BUDGET 2011: Human Services gains massive funding

Some $576.2 million will be provided to use ICT to improve access and improve portfolio business within the Department of Human Services (DHS) agencies Centrelink, Medicare and the Child Support Agency under the 2011-2012 federal budget.

[See the complete coverage of ICT spending in Computerworld Australia's Federal Budget 2011 section]

Spearheading the service delivery reform agenda will be funding to the tune of $373.6 million over four years to integrate the ICT infrastructure of Medicare Australia, Centrelink and the Child Support Agency. Some $295.4 million of this, including $205.3 million in capital, will be met from within the existing resources of the Department of Human Services.

According to the budget, the ICT integration project will seek to deliver a single shared ICT gateway linking the separate portfolio networks; a single integrated security management system to protect sensitive information across payment systems; a new data recovery centre to back up customer data in the event of a system failure; a single consolidated data management system; and common staff portal, desktop and email system to enable faster and more efficient operations.

“ICT integration will generate savings of $106.8 million across the portfolio by streamlining core processing, storage infrastructure and support services, resulting in a net saving for the initiative of $28.5 million over four years,” budget papers read.

Service reform will also be carried out through the transition to a single portfolio website and telephone number also features in the reform agenda. Some $38.7 million is being allocated over four years for the project, but $9.1 million of this will be met from within the existing resources of the Department of Human Services.

The initial phase of the single portfolio telephone and website initiative was launched in December 2010, however budget funding will support the continued development of a single portfolio website which will feature personalised Web browsing to speed up and ease access to information relevant to individual users. A fully automated voice recognition service will complement a single portfolio telephone number.

“This initiative will ensure access to information and services is more convenient, and make it easier for customers to manage their interactions with the Department of Human Services,” the budget reads. “Streamlining the portfolio communication network will generate savings of $3.8 million over four years.”

Improving accessibility will be funded via $6.3 million over four years and will go toward allowing agency customers to lodge of a number of Medicare Benefits Schedule general practitioner claims online.

According to the budget, the new online service will allow people to lodge claims outside business hours and will pay benefits into the customer's nominated bank account within three working days. The service will also provide a “feedback channel” for customers to consult with the Department of Human Services on how the service could be improved.

“The measure will reduce the time taken to process Medicare claims and generate savings of $6.7 million over four years, resulting in a net saving of $0.4 million over the four years,” the budget reads.

Customers will also be given the choice to manage their Centrelink, Medicare Australia and Child Support Agency accounts and transactions online via an ICT overhaul program funded at $157.6 million over four years.

According to the budget, $47.7 million of this funding will be met from within the existing resources of the Department of Human Services. Funding of $6.4 million will be provided to the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs to maintain an ICT interface with the Human Services portfolio to ensure the continuity of data exchanges.

Specific improvements for agencies customers include being able to access all portfolio accounts through a single and secure logon facility, and being able to share their information across the portfolio in a single transaction.

“The Department of Human Services will continue to work closely with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner so that customers have adequate levels of control and choice over the use of their information,” the budget reads.

ICT-enabled budget savings

Creating an integrated business operation and workflow management, along with a new organisational structure, is expected to save the department some $341.3 million over four years sue to more efficient delivery of services to customers.

“The enhanced workflow management system will optimise the distribution of work across the Human Services portfolio,” the budget reads. “The connected system will improve processing time by allocating work to the next available staff member, regardless of their physical location.

“It will also optimise customer support by allowing staff to readily provide customers with up to date information on the status of their transactions. Customers will be kept informed of the progress of their transactions via an automated notification system. Customers will also be able to track the status of their own transactions online.”

In addition to the $341.3 million the department expects to save $140.4 million over four years through simplifying and automating online services. Specifically the department will develop an online automation service dor customers to use when applying for services and notifying the portfolio agencies of a change to their circumstances.

“Efficiencies will be generated by reducing the amount of processing associated with paper based notifications, forms and letters,” the budget reads. “The measure will also enhance data exchanges with third party organisations to streamline business reporting on customer income and assets.

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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