DHS's new child services system Pluto over budget, unfinished

Much of its capability still coming from legacy Cuba system it was supposed to replace

Credit: Dreamstime

The Department of Human Services has spent all of the $102 million budget assigned to its still incomplete Child Services payments and case management system overhaul.

The department today revealed staff were still “copy and pasting” data between the legacy Cuba system and its replacement Pluto, with multiple processes having not been picked up by the new SAP-based system.

The new system also carries a “backlog of defects” the department said.

The cost of finishing the overhaul – a figure not given by DHS acting CIO Charles McHardie appearing before a senate committee today – will now be taken from the department’s “business as usual” budget.

Workshops with Child Services Agency staff – who reportedly say Pluto is a "shambles" and slower and clumsier than its predecessor – are taking place today in Newcastle and Hobart next week for the department to understand what improvements they want made.

“We will need to cost up what comes out of this under this review. Basically it’s looking at the functionality they would like to see. The added functionality they would like to see,” McHardie said today.

Deloitte will be assisting in the staff review at a cost to the department of $490,000.

Despite the significant cash spent on the Pluto project, which was initially intended to completely replace Cuba, much of its capability still comes from the older system, it was revealed.

“Cuba looks after some front-end functionality for the processing staff but it also has a calculation engine that sits in the back-end and helps with assessments, comes up with figures and stores data in a supporting legacy database,” he explained.

“What we have done with Pluto is put a new staff-facing front end on that system. But the assessment and calculations are still done in Cuba in the back end in the calculation engine. From a technology perspective where we need to head to next is replace that back end. It’s aged legacy system and does need to be replaced.”

Maree Bridger, general manager, Child Support and Redress at the DHS said the current set-up meant staff “still do have the copying and dragging of information from the web forms into the new systems”.

“We have launched the new screens and new functionality for staff to access accounts. However not all of the existing legacy processes have been transferred into the new system,” she said.

“We’re on the path to doing that and picking up all of the processes. But we’ve only had the front end that staff uses in place since March last year.”

The shortcomings of Pluto mean Child Support Agency staff have had to deal with increased aggression from customers, the Community and Public Sector Union has said. Members report poor system performance and a lack of training, the union told Fairfax last year.

“We’ve actually taken the opportunity to pause and do a bit of a review on how that’s been accepted by staff and what the best approach is going forward. Like any system: staff use it, they make suggestions, there’s things they’d like done better and differently,” said Bridger.

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