The Department of Human Services (DHS) will not renew long-running infrastructure-management contracts with IBM and HP, instead bringing more services in house, new CIO Gary Sterrenberg has revealed.
(Credit: Department of Human Services)
In his first interview with ZDNet Australia since taking over the role from long-running CIO John Wadeson in October last year, the former ANZ CIO said that as part of the department's Service Delivery Reform program, long-running contracts that IBM has with Medicare and HP has with the Child Support Program (CSP) will not be renewed, and will instead be brought in house, in line with other agencies in the mega-department.
"It's about value creation," he said. "The Centrelink program ... has a huge capacity, because of the strengths that can be shared. Harvesting that value is what we're going to be doing in the next two to three years."
In this financial year's Federal Budget, the department was given $530 million to consolidate the ICT systems for each agency within the department. DHS also successfully integrated the Department of Veteran Affairs completely at the end of 2011, and Sterrenberg said that should the government require it, DHS is in a good position to acquire other government agencies.
"What we've created by the integration of the agencies is set up, almost like the business term would be, a mergers and acquisition capability to [integrate other agencies]".
Sterrenberg said that this capability would work better for agencies that deliver services directly to the public, and would be particularly useful in the event of a disaster.
"You want to be able to deploy a range of services to the broader community, and having a service arm like DHS enables that," he said. "Everything we do, we think about whole of government. I think there's a lot of good thinking around where we can help each other. If you can do it working together, that's the way to go."
One of the major projects under the Service Delivery Reform program is to consolidate 14 DHS datacentres into just three, and Sterrenberg revealed that the department is already ahead of schedule on this initiative.
"We've completed a lot of the mainframe work. We've moved CSP onto the mainframe; we've moved DVA onto the mainframe. We've moved most of CSP out. We've closed Macquarie and Bruce, [and] we've got most of the stuff out of Belconnen."
Sterrenberg said that the timetable for moving out of datacentres tends to be determined by when the leases for those locations end. The department is now in the planning stages for moving Medicare out, which Sterrenberg said could have been done earlier, were it not for the IBM contract.
"We believe we could have gone quicker with Medicare, but we have a sourcing contract with IBM, so it makes sense to do it that way," he said.
Despite the hurdles, Sterrenberg said that by the end of 2012, the department will be six to nine months ahead of schedule on the datacentre consolidation.
Moving to a common communications platform would be a much larger task for Human Services. The infrastructure planning, such as the directory design for the platform, was completed in September, Sterrenberg said, and a small pilot of 500 desktops running Windows 7 was completed at the end of 2011, but there is a huge task ahead to roll it out to all 37,000 DHS staff.
"It's about bridging multiple domains, multiple networks, moving four to five SoEs [standard operating environments] to a single SoE, to move to a single IP-addressing layer across everything, and create a single environment for all DHS people," he said.
"The hard work is right to get the construct right, so that it cannot just service the current DHS agencies, but also whatever comes beyond."
The aim is to have 10,000 desktops rolled out by June, and an additional 15,000 by the end of 2012, leaving just over 10,000 left for the next year. The desktops will have thin clients, so department staff will be able to log in using a swipe card, as part of a two-factor authentication process. This roll-out will also bring about the end of Lotus Notes for Centrelink and Medicare, which has been on the cards since 2010.
Sterrenberg praised the legacy of his long-time predecessor John Wadeson, and the 3800 IT staff under him.
"It's actually better than expected. I was very pleasantly surprised that the previous CIO John Wadeson left a really good legacy. You don't do that overnight; it's four or five years in the making," he said. "Particularly in the quality of staff we have in the ICT are exceptional. We have a very sound base to work from.
"I would rate some of our mainframe teams as the best, certainly in Australia, if not broader."
He said that he sees a lot of similarities between coming from a bank to moving to Human Services, particularly given the volume of payments the department makes to the general public, and the back-end technologies used. He said that desktop consolidations and desktop roll-outs are all experiences that the private sector knows well, although he said that the government is about a year behind corporate Australia.
One of the major differences, he said, is that the government role is a lot more transparent.
"Everything you do is very open for all to see, and I think that is the right thing. We're dealing with huge amounts of investments of public money, and, as such, that level of scrutiny has to be there," he said.
But that's a powerful motivator, too.
"One of the things I was saying to an ex-banking colleague the other day is that you don't wake up without motivation. Everything you do is delivering a service to the community. And you just know it has a huge responsibility attached to it, because if our systems do not pay, people will not have money for rent, will not have money for food, in some cases," he said, adding that his staff feel that way, too.
"They're absolutely passionate about providing service to their customer, and in some way that motivation is not always there in corporations I've worked for in the past," he said.
Recruiting the right skills set is still an issue for Human Services, though, and he said that the department is looking for more workers outside of Canberra, where it is much tougher to find workers. The department is also continuing to work with universities to encourage school leavers to take up ICT degrees to get those skills, but he said that a lot of it has to do with public perception of those roles.
"I think there is a view that you are a code cutter, whereas nowadays, a very small portion of the work is code cutting," he said.
He said that working for the government is also undersold to students.
"We actually are using some of the latest technologies to serve the communities, and I don't think it is well understood. Everything that you do in corporate you can do for us and more. The cherry on the cake is that you're serving the community. You're making a difference."