Human Services still deliberating over paused child support system

The new IT platform was paused in mid-2016 with the department waiting on a yet to be published report from Deloitte to determine how to proceed.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The Department of Human Services (DHS) in March revealed it had paused the upgrade of its child support system back in mid-2016 and was waiting on a report from Deloitte to give it instructions on what to do next with the project which has already costed government in excess of AU$100 million.

In response to questions on notice from Senate Estimates in October, DHS confirmed the report -- which cost AU$550,000 -- has been completed by Deloitte.

 "The department is considering the assessment undertaken by Deloitte and is yet to finalise its response," it wrote. "The assessment is not publicly available while the department's considerations are ongoing."

After the decision to pause the development of the IT platform Pluto, DHS embarked on an internal evaluation where staff provided feedback on what they expect the new system to deliver. DHS then engaged Deloitte to help compile the evaluation.

Staff were asked to continue use of the old, mainframe-based Cuba system as the report was being compiled.

After spending the entire AU$103.2 million budget it was given in 2013-14 -- and more from elsewhere in the department -- to deliver Pluto from start to finish, DHS admitted in March it had delivered a staff interface that could only access and make changes to accounts. It also launched a new online service for customers that is currently being rolled out in stages, and it is currently not in use by all online users of child support.

After the department had selected both Accenture and SAP to help deliver the new system, and paid the pair around AU$62 million, it decided in 2016 to pause the delivery of Pluto on the advice of DHS secretary Kathryn Campbell.

DHS then decided to implement some work that was previously developed as part of the department's Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT) program -- a billion-dollar project to overhaul Australia's 30-year-old payment system which processes over AU$100 billion in Centrelink payments each year -- into its systems.

Currently, staff are using three IT platforms to complete child support-related work: Cuba, Pluto, and a series of web forms that are completed before being copied and pasted into either -- or both -- Cuba and Pluto.

A DHS spokesperson told ZDNet on Wednesday that the department is using Pluto in its current form, and has been doing so since its rollout was paused.

"The Department of Human Services continues to enhance the Child Support ICT platforms to deliver improved outcomes for customers," the spokesperson said.

"The Pluto system has been in operation for over a year and continues to be used by staff.

"Over the past few months, the department has transitioned more than 500,000 Child Support customers who are registered for online services to a new, smarter, online account, which is supported by the Pluto system."

The department has not provided an update on the progress of Pluto but said it is using "industry standard technology" to ensure both Pluto and Cuba are synchronised.

"Third party industry standard technology is used to manage the flow of data between Cuba and Pluto ensuring the systems are synchronised," the department wrote in response to questions raised during Senate Estimates.

"Additionally, monitoring and regular comparison of the data holdings of both systems is undertaken by the Department of Human Services to confirm systems synchronisation."

With no more funding at its disposal to deliver Pluto, DHS in March said it will be accessing its business as usual budget to complete the project, although it does not know how much further investment will be required.


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