by George Nott

Human services gets agile with citizen data

Apr 06, 2017
GovernmentHealthcare Industry

The Department of Human Services is eager to make the 30 years’ worth of citizen data in its control more accessible to ministers and policy-makers.

The department is currently “working heavily” on a Hadoop data link so it can better answer the complex queries it receives from agencies, CTO Charles McHardie said yesterday.

“We deal with ministerial questions, just about everyday, we deal with questions from the policy agencies every day as they try to get their policy settings right,” he told the AIIA Navigating Digital Government Summit in Canberra, “whether they’re getting ready for the budget each year like they’re doing now or whether they’re providing advice to cabinet around new policies, we have a lot of data we can try and make sense of.

“One of the big things we’re focused on now is better agility to answer those questions.”

Where the department had traditionally focused on answering regularly asked questions, the Hadoop project would allow the department to overlay a larger suite of analytics tools and be more agile and answer more complex queries, McHardie said.

“Now we’re trying to get a lot more agile and get decent business insights out of those data holdings that we have. So technology is helping us there.”

The result would “reduce some of the frustration we get” from the agencies it worked with – which includes the Department of Health or the Department of Social Services – McHardie added.

Talking forms

DHS is currently in stage one of its massive Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation Program (WPIT) – one of the largest welfare ICT transformations in the world according to the department – with a total cost expected to be in the region of $1 billion.

The department is currently planning a range of WPIT-related projects including a new online user interface for welfare payments, a new payment utility to deliver payments faster, and work on designing an end-state technology solution for future phases of WPIT.

As part of the programme McHardie said his team was looking “very closely” at a “more conversation based approach” to updating citizen information.

Most interactions with DHS related bodies, such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Centrelink, came as a result of a change in a person’s circumstances.

Rather than having to refill a lengthy form the department’s goal was to “in a more wholesome manner… ask the necessary questions that we need answered to be able to fill in the fields to make an entitlement assessment and fill in your claim,” McHardie explained.

Once a citizen had given their details to government they “shouldn’t have to tell us again”, McHardie added, and the department “should just know”.

Last month human services minister Alan Tudge said that changes undertaken as part of WPIT were already having a significant effect, reducing the number of Youth Allowance and Austudy claims on hand, through rejecting claims earlier due to incompleteness or for not meeting basic eligibility criteria. Processing time had fallen, on average, from nine weeks to under five weeks, Tudge claimed.