Big bucks on open source COVIDsafe app


Denham Sadler
Senior Reporter

Private contractors were paid nearly $2 million to work on the federal government’s COVID-19 contact tracing app, while the firm behind the official information app was given an additional $500,000 on top of the $3.5 million it had already been paid.

The government’s COVIDSafe app, which uses Bluetooth technology to record close contacts between users and sends this info to state and territory health authorities if a user is later diagnosed with COVID-19, is based on an open source app developed in Singapore.

The Australian version – COVIDSafe – was built by the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) with assistance from a number of private sector contractors.

It was confirmed last week that five private companies had assisted with the app development, including Australia’s tech darling Atlassian and prolific government contractor Boston Consulting Group.

Canberra Parliament House
COVID designs: There are decent dollars reaped by consultants

Now the values of a number of the contracts for the work on the contact tracing app have been revealed.

The Department of Home Affairs was involved with the early design prototyping of the app before handing it over to the DTA on 3 April, the agency confirmed in an answer to a question on notice posed by the senate committee investigating the government’s response to COVID-19.

It paid three private companies more than $400,000 in total for assistance in this prototyping. Amazon Web Services landed $164,995.64 for its work on the prototype design, with the company later brought in to handle the cloud storage of the app’s data. At a senate hearing on Wednesday afternoon, it was revealed that AWS had been paid just over $700,000 for its further work with the DTA on the app.

The Boston Consulting Group was paid $220,000 for its work with Home Affairs, while the CTO Group received $31,200.

All three companies were contracted through various standing offers with government departments.

After the Digital Transformation Agency took over work on the app, it brought in a number of private sector firms to help out.

The Boston Consulting Group was again engaged, helping with usability and design issues, being paid $484,000 for three weeks’ work, The contract coming to an end on Friday. The DTA contract said this was for “COVID app support”.

Melbourne-based IT firm Shine Solutions received $275,000 over three months for “support services for mobile web app”, also through the DTA.

Canberra-based cybersecurity company Ionize landed a two-month contract worth $44,000 for “cyber security services” on the COVID-19 app. Ionize is a Canberra-based company with an “experienced team of professional hackers” that can conduct security assessments on products.

This company has not been previously listed as assisting with the app by the government, and is understood to have helped with a security assessment of the app’s source code, which has still not been released publicly.

There are no published contracts between the DTA and tech company GoSource, which also assisted with the development of the app. GoSource landed two contracts worth a combined $800,000 with Home Affairs for “ICT professional services” last month.

Atlassian previously worked on the government’s official WhatsApp coronavirus information messaging service, on a pro-bono basis, and was also not paid for its work on the contact tracing app.

GoSource and Shine are partners with AWS, the cloud storage service utilised by the government to house the national data store connected with the app.

These two firms “assisted AWS in the delivery of the COVID-19 government app, including the delivery of the web app, including integration and design activities and mobile application development”, the company said.

Tender documents have also revealed that the Canberra tech company that developed the official COVID-19 information app recently received a $500,000 bonus, with the DTA revealing that the firm had recently been brought in to assist with the ongoing development of the contact tracing app.

Delv built and launched the app across two weeks in March after landing the deal following a closed tender process. It was paid across two contracts, one with the DTA worth $1.848 million, and another with the Department of Health worth $1.438 million.

The DTA contract has now been amended and increased by $528,000. Delv has now been paid $3.814 million across six months for the development and ongoing iteration of the information app, with this tender now likely expanded to include the work on COVIDSafe.

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2 Comments
  1. Laurie Patton 3 weeks ago
    Reply

    The fact that external consultants were needed to build this app is not unusual or unreasonable. The public service simply doesn’t need to have those skills in-house. The real issue is the competence of the people in the relevant departments who developed the specs and oversaw the project. It is a technical dud and a marketing disaster.

  2. Steve Keenan 3 weeks ago
    Reply

    Great post!

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