MSD looks ahead after core benefits system go-live

Mobility is being explored now that system is in place

With its replacement core benefits system well bedded in, the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) is working to bring a variety of other systems on line and is evaluating a number of mobile devices.

Its Curam case management system will be the front end for things such as student loans and allowances, superannuation payments and Children and Young Persons (CYPs) applications.

“We’re conscious that people want to transact online,” says CIO David Habershon. “Studylink already has in the high 90 percent online applications for loan. This is being replicated at Work and Income.

“CYP applicants don’t need online so much, but business to business transactions are important.

“We’re working on an enterprise channel management strategy, and a project is underway for an enterprise workflow engine.” (This will be based on the Curam workflow engine with, potentially, elements of Genesis.)

Habershon says much of the business lends itself to mobility, with work brokers out in the community and social workers, in particular, being highly mobile.

“We’re evaluating a number of mobile choices, preparing the architecture and infrastructure to handle different devices. Initially, we will be equipping them with 3G-enabled laptops.”

But it was the core Linc-based Swiftt (Social Welfare for Tomorrow Today) and Trace applications where the focus was over the past three years. Trace was added to Swiftt to help combat benefit fraud.

Former Social Welfare boss Dame Margaret Bazley had indicated as far back as 1996 that Swiftt needed to be replaced. Swiftt handles $14 billion a year in benefit transactions and had it failed this would have brought the economy to a halt.

The Ministry ran a number of studies, one of which early in this decade indicated more than $100 million would have to be spent to upgrade Swiftt.

Both Swiftt and Trace ran on two Unisys mainframes, one used for production processing and the other for development and disaster recovery.

The Ministry latterly proved the feasibility of replatforming to a contemporary computing environment, taking the costly mainframe option out of the equation.

Swiftt and Trace were structured as separate projects, delivered over three phases. Phase one, a proof of concept, was completed in 2007; phase two was completed in April 2009 when the Trace application was moved off the mainframe. The new and old Swiftt systems were run in parallel from June 2009, with the old mainframe system being turned off last October for phase three.

“It has proved incredibly robust and stable,” says Habershon. “Response times are quicker and there is a much higher degree of application integration.”

EDS was contracted for the work. After a global search, the ministry identified an Australian-developed “transformation engine”, Quipoz, that automated much of the change to a Java platform.

To replace the mainframe, a cluster of three Sun, Solaris-based M5000 boxes was installed. Habershon says they have 12 logical nodes, and any two of the three could fail and the system would still run. There is a “huge” Oracle database.

Habershon estimates the Unisys mainframe had handled $70 billion on transactions during its lifetime.

The total cost of the project was $21.8 million. Parts of the contract with HP/EDS were fixed price, and parts were time and materials. “They were tightly managed and held accountable for costs,” he says.

“We avoided a large investment in a new mainframe, along with a risk of there being lack of availability of those skills, and we’re more agile to cope with legislative changes.”

The Ministry had earlier invested $54 million in the Curram case management system.

HP/EDS is providing on-going support for the two systems. Fronde and Datacom support other applications at MSD.

Habershon has an IT team of 324, most of whom are based in Wellington. “We’ve now had 10 months of metronomic processing with a considerably reduced risked profile,” he says.

So, what do you do with an old mainframe? Habershon says MSD couldn’t sell them and they were too costly to move. “They sit here as museum pieces,” he says.

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