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Centrelink wants less IT-reliant comms

As several Federal Human Services agencies move into their new combined IT role, the hunt begins for a vendor to provide a document output management system for three of the agencies, in the hopes it will reduce workloads.
Written by Suzanne Tindal, Contributor

As several Federal Human Services agencies move into their new combined IT role, the hunt begins for a vendor to provide a document output management system for three of the agencies, in the hopes it will reduce workloads.

Last year the government announced that the IT departments of a number of human services agencies including Centrelink, Medicare, the Child Support Agency, Australian Hearing, CRS Australia and the existing Department of Human Services would be combined into one mega-department.

According to John Wadeson, deputy secretary of ICT Infrastructure for the combined IT department, email, unified communications, human resources (including payroll) and financial management systems are all to be integrated under the merger, as well as the combined desktop PC footprint of the portfolio.

Centrelink, Medicare Australia and the Child Support Agency's reliance on letters has been the motivator for Centrelink to also release a tender for a document output management system and feeder systems.

In the 2008/2009 annual year, Centrelink sent 109 million letters out to customers, while Medicare sent out over 22 million and the Child Support Program sent 16 million.

Some of the letters were in electronic format, being sent via email or SMS. Centrelink delivered 1.65 million letters electronically via its eServices portal in the 2008/2009 year. This was up from 0.9 million in 2007/2008. Centrelink also sent 1.8 million SMS messages over the same period.

Centrelink will re-engineer its communications processing systems, of which the document output management system will form a part. This is expected to take four years or more. Medicare and the Child Support Agency will switch over to the document management system once it's up and running. Exactly what functions the vendor system will have and what functions Centrelink will handle in-house will depend on vendors' response to the tender.

The tender documents highlight that a design of the communication system is long overdue, with the original design work for Centrelink's letter systems dating back to the late 1980's. Systems have, however, evolved over the intervening years, to add SMS and email capabilities, for example. Letter creation depends on in-house mainframe applications, meaning that any changes to letters require "crafting" by IT experts.

The agency recognised that this was not ideal.

"Centrelink needs an agile authoring system and output management system that is less dependent on Centrelink's formal release processes for applications changes and that it's less dependent on IT experts familiar with old-generation technology," the tender documents said.

The case was similar for the other human services agencies mentioned in the tender.

The key benefit the agencies hoped to achieve with a new system was to provide the ability to change letter formats quickly.

Centrelink hoped that in future, all communications with customers would be governed by a single integrated system, featuring an electronic customer file to store all inbound and outbound communications, allowing the agencies to better manage the communications trail.

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