Government blunders stall rollout of NDIS virtual assistant: Report

The ABC has reported the rollout of Nadia has stalled due to concerns the ABS Census debacle and the Centrelink robo-debt dilemma have stifled the government's appetite for risk.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) has put its virtual assistant rollout on hold, with the ABC reporting those working on the project are concerned issue-plagued technology-based initiatives from the government have "taken their toll" on Australia's appetite for risk.

NDIA first announced the development of its virtual assistant Nadia in February, touted as providing National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participants with a better service.

Facing Senate Estimates back in June, Department of Human Services (DHS) CIO Gary Sterrenberg said Nadia presents a lot of promise to the NDIA as well as the scheme's participants, but he refused to give a projected go-live date.

He admitted there was a hold-up with Nadia, which he said included IBM's Watson cognitive intelligence platform, in particular its voice streaming capabilities.

Sterrenberg said the agency was involved in "ongoing debates" with a number of vendors to make sure the end-to-end experience of Nadia is of a level that does not disadvantage the user. He said otherwise it is likely it would fail.

According to the ABC, the Nadia project has so far cost more than AU$3.5 million, with the development process involving co-design with people with disabilities, community groups, carers, and academics, in addition to the NDIA and DHS.

The NDIS contact centre fields about 6,000 calls a week from a client base of 32,000 clients, costing AU$25 every call, with the ABC saying the number of NDIS participants will grow to 460,000 over the next three years.

The report said that without Nadia, the agency believes it "will not be able to meet the demand for information" from NDIS clients.

The Centrelink robo-debt debacle has plagued the agency since the summer break, with its data-matching system automatically comparing the income people declared to the Australian Taxation Office against income declared to Centrelink. When it detected a disparity, Centrelink was automatically issuing a debt notice along with a 10 percent recovery fee.

One large error in the system was that it was incorrectly calculating a recipient's income, basing a recipient's fortnightly pay on their annual salary rather than taking a cumulative 26-week snapshot of what an individual was paid.

Meanwhile, the Australian Bureau of Statistics experienced a series of denial-of-service attacks, suffered a hardware router failure, and baulked at a false positive report of data being exfiltrated, which resulted in the Census website being shut down on the night of August 9, 2016, and citizens unable to complete their online submissions.

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