Govt ‘permissions capability’ project behind schedule

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

The federal government is still yet to choose which large US tech firm will be handed a significant contract to develop a “permissions capability” which will first handle visa processing.

After a tender was issued by Home Affairs in October last year for the development of an “integrated, enterprise-scale workflow capability to be used across the Commonwealth”, it was reported last month that three US firms had been shortlisted for this work.

The government’s timeline had the contractor to be selected and announced in March, but the procurement is still ongoing, a spokesperson confirmed.

The government is yet to select a contractor to build its permissions capability

The Department is hoping to launch the platform with digital incoming passenger declarations and digital visa processing capabilities in the third quarter of this year.

It’s the third go the government has had at digitising visa processing, after two botched attempts in the last 15 years. Most recently, the government shelved plans for a Global Digital Platform in March last year before a contractor was selected, with nearly $100 million already spent.

Despite the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) having control of the wider project, Home Affairs issued a tender for the bulk of the development work in October last year. The winning bidder will build the base platform that is initially capable of handling the digitisation of incoming passenger declaration cards and a simple digital visa application service.

The platform will also have the ability to be reused for government services across the Commonwealth, including for permits, accreditation, licences and registrations, and is estimated to cost $75 million to build.

The tender closed in mid-December, with the Department planning to sign a contract last month.

In March it was reported that three US tech firms – IBM, Pega and Oracle – had been shortlisted for this work, with a decision expected imminently.

IBM is going it alone in the bid, while Pega has teamed up with Accenture and Oracle has formed a coalition with PwC and Sayers.

A spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs confirmed this procurement process is still ongoing.

“The procurement timetable is indicative only. The Department will not comment on the procurement process while it is ongoing,” the spokesperson told InnovationAus.

After being announced last year, only one contract is been signed for work on the permissions capability, with consultancy giant McKinsey handed nearly $1 million to provide “strategic advice” from late May to early July in 2020.

McKinsey was paid nearly $150,000 per week to “inform” the new initiative.

The Coalition previously attempted to build a platform to handle digital visa processing, with more than $90 million spent in recent years, including $65 million to private contractors. The scheme was scrapped early last year following ongoing concerns around the outsourcing of a key government function, and a number of conflicts of interest surrounding the bidders.

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has criticised the new plan, writing to the Department of Home Affairs last month arguing that it would be cheaper and more effective to do this work in-house. The APS was not given the chance to pitch for this work before the government turned to the private sector, the CPSU said.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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