Information technology

Delivery of outcomes is supported by a range of information technology services, including application development and support, business analytics and geo-spatial reporting, application hosting, infrastructure provisioning, and other support services. Management of the department's information technology is primarily the responsibility of the SSC. Other agencies, including the Department of Human Services and the Department of Social Services, also provide application development and support services, particularly for early childhood education and care.

Major achievements

There have been a number of significant enhancements to the department’s information technology services over 2013–14.

  • A major focus for the year was providing system support for the implementation of the Australian Education Act 2013.
  • The SSC, on behalf of the department, piloted and implemented SAS Visual Analytics, a powerful tool that allows users to explore data very quickly to identify patterns and opportunities for further analysis. Using the tool, results can be conveyed in a visual manner and users do not require a technical background.
  • The department continued the rollout of the PWS, a shared solution to manage the workflow of parliamentary documents for 41 agencies. In 2013–14 eight agencies and seven portfolio agencies transitioned to the new system, which processed over 35,000 records. An additional 10 agencies and five portfolio agencies have begun their transition. The PWS project was shortlisted as one of the finalists for the Excellence in eGovernment Award in 2014.
  • Another major achievement was the successful pilot of a new set of tools to support mobile computing to enhance the productivity of employees who are away from the office. The tools include a laptop solution that acts as a desktop replacement for mobile users, offering a full Windows desktop experience on the laptop away from the desk; and a smartphone and tablet solution that delivers a set of key business applications to users anywhere there is a connection to the internet.
  • The SSC also successfully piloted the use of cloud computing to source information technology ( IT) computer and storage services for application development and testing. This work will position the department to take advantage of the flexibility and efficiency offered by cloud computing where privacy and performance constraints allow.
  • Another achievement was the implementation of advanced application performance monitoring, which improved the SSC’s ability to monitor and manage IT services for clients by allowing it to respond quickly to issues and reduce system down time.
  • A final achievement was implementing a major upgrade and enhancements to the secure IT environment used by departmental employees to enhance collaboration on the development of ‘Protected’ classified materials and the security of the system.

Challenges

The Machinery of Government changes in 2013 presented major technological and managerial challenges. The primary technological challenge was making the system changes required to establish the Department of Education, the Department of Employment and the SSC.

Associated with this technological challenge was the managerial challenge of creating the new SSC. This involved establishing new business processes and supporting the cultural changes associated with the establishment of a jointly owned entity delivering services to multiple agencies.

Looking ahead

Looking ahead to 2014–15 the department anticipates undertaking, through the SSC, a number of major initiatives aimed at enhancing IT capability, many of them building on the major achievements of 2013–14.

  • We will explore the full capability of the SAS Visual Analytics tool to transform the way the department deals with the high volumes of information available to improve policy advice.
  • Plans are in place to implement a major data centre migration strategy, including modernising infrastructure to take advantage of higher quality data centre facilities available under the whole-of-government panel.
  • The department will implement technology business management to better support the business of the SSC in delivering a world-class service and achieving greater cost transparency. Technology business management supports a focus on customer value (the right service at the right price), operational excellence (balancing cost and service quality), and running information technology like a business as well as bringing together and promoting best practice.
  • Work will continue on the rollout of the PWS, with the aim of ensuring that all 41 agencies in scope for the rollout are transitioned by the end of 2015–16.
  • The SSC plans to follow up the success of the cloud computing and mobile computing pilots with full implementations, and continue to advance systems security to meet emerging cyber threats and challenges.
  • Plans are also in place to explore the use of social and web collaboration software to transform the way employees interact with each other and with external stakeholders.
  • Finally there remains the significant challenge of maturing the relationship between the department and the SSC to ensure the continued delivery of innovative, cost-effective and high-quality information technology services matched to the needs of the department.
Feature Story

SAS Visual Analytics

The department, in partnership with the SSC, has been exploring mechanisms to manage, share and analyse the large amounts of data it holds to inform programme design and implementation. This will enable us to best target taxpayers’ money and reduce waste, particularly identifying non-compliance. Improved business analytics also allow us to develop new insights and understanding of performance, rather than just reporting on the past.

A key pillar of this work has been the piloting of the SAS Visual Analytics tool. Implementation by the SSC in two business areas has already shown its capability to significantly reduce the time needed to develop complex reports and its potential to allow more sophisticated use of available data, such as using trend data and undertaking risk profiling to target possible cases of fraud.

An example of this work is in the early childhood area, where SAS Visual Analytics will significantly reduce the time needed to produce and improve the usefulness of a key internal report. This will give policy areas quicker access to data previously available only through data experts, and to see that data in a visual manner. As a result, data teams will be able to focus more on complex and critical data-modelling activities.