The draft document, whose development has been put on hold during the six-week election period, follows on from recommendations from the CIO Council that government organisations increasingly look to open-source solutions to improve the reusability and flexibility of their information solutions. Formalising a policy favouring open source within Centrelink will make the organisation a crucial ally in the open source community's efforts to raise their profile within government organisations.
Centrelink has relied on Linux and open-source tools for years, with the MRTG (Multi Router Traffic Grapher) network monitoring tool the "first of many" major production open source tools to go live within Centrelink.
Centrelink's open source commitment will be progressively extended as other projects seek to squeeze costs out of Centrelink's monstrous IT budget. A migration of Centrelink's Lotus Domino environment to Linux is on the cards, as is a midrange server refresh that's hoped to shave AU$17 million in operating costs by moving applications from over 1700 Windows, NetWare and Solaris servers to virtual machines hosted on IBM zSeries mainframe-class servers running SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8.
These machines have been acquired as part of an open source partnership with IBM that's seen Centrelink install nearly AU$1 million of hardware specifically for Linux-based services. "We have every conceivable database and four operating systems, and would like to simplify" the environment, Oram said. "Today we're starting with a small project and making everyone feel comfortable [with open source], but the idea is to expand rapidly".
Identity management is a key part of Centrelink's expansion into the world of Linux and open source. Novell's eDirectory, for example, already helps manage and tracking the access of Centrelink's 24,500 employees, and will increasingly be leveraged to support changes to Centrelink's identity management policies relating to the organisation's 6.3 million customers.
Current 100-point identification requirements for the Safety Net program, for example, means pensioners must front up to Centrelink offices for confirmation of their eligibility for discounts. An expanded identity management core, however, would let utility companies, for example, verify pensioner discount eligibility using an online service. This would save customers the bother of an additional trip to Centrelink - and save Centrelink the cost of handling the enquiry.
"That's one less face-to-face transaction for us," Oram explained. "We are trying to improve our operations by shifting a number of things to electronic services, and it's all around identity. There is a whole range of things we need to know, and if it means up to AU$50 million of money doesn't get misappropriated, that's the sort of money Centrelink is willing to spend to ensure we have good identity mechanisms".