When Services Australia bosses appeared before the recent Senate estimates hearings, a lot was asked and answered about the Infosys project overseeing the entitlement calculation engine (ECE).
The ECE was meant to be the ultimate in working out just how much to pay someone seeking welfare benefits.
‘Modern’, ‘flexible, and ‘rules based’ are all words that have been associated with the ECE, which by simply being based on legislation and business rules, would apparently calculate the amount of Centrelink pension support someone should get.
Infosys won the lucrative government contract in 2019 to develop the new ECE to replace how calculations were working within the legacy program Income Security Integrated System, or ISIS (interesting acronym).
It’s been all downhill since then.
The project hasn’t been able to deliver. It hasn’t come close.
While Services Australia bureaucrats have appeared before estimates with prepared excuses for a number of years now, the simple fact is, it’s all a mess.
Mess is an appropriate word to use because ISIS is one big tangled spaghetti web of ancient codes that no one seems to be able to understand.
There are more than 30 million lines of code in the ISIS system.
Thirty is an interesting number because the ISIS software itself is more than 30 years old.
That is truly archaic.
It was built before any of the technology systems we take for granted today were even thought of.
So it’s not a matter of ISIS not being able to keep up with the modern world, it’s that ISIS doesn’t know what the term modern means.
The people who built it aren’t around anymore and there is barely anyone left in the department who was there at its introduction and who has any idea what its big old computer mind is thinking.
With about 4 million of the 30 million lines of code related specifically to entitlement calculations, ISIS is too complex and too old to be fathomable.
Add to that problem the fact that every time a new policy is created, it’s tacked onto the ISIS spaghetti bowl to make the tangled web even more of an unworkable mystery.
Despite talk of decoupling, no one in government has the confidence to turn ISIS off.
Successive governments keep using it, keep pouring good money after bad and keep providing a massive disservice to Australians seeking their entitlements.
And Infosys keeps getting multi-million-dollar top-ups to its original contract.
Infosys has delivered promise followed by excuse since it secured the contract.
It took forever for the project to get off ground zero.
Services Australia chief executive officer Rebecca Skinner told this latest round of Senate estimates that problems with the Infosys project became clear “very early”.
How about, like, straight away?
Much of the estimates discussion went to how much the former Coalition cabinet minister in charge of it from the outset, Stuart Robert, knew about it.
The deal itself was linked to his consultant mate David Milo.
Milo is the chief executive of Synergy360 and an adviser to Infosys, sparking conflict-of-interest concerns and questions over whether Robert helped his mate to help Infosys get the contract.
Robert has denied any wrongdoing or any ministerial involvement in the procurement processes at Services Australia.
But the current Labor government has not ruled out referring the matter to the new National Anti-Corruption Commission once it is fully established.
Labor has already instigated a review of the Infosys deal and results are due in March this year.
Meanwhile, Centrelink customers continue to get short shrift from an agency that still can’t seem to understand its own calculations.
Time for the dinosaurs – people and technology systems – to be replaced.