Human Services tackles outgoing paper torrent

Everything about the Department of Human Services, Australia’s Commonwealth agency responsible for pensions, unemployment & family benefits and Medicare, is measured on an enormous scale.  It is responsible for almost 40% of Commonwealth government payments made to Australians each year, $A149.4 billion in the 2012-2013 financial year, while the number of staff required to administer the payments is more than 35,000 nationally.

The volume of correspondence it sends out is a similarly mind-boggling number, approximately four million pieces of physical communications per month from the Centrelink master program that administers payments. The department has been actively moving towards using SMS or email to communicate with Australians receiving Centrelink payments, and the split is now approximately 40 per cent paper and 60 per cent electronic.

The number of people using the messaging service increased from around 3.4 million in 2011–12 to around 4.9 million in 2012–13. At present electronic messaging through SMS or email is currently only available to those receiving Centrelink payments, although in its most recent Annual Report the department said it is working to make it available more widely.

To aid with its migration to digital, the department has implemented an OpenText solution for Outgoing Correspondence management, OpenText Document Presentment (OpenText DP). Outbound communication is triggered from SAP Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and data from SAP CRM is then passed to OpenText DP for composition and distribution to the appropriate communication channel (such as letters, emails and SMSs). The communication is stored in IBM FileNet for archiving.

Gary Sterrenberg, Chief Information Officer for the Department of Human Services, said, “At present, the Centrelink master program produces approximately four million pieces of physical communications per month from our legacy system but this is continuing to decrease as DHS transitions its physical correspondence into the digital channel. 

"Over time, more physical communication will be sent using the OpenText Document Presentment solution. “

“All divisions of the department will utilise the new Outgoing Correspondence management. In the future, this Outgoing Correspondence will be the only platform for the department.”

“Previously, data was passed from our legacy system to an in-house built outbound customer communication system.

“Over time, all outbound customer communications will be sent using the new system,” said Sterrenberg. 

“We also expect to support more communications through the digital channel, which is in line with the Department’s strategy to increase interaction with customers online, via mobile devices and other self-service methods where possible.”

Overseeing the drive to digital, Department of Human CIO Gary Sterrenberg.

The department has a whole-of-enterprise architectural approach. Where appropriate, existing capabilities are re-used across the enterprise. HP TRIM, IBM and SharePoint products  all play a part in the department’s landscape. While the department expects to see an increase in the trend towards the use of digital communication, Sterrenberg acknowledges there are difficulties to be overcome.

“The main obstacles we have identified in moving to digital communications include the demographic make-up of our customers, technical challenges of connecting to large legacy systems and in some instances - a security or legislative requirement to have communication sent via paper.

“The department has on many occasions been requested to reproduce printed or digital communications for legal dispute purposes, such as the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.”