in the previous year.

Phone transactions via Interactive Voice Response are popular with Centrelink customers but more now choose to check or update their accounts online where they can view more information - such as payment histories - more easily.

-We're quite pleased about that," Wadeson said. -It's a lot easier to manage people on the net and it's cheaper because with every IVR there is a Telstra connection.

-We are all trying to do this by drawing on the big systems that sit at the back. This has created a whole new area of integration that will go on - it's not going to stop as we put more and more services out.

-You can see where integration is going - there isn't an end point. We will be no further advanced in 10 years time, but we will have a done a hell of a lot of integration.

-Looking forward, I think basically its going to be more of the same."

Editorial standards