There are 84 high-cost IT projects underway by the Australian government

Home Affairs is responsible for 24, the ATO for 12, Defence for nine, and Services Australia seven. Here they are.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) in early 2017 was charged with looking into the structures of existing Australian government high-cost technology projects. It would classify the projects over AU$10 million as "monitor, verify, or engage", but after ceasing this terminology in mid-2018, the DTA said it no longer maintained a record of these project classifications.

"Agencies remain responsible and accountable for the projects they are funded to deliver," the DTA said. "This includes ensuring that delivery risks are appropriately mitigated."  

Documents received by ZDNet under freedom of information (FOI) in March 2020 revealed 62 active tech-related projects above AU$10 million were underway by the federal government, but the details surrounding how much had been spent by that time -- and how many of the projects went above the budgeted amount -- were refused under the FOI request. 

In October, the DTA's annual report revealed that as of January 2020, AU$7.4 billion was tied up in active government IT projects. AU$1.5 billion was also listed as the value for new proposals.

In a document prepared for a Senate committee this month, the DTA disclosed there were 84 IT projects over AU$10 million in value underway by Australian government entities as of December 2020.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics' (ABS) 2021 Census of Population and Housing project alphabetically kicks off the list, with a AU$10 million-plus initiative to redevelop its online digital channels, traditional channels, and supporting infrastructure.

The ABS is this year attempting to avoid a re-run of the catastrophe that was the 2016 Census at the hands of IBM, choosing to use Amazon Web Services cloud through a contract awarded to PwC Australia.

See also: Australian 2021 Census preparation gets marginal pass mark from auditor


With 12 projects on the list, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has its new "application modernisation" play, which is aimed at addressing "ongoing system health whilst rationalising and re-architecting for the future".

The ATO had its Single Touch Payroll (STP) project on the DTA's engage list before, and although it came into effect on 1 July 2019, further expansions of STP continue to be rolled out, including engagement with Services Australia and its welfare data-matching initiative.

STP is essentially the automation of pay-as-you-go (PAYG) and super reporting between businesses and government.

Still on the list from last year is myGovID -- the Australian government's digital identity credential handled by the ATO. It's like the 100-point ID check but on a smart device, and it allows citizens to have their identity verified so they can access government services using that verified identity rather than being verified continually by each Commonwealth entity.

Services Australia is also on the list for its part in the "ecosystem" that is the government's digital identity play, as is the DTA itself for its role.

See also: Researchers want Australia's digital ID system thrown out and redesigned from scratch

The ATO is also involved with a handful of other high-cost super-related IT projects, such as the "super new measures contribution changes and improvement" program of work and the transfer balance cap. Both projects have almost been running for five years each.

The taxation office is also working on its cybersecurity capabilities through the "building cyber resilience" project and it's aiming to modernise infrastructure while building a modern system delivery framework through its data centre subprogram.

Elsewhere are its JobKeeper support function; the First Home Super Saver Scheme; the project to deliver a whole-of-government business register platform; the creation of a "streamlined authorisation solution that will make it easier for clients to authorise others to act on their behalf" through a relationship and authorisation manager (RAM); and the "Super Stream Rollovers" initiative that is being developed by the ATO and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA).

APRA itself is on the list for its APRA Connect regulatory data collection program.

The Department of Finance's Parliamentary Expenses Management System (PEMS) in January 2018 set out to deliver a single, integrated online work expenses system to enable the management and reconciliation of Parliamentary entitlements and travel, as well as the regular publication of public reporting. PEMS is still on the list.

It is understood the department built the tech itself.

Finance is also under watch for its Government Enterprise Resource Planning Program (GovERP) solution, which is aimed at developing the model for whole-of-government adoption.

Elsewhere, Treasury is replacing its current Foreign Investment Management System; the Australian Securities and Investments Commission is undertaking a Regulatory Transformation Program; and Austrac is overhauling its case management system.


Next is the Department of Home Affairs, which has the highest number of projects on the list, with 24.

