Human Services kicks off welfare payments system upgrade

The Department of Human Services on Friday published an expression of interest document, with a tender pinned for 2016, to replace the existing 30-year-old welfare payments platform.

The Department of Human Services on Friday published a Request for Expressions of Interest (REOI) from the IT industry to help design and begin construction of a new welfare payment system to replace the 30-year-old system the department has in place called Income Security Integrated System (ISIS).

The decades-old system is currently used to process family support payments, letters, income assessments, and other notifications for around 100 programs, and as of June this year, was undertaking more than 50 million transactions per day.

The REOI said the department currently relies on ISIS to deliver payments to 7.3 million Australians, with Centrelink payments totalling over AU$100 billion annually.

"The start of procurement marks the first milestone for the Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT) programme,'' Minister for Human Services Senator Marise Payne said. "This is one of the largest social welfare business transformations undertaken worldwide; success will depend on establishing strong industry partnerships.''

WPIT is expected to take seven years in total, but the REOI comes under the first tranche, which includes planning, scoping, and design work, and adding some initial "bolt-on" digital services for welfare recipients.

Human Services expects the future system will provide customers with "simple, convenient, digital experiences"; result in the reduction of repetitive manual processes for department staff; and allow for a whole-of-government connectivity with other agencies and third parties to improve service delivery.

In April, the then-Abbott government approved the replacement of the ageing payments system, allowing the department to begin the overhaul.

Previously, it was noted Human Services wanted people lodging claims online with Centrelink to able to track their claim like they would track a pizza from Domino's.

Tam Shepherd, acting executive director of the WPIT program said in June that one of the first changes to the payments platform will be for customers to see the status of a claim, more than the "submitted" and "processed" statuses currently in place.

Shepherd also said that users interacting with Centrelink online wanted to stay online, and as a result, the agency would also be looking to implement "click to chat" so individuals can chat with an operator online, rather than calling the Centrelink hotline if they were stuck with an online transaction.

In the 2013-2014 Budget, the need to replace ISIS was flagged, with the government at the time noting it was developing a first-pass business case for AU$16.2 million to look at replacing or upgrading the system.

In this year's Federal Budget, it was announced Human Services would receive AU$60.5 million over four years for the first tranche of the overhaul of its legacy welfare payments system.

At the time, it was said the new system would help support swift implementation of government policy changes to welfare payments, and in the first so-called tranche of the overhaul, Human Services would undertake business planning, scoping, and design work for the new system, while also improving digital services for welfare recipients.

Senator Payne said over the next year, the department will commence two major procurement activities to secure a core software vendor and systems integrators, which will help the department select a commercial off-the-shelf integrated technology platform to support the WPIT program.

The REOI, titled Request for expressions of interest (REOI) for the provision of a Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) Integrated Technology Platform and associated Services closes on October 30, 2015. Selected respondents will then be invited to participate in the request for tender in December, and the procurement process is slated for 2016.