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Department of Human Services vows to reduce system outages in 2013

The department experienced 137 system reliability outages between October 1, 2011 and September 30, 2012
Department of Human Services vows to reduce system outages in 2013

The Department of Human Services (DHS) is hoping to cut the number of system outages across its complex IT environment by 5 per cent per quarter over the next 12 months.

The large government agency experienced 137 system reliability outages in the 12 months between October 1, 2011 and September 30, 2012. Twenty-eight of these outages were experienced in environments that were operated by the department’s outsourced providers.

Responding to a written question to the Senate Community Affairs Legislative Committee from Queensland Senator Sue Boyce in late October, the DHS said systems stability was a key priority for the organisation.

“Improvement programs undertaken over the past 12 months have realised a 27 per cent reduction in ICT reliability outages during the July-September quarter compared to the previous April-June quarterly period,” the DHS said.

A DHS spokesperson told CIO that in the last calendar quarter of 2012, there was a 5 per cent decrease in the rate of major incidents experienced for both internal staff-facing and external customer-facing systems.

“There were 40 major incidents between October and December 2012, compared to 42 major incidents between July and September 2012,” the spokesperson said.

“Over the last 12 months, the department has seen a reduction in major incidents of over 75 per cent.”

According to the spokesperson, none of the department’s IT system outages were related to the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR) initiative.

To improve the stability of its systems, the DHS will cut the number of data centres used by the department from seven to two, located within data vaults, over the next few years. The department will use “highly resilient tier 3+ facilities” to improve service reliability.

Other initiatives include migrating its customer portal to a 64-bit environment to increase the number of concurrent sessions that its online portal can handle, improving reliability.

The department’s ICT teams were undertaking ongoing configuration of “agentless monitoring devices” through its data centres to monitor data packets. These devices are expected to provide more comprehensive monitoring of IT transactions across the department.

In 2012, the department also brought range of outsourced managed services – provided by IBM and HP – back in-house to gain more control over IT components that contribute towards a service and remove its dependency on third-party suppliers.

“Stability is a major component of the department’s ICT strategy and improving system reliability is an ongoing project which is far broader than these four programs,” the spokesperson said.

“Ultimately, the department’s ambition is that ICT outages have zero impact on both customer- and staff-facing operations. However, the vast scale and complexity of our ICT systems means that will not always be possible and we are aiming for a short-term reduction in incidents of five per cent per quarter over the next 12 months.”

In the 2011 budget, the DHS allocated $373 million for consolidating systems run by Centrelink, Medicare and the Child Protection Agency and building a single shared service for these departments.

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