Reappearing on the list is the New Traveller Processing Platform that is touted as supporting the expansion of SmartGates, increasing uptake of self‐processing, and increasing availability of automated border processing.

The department's Seamless Traveller project has also been attempting to implement processes and technologies at airports and seaports to provide a contactless traveller experience for travellers.

Home Affairs also absorbed the Border Force mobile technologies initiative that is aimed at enabling officers to "effectively conduct border functions supported with equipment and technology allowing greater capability and system connectivity". The mobile technologies project, still not complete, began in July 2015.

The department is also working on a "Border Risk Assessment Capability", which is described as a "next generation profiling capability"; a Connected Information Environment (CIE) subprogram, which is a new approach to the processing of visas, persons, and goods across Australia's border; and a visa risk assessment project that will provide DHA with more "purposeful, timely, and informed targeting of visa applicants and visa holders who pose a national security or criminality threat to Australia".

The plan is for the department's permissions capability platform to be used across a range of government applications and follows the announcement in October that the government would spend around AU$75 million on the new system, after scrapping a former system it spent just shy of AU$92 million on.

DHA's V16090 ICUE sub-program, meanwhile, is described as strengthening the management of the movement of people across the border continuum.

The procurement and installation of refreshed CCTV surveillance recently kicked off, and the department's Enterprise Biometric Identification Services (EBIS) is aiming to provide a "high-performance, high volume, multi-modal biometric capability".

Internally, the department is also in the midst of a transformation, which includes the headquarters IT project, explained as delivering the ongoing design, procurement, and implementation of DHA's infrastructure and capabilities.

Listed also is Home Affair's Identity Management Services (IMS) project, which will result in a centralised, consolidated identity system capable of provisioning a whole-of-government services.

Making its way to the list is the security subprogram to improve the ability to secure the department's network and information resources; a project to consolidate existing departmental identity and access management systems; and a desktop computing refresh.

There's also the end user computing consolidation program; the enterprise process management project; a project to ensure electronic backup and archiving environments are up to date; work to harden the CIE platforms; relocating CSN/AMIS primary IT environments; undertaking a refresh of DHA's midrange servers; and ensuring Home Affairs' electronic storage environment is capable of supporting future data requirements.

A cargo uplift program, UHF radio network replacement initiative, and a "Five Country Conference stage 3 Full Operating capability", described as an automated secure real time platform, round out Home Affairs' 24 direct projects.

Home Affairs-adjacent is the Australian Crime Commission for its National Automated Fingerprint Identification System and the project to deliver a backend IT platform.

Australian Federal Police (AFP) also makes the list for its enterprise security services program; a program to unify its operational communications platforms; another to update its information environments; an investigation management solution; and the AFP's integrated security capability solution, which aims to develop new capabilities to improve security monitoring.

Over at Linda Reynolds' Department of Defence, there are nine projects under watch by the DTA, including the Terrestrial Communications program, called JP 2047.

The project started in April 2013 and was originally touted by the department as a multi-phased project to maintain and improve Defence's networked communications infrastructure. 

Telstra was handed AU$1.1 billion to build the network. A handful of million-dollar cash top-ups have since been paid, Austender shows.

The DTA previously said it was facilitating the exchange of information -- collaboration -- between other agencies and Defence for this project, with the DTA also engaging Defence to discuss lessons learnt from similar projects undertaken by the Commonwealth.

It's now listed as in phase three.

There's also two tranches of the department's ICT Security Program; a project to "retire and remediate" Defence business applications; a Defence learning system; an ERP system; an enterprise information management consolidation project; and the standing up of a Defence Network Operation Centre.

The department is also undertaking phase one of its "Advanced Science and Technology Computing for Defence" project, which aims to "define, acquire, implement, and exploit a world-class, largescale secure, centralised supercomputing capability".


With the Department of Human Services (DHS) cum Services Australia still in the midst of its seven-year project to overhaul its 30-year-old payment system, which is currently responsible for processing over AU$100 billion in Centrelink payments annually, the DTA still has its eyes on the project.

