Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has heaped praise on the Department of Human Services (DHS) following its Windows 10 implementation, the largest deployment in the Asia-Pacific region to date.
The DHS is now working on a proof of concept to improve customer service using machine learning and cognitive services leveraging on the Cortana intelligence Suite – one of the first organisations outside of North America to do so. It will infuse bots with deeper human context and conversational understanding to help agents be more effective, Microsoft said.
Speaking in Sydney last week, Nadella said there is “no better example” of how technology can be used to improve lives.
“Great design, great work, new input, new output should fundamentally help bring more people access to information so that they achieve their full potential,” he told gathered developers at The Star casino event.
“And I think that there’s no better example than what the Australian Department of Human Services is doing with technology, not only inside their organisation, but more importantly for the citizens of this country.”
In 2015, the DHS joined a Windows 10 early adopter program so deployment could begin as soon as the ‘operating system-as-a-service’ was released. Once it had, the department upgraded its 44,000 devices in just four months. A previous Windows 8 upgrade had taken three years to complete, the department said.
“We wanted to take a lead in government,” said Ken Simpson, project leader at the DHS. “We have one of the most complex IT environments in the Australian government, and we wanted to pioneer new ways to deliver services.”
Tyranny of distance
As part of the Windows 10 upgrade, the DHS is piloting an app for its assessors working in remote areas. Spread across 380 service centres the department sought to more easily reach citizens, some of whom were forced to travel up to 300km for interviews and assistance.
“As a country, Australia has all the challenges you can imagine in terms of delivering government services,” said Gary Sterrenberg, CIO at the DHS. “We have a diverse population with extraordinary cultural heritage spread across vast distances. Our goal is to deliver the best possible service to citizens – when they need it and regardless of where they are.”
To solve the problem the department developed a video interview app known internally as Express Plus Connect, which allows employees to set up video calls, schedule appointments, exchange documents and generate reports to and from any connected PC.
It was built in three months by three staff members using the Universal Windows Application Platform, the department said, and trials ran at four sites in northern Queensland in January.
“The Express Plus Connect on Windows 10 pilot provides a level of service that Australian citizens have simply never experienced before. They really feel cared for, not just by the officer in front of them, but they’re connecting with people who speak their language,” Sterrenberg said.
The department said that as a result of the Windows 10 implementation, the number of support calls received had dropped by around 40 per cent.
The department originally rolled-out a solution using iPads and Apple videoconferencing technology, which has now been replaced.
Rural roll out
“We can provide a level of service that people living in rural and remote areas have simply never experienced before,” said Sterrenberg. “If this technology is rolled out further, it will enable DHS to connect the right service officers with the right skills to customers, no matter where they live.”
“They have deployed Windows 10, but one of the things that they’re pushing is not just the deployment of Windows 10, but how they’re able to harness the power of data and technology, push the envelope, especially around assistive technologies with their own push towards universal design,” Nadella said, “to make sure that every member of this department is then able to serve every citizen of this country with that much more efficiency, with that much more knowledge.
“To us ultimately that’s what new computers and new computing is all about.”
The DHS is currently deciding whether Capgemini or Accenture will provide systems integration services for its welfare payment system overhaul.
The search for a lead systems integrator kicked off in August, shortly after the government revealed that SAP had been identified as the preferred core software vendor for its mammoth Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT) program.
The program involves the replacement of Centrelink’s aging, mainframe-based welfare payments system, which dates back to 1983. The total cost of the program is expected to be in the region of $1 billion.
The first tranche of the program is almost complete, with tranche two to commence early next year.