New job network system cops criticism

Recruiting agency members of the federal government's Job Network that were forced to undertake multimillion dollar IT-compliance upgrades have labelled the new system "a dog".

The new Job Network IT system, an application developed by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR), went live on July 1 and has already come under fire from users. Deputy Opposition leader Jenny Macklin has warned technological faults will cause the Job Network - where private recruiting companies are paid to find work for the unemployed - to collapse.

The chorus of dissent is not new. Computerworld reported last year, that DEWR was accused of forcing rival work placement applications out of the market for insisting its 200 Job Network Members (JNM) undertake IT upgrades to comply with its EA3000 application.

Aiming to Web-ify its services, DEWR retired its old EDI facility and developed EA3000 - as part of the employment services contract (ESC) transition from ESC2 to ESC3, a project which was covered in the department's $10 million to $20 million yearly IT budget.

An IT manager at a Job Network member agency, who requested anonymity, said the new system has architecture and design problems and slow user-response times.

"All the providers I have been in contact with have indicated that EA3000 is the dog we expected. In terms of impact, we are no worse off than other providers, job seekers are clearly being impacted," the IT manager said adding that Centrelink, which is now a DEWR customer, has also made a lot of noise.

Manager of the ESC3 project and DEWR employment systems manager Anthony Parsons admits there have been teething problems associated with response times. But, he said, the system is processing 3 million transactions a day which is "inconsistent with any suggestions that the architecture or design is flawed; there is always a bedding-in period for any new computer system of this size and complexity."

He said about 200 IT professionals worked on the project, including 130 DEWR staff and 80 contractors.

He said deployment of the first component of Microsoft .Net-based EA3000 commenced in December 2002 to give the JNMs the opportunity to get used to the new IT application by deploying a diary aspect and training.

The hosting environment, he said, is pure Internet Data Centre, and Process-Mentor was used as the Agile Software Development methodology.

"The infrastructure follows the Internet Data Centre design rules. Our application follows the standard, three-tier approach - with multiple presentation channels (Web, Kiosk, SMS, e-mail ), an Object Request Broker layer in the middle and a data layer at the back end," he said. Parsons said he has kept Job Network members informed of changes to the platform, as well as regularly consulting with the National Employment Services Association (NESA) IT reference group which includes Job Network members.

In addition to response time issues, Parsons said the department has experienced telecommunications outages so decided to "fatten" its Internet connection from 20Mbits/sec to 40Mbits/sec for each carrier [Optus and Telstra].

"We have dual connection with Optus and Telstra, so that we can fall back on one if the other fails. After Telstra's Deakin exchange failed once, we wanted to double our capacity. Then we discovered that one of the providers didn't upgrade correctly, so we thought we were on 40Mbits/sec when we were still on 20; Job Network was getting transaction time outs with one in three transactions not reaching us. We got a refund from the carrier as it didn't deliver the extra capacity," he said.

"This was over several days in June, and it did throw a fog over the response times for the days involved. We don't know whether this was because they flicked the wrong switch or if it was faulty technology."

Despite these hiccups Parsons said DEWR was receiving positive feedback from members about the features of the new system and plans are under way for further additions to be introduced in September.


Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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