This year marks seven years since the Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT) program -- slated to cost around AU$1.5 billion -- was first announced.

WPIT is now in tranche four.

See also: Services Australia working on WPIT overhaul cyber concerns

The Stuart Robert-led agency is also delivering a "secure, stable, and simplified" digital platform to support health and aged care payments, with the health delivery modernisation program aimed at modernising the payments side of the scheme.

Service Australia sent pension payments live through its new WPIT system in November.

Reappearing on the DTA's list is the Remote ICT Capability Enhancement Project, which since August 2018 has been the program of work to implement remote IT capabilities for staff, not the project in place to transition Services Australia staff to working from home in response to the pandemic.

After it was revealed in early 2018 that the former DHS had blown AU$135 million on a bad and functionally incomplete child support system, known as Pluto, the department now has on its books a "Child Support Inquiry Program" instead, which is concerned with the delivery of "recommended improvements to the child support program".

The department went to tender for the Pluto project back in 2013, but after having selected Accenture and SAP to help deliver Pluto and paying the pair around AU$62 million, it decided in 2016 to pause the delivery of the system on the advice of former DHS secretary Kathryn Campbell.

It then decided to implement some work that was previously developed as part of WPIT.

Services Australia is also responsible for enhancements to the National Disability Insurance Agency's (NDIA) systems. The project for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is described as an "enhancement to NDIS business systems; CRM, participant, and Provider Portal".

The NDIA currently uses an IT platform delivered and supported by Services Australia to support its core operations, including a Services Australia-hosted SAP CRM solution that is used as the system of record for all participant information, such as participants' personal details and budget information. It wants to eventually shift these records to the cloud.


Appearing again is Australia's incumbent telco.  

In 2015, the Department of Health began its National Cancer Screening Program. The project's AU$220 million contract was awarded to Telstra in 2016, with the telco signed on to create a database of cancer records for those who have been screened for bowel and cervical cancer.

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) in 2017 called out the program for having no plan around how privacy and security of the register would be handled, saying at the time, "inadequate" planning had led to the incurrence of additional costs.

Also on the list is the department's project to replace the existing regulatory system it has in place.  

The DTA still has its eye on the National Health and Medical Research Council's grants management solution; as well as the Department of Veterans' Affairs as it moves into tranche three of its Veteran Centric Reform (VCR) program; and the Department of Education, Skills and Employment for its New Employment Services Trial (NEST), which kicked off around 18 months ago with a AU$13.5 million contract being awarded to Nortec Employment & Training Ltd.

The secret squirrel project that is the Bureau of Meteorology's (BoM) ROBUST program is back on the DTA's list. It's described as enhancing the security, stability, and resilience of the Bureau's IT and observational systems. It has now moved into phase three.

BoM is also replacing its existing supercomputer. It received a Cray XC-40 system for weather prediction back in 2016.

Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) Indigo Program, meanwhile, aims to replace key legacy IT systems with modern best-practice solutions and the AEC is also on the DTA's list for its self-service platform.

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment makes its way onto the list with four projects, including for its Biosecurity Integrated Information System (BIIS); a play to create digital services to help farmers; a client and workload management solution; and a program to establish a modern export documentation system.

The Clean Energy Regulator is on the list for implementing the eMarket program that will streamline and upgrade agency registries and systems, as well as set up a new exchange trading platform.

Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources also makes an appearance for its project to overhaul how energy and emissions data is reported and analysed.

Austrade, meanwhile, is producing a "single, trusted, and simple" source of information on how to export, including regulatory and border compliance requirements.

Rounding out the list is the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet for the digital implementation of the Data Availability and Transparency Bill.

The Bill giving the nod to share data entered Parliament in December. It's touted by Minister Robert as an opportunity to establish a new framework that is able to proactively assist in designing better services and policies.

Updated 4 March 2021 at 9.00am AEDT: Clarified the 62 projects was at March 2020 and that the information was received at the time via FOI.

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