IBM gets $19m for govt COVID vaccine platform


Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

The government has awarded IBM a two-year, $19 million contract to upgrade the backend of Australia’s immunisation records system to cope with COVID vaccination data.

Services Australia manages the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR), which logs immunisation history statements. AIR has primarily been used as the childhood immunisation register for childcare and school requirements, and handles around two million records each year.

But AIR is being upgraded to include COVID-19 vaccination data, which will see records added for individual injections, batch and file numbers for a planned 50 million doses, and for the ability for citizens to download immunisation records.

The agency expects COVID-19 and an increase in flu vaccinations will lead to around 65 million vaccine records being reported to AIR a year.

Big Blue: IBM has been handed $19 million by Services Australia to upgrade the back end of the agency’s immunisation records system.

The AIR upgrade is the main deliverable of a $19 million contract published earlier this month by the agency. The contract was awarded through limited tender under IBM’s billion dollar whole-of-government arrangement.

“This contract is for the supply of IBM hardware, software and associated installation services to address workload increases and improve operational stability,” a Services Australia Spokesperson told InnovationAus.

“This was primarily to support the Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic to manage increased demand on core ICT systems. This includes boosting the Australian Immunisation Register to support the vaccine rollout.”

A “hybrid cloud” approach was selected for the AIR upgrade to better cope with uncertainty around numbers and how providers would access the application, according to Services Australia Enterprise Infrastructure Platforms national manager, Derek Byrnes, who presented at IBM’s global conference last week.

The agency has moved a container based AIR application to a private cloud but continues to also offer access via a mainframe application

The cloud based AIR application has been live for “some time” and most providers are now opting to upload data using the newer container-based platform, which is coping well, Mr Byrnes said.

“Our choice to go cloud was bold [and] one not without risk. But it’s only risky if you’re not diligent in you’re testing. So I say test, test, test, and then test some more,” he said.

The application will continue to be tested and iterated to accommodate new policies, Mr Byrnes said. More of Services Australia’s services will be moved to cloud, and Software-as-a-Service will increasingly be used for frontend user interfaces, according to Mr Byrnes.

“As far as the vaccine rollout goes, well it is progressing but slower than we would have liked. This is having an economic and social impact on our country, but we need to continue to push,” he said.

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