Victorian agencies warned to keep an eye on telco costs

Victorian government agencies have been warned to keep an eye on the growing cost of telecommunications services by the Victorian auditor-general.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

A review (PDF) into the three largest telecommunications spenders in the Victorian government — the Department of Human Services (DHS), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and Victoria Police — has found that costs are coming down, but that the agencies need to look at further savings through better deals and a clamp down on personal use by staff.

The three agencies were the top three in the Victorian government on spending, which was AU$53 million in 2011-12, with Victoria Police spending AU$6 million, and DHS and DOJ each spending AU$3.5 million that year. Victoria Police has the highest spending because it employs 16,000 people in over 500 places and operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. DHS employs 11,000 staff in 17 areas, and DOJ employs 16,000 staff members in 141 locations.

DHS and Victoria Police had effective mobile data management practices, according to Victorian Auditor-General John Doyle, with Victoria Police saving approximately AU$640,000 per year by removing inactive services, moving staff to lower data plans, and aggregating services. DHS is saving AU$245,000 per year by combining all mobile plans into one account and reducing the data limit for all staff to the lowest plans.

The DOJ predominantly uses BlackBerry devices that cannot have data charges aggregated across its userbase, but the agency still managed to save AU$59,000 per year by moving 198 services to lower data plans in 2011.

In 2012, the agency was caught out when it began a trial rollout of smartphones that were each given 4.5GB of data per month. Despite paying for a high amount of data, the auditor-general found that between November 2012 and February 2013, only between 2.5 percent and 6.4 percent of the data had been used. Doyle found that a 600MB data plan would have been sufficient until March, when usage levels within the department went up.

There were also six users who were receiving 10GB per month plans between January and May 2013, where one had no data usage at all, and the remaining five were using very little. One was cancelled, and the remaining five were moved to a lower data plan, saving the department AU$5,000 per year.

The DOJ is in the early stages of implementing a new monitoring system to keep track of mobile spending across the department, according to Doyle, but overall, the DOJ saw the biggest increase in both fixed and mobile spending of the three agencies.

None of the three agencies demonstrated to the auditor-general that they were in compliance with policies on staff reimbursing the government for personal use of their mobiles.

Doyle found that DHS fared the best in mobile costs, recording a 29 percent decline in expenditure due to centralised management of its mobile voice and data services, but the agency was found to have not checked up on billing anomalies identified by NEC, which was brought on by both DHS and DOJ to validate the accuracy of invoiced call and rental charges.

The DOJ did not have a practice for identifying and rationalising unused landlines across the organisation. For example, the DOJ's Built Environment and Business Sustainability unit was found to have been charged for 144 fixed lines, where only 51 were actually being used by the agency. Thirty nine belonged to other units, and 35 of the remaining 54 were found to be redundant.

Victoria Police has begun working on a project to remove redundant landlines and replace analog lines with ISDN lines, which is expected to save the department AU$235,000 per year.

Victoria Police's overall expenditure has increased, but Doyle said that there is a significant variation in Victoria Police's spending because of the varying of the workload of the agency with law enforcement, and dealing with emergency situations.

The agencies have broadly accepted the recommendations of Doyle's report.

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