Federal government welfare agency Centrelink is pushing ahead with IT projects around self-service, records digitisation and mobility, but won't be replacing its Model 204 database which dates back to the early seventies.
CIO John Wadeson said the three things driving service delivery changes at Centrelink all play into each other and the fact that the welfare system can be changed rapidly is credit to “sustained development over many years”.
Speaking at the CeBit e-Government conference in Sydney, Wadeson was asked if the niche Model 204 software was holding it back from becoming more agile and the answer was an unequivocal “no”.
“Without Model 204 we wouldn't exist and it is developed with us,” he said. “There is nothing else like it. When we wanted to go digital Model 204 said it could, so it seems it can grow with us.”
Model 204 is developed by Computer Corporation of America and integrates with .Net and Java.
Wadeson said Model 204 “hasn't been a problem” and the only time when Centrelink moves off it is when the government changes its policy and goes to a different welfare system model.
“Where would we go to? We could go to DB2 which IBM would love as we would need more mainframes or Oracle which is as old as Model 204.”
He said the Model 204 question is a “long and often debated issue”, but inside Centrelink “we are happy with where we are”.
“We got into mainframe computing and big networks because we wanted to take services to the suburbs and we ended up with a complex welfare system.”
To reduce this complexity Centrelink is investing heavily in self-service, which as a concept was around before the Web.
“When we started with self service it was before the web. We discovered the TAB's automated voice system for betting and the government said we can do that,” Wadeson said.
“I was the project manager and someone said we should do a Web version and I said 'why no one would use it'. But the backend was the same it was just the interface that was different.”
Centrelink hasn't turned off its voice-activated self-service channels because it believes it is coming back in a big way and there are still many people who want to deal with government over the phone.
“Service delivery is never about averages, you have to able to cope with the peaks,” he said. “Two big peaks are the stimulus packages when just over 250,000 people logged into the secure area to see when they were going to get paid. And staff answered 200,000 phone calls. Being responsive to government is interesting.”