CPSU says outsourcing is resulting in a 'substandard' APS IT capability

The union has called out practices at Services Australia, the NDIA, and Veterans Affairs as being counter to boosting internal public service IT capability.

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) believes that decades of IT "under investment" and outsourcing has resulted in substandard IT capability at one government agency, while shared services arrangements at two others have caused ripple effects on staff as well as customers.

Making six submissions to the Finance and Public Administration References Committee and its inquiry into the current capability of the Australian Public Service (APS), the CPSU singled out Services Australia, the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA).

According to the union, Services Australia "engaged" 2,277 APS employees within its Technology Services branch, which represents approximately 7.3% of Services Australia's APS workforce, including one IT apprentice and 11 IT cadets, as of October 2020.

It said [PDF] 50% of 700-800 IT staff are contractors in the Brisbane delivery centre, 50% of 1,300 IT staff are contractors in the Canberra delivery centre, and 45% of 700 IT staff are contractors in the Adelaide delivery centre.

Additionally, most IT project managers are contractors in the delivery centres and "scrum masters" are mostly contractors, with CPSU noting there are some teams that are almost 100% contractors.

CPSU said its IT staff members report that outsourcing IT results in limited knowledge of internal systems and often long turnarounds to correct customer/staff issues.

"The agency appears to have lost sight of the benefits of in-house ICT development. There is a lack of career paths for skilled ICT professionals and this is hamstrung by an APS wide bargaining policy that limits enhancing APS conditions to attract the best and brightest to the APS, along with the staffing cap," CPSU declared.

"Members also advise that skilled APS ICT staff are leaving because they have no career anymore in Services Australia. This approach by the agency has meant that many staff are seeking jobs elsewhere, including in other APS agencies."

The NDIA, CPSU said [PDF], until late 2020 relied on Services Australia for its IT support. It has since stood up an internal IT team. CPSU said the current internal service rollout for the NDIA is still in transition, and often acts as an intermediary between the NDIA and Services Australia.

The NDIA in December 2019 went to tender for a cloud platform to help with the delivery of the National Disability Insurance Scheme moving off the Services Australia-run Salesforce CRM to its new ACE system. The CPSU said the NDIA is still reliant on the CRM and the CRM is very reliant on Services Australia infrastructure.

"Such delays add extra burden to an already under-resourced service delivery framework," CPSU said.

It also called out the impacts of a lacking technology capability as hindering workers with a disability.

"The agency aims to have at least 15% of its workforce identifying with having a disability. Unfortunately, NDIA workers with a disability feel that the agency's ICT services is one of many areas in which the organisation continues to fail them," it said.

CPSU said the excessively high use of labour hire in the NDIA has also caused hardship and impacted negatively on organisational capability.

The outsourcing of IT infrastructure and software to a shared services arrangement with the Department of Human Services and now Services Australia has also negatively affected veteran services, CPSU said [PDF].

It has asked the government to review the shared services arrangement and bring DVA's IT functions back in-house.

In 2019-2020, DVA spent AU$36.6 million on its shared services arrangement and AU$9.2 million on information technology and communication. CPSU said despite changing the way veterans can make a claim, processing staff are still manually extracting data from the backend.

"This is contributing to the delays in processing veterans' claims," it declared.

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