The Victorian government will pay a large tech consultancy nearly $4 million to improve its Salesforce COVID-19 contact tracing platform over the first six months of this year.
Under a contract recently posted publicly, UK “global transformation consultancy” Contino, which was acquired by consultancy giant Cognizant in 2019, will be paid $3.8 million from early January to the end of June 2021 for “COVID DTTI ongoing support and development”.
A spokesperson for the Victorian Department of Health confirmed this related to further work on the Salesforce customer relationship management platform for contact tracing, which was launched late last August.
“The scope of the contract includes the provision of professional services, including functional analysis, development, integration and testing,” the spokesperson told InnovationAus.
This will include support and enhancements to the Salesforce platform, which automatically begins the process of contact tracing using automated text messages.
Contino is a UK-based tech consultancy with offices in Melbourne and Sydney. It was acquired by professional services giant Cognizant in late 2019 and is an AWS global premier partner.
The platform was implemented to replace the state government’s previous contact tracing process which relied heavily on manual data entry and case interviewing, with a range of different companies responsible for different components of this system.
The Salesforce platform can automatically allocate cases, issue alerts, notify close contacts and send out isolation and quarantine messages.
The platform is fed test results and then automatically sends out messages to start the contact tracing process, using risk prioritisation.
It’s unclear what the new work on the platform will involve, but a recent inquiry into Victoria’s contact tracing processes discussed the need to integrate QR codes, used by businesses in the state for contact tracing, with the Salesforce offering.
Salesforce Australia principal architect Michal Bonaddio told the Victorian Legal and Social Issues Committee that this was a major area of improvement for the platform.
“I think one of the key things that is going to help accelerate that process is the integration of QR code solutions that can help understand where a person has been and where they have checked in automatically,” Mr Bonaddio said.
“All of a sudden you have gone from this process where you are asking for that information over the phone to having that information be ingested into the contact-tracing applications for the purpose of validation with the person on the phone, so that can save on that data-entry process.”
The Victorian government was first offered the Salesforce platform in March to assist with contact tracing, but opted not to implement the technology. The government did eventually choose to use the platform but not until five months later in late August.
The committee was highly critical of this decision in its report on the state government’s contact tracing capabilities.
“The committee notes that however capable the current contact tracing solution is, it was not available when the Victorian public needed it. This failure cost lives and was unable to be rectified without strict lockdown measures throughout the state,” the report said.
“The committee views the reluctance by the Victorian government to concede or acknowledge errors as a contributing factor in the substantial delays in the implementation of a suitable contact tracing management system,” it said.
“Furthermore, the committee notes that this lack of humility has the capacity to hinder progress by limiting opportunities for collaboration or building off developments made in other jurisdictions.”
The Victorian government said it would not have been possible to implement the Salesforce platform earlier in 2020.
“A major IT project was impractical because the teams were very stretched by the need to scale-up testing and contact tracing operations to respond to the rapidly growing number of cases,” the state government said.
Similar Salesforce platforms for contact tracing are also in use in Western Australia, South Australia and New Zealand, along with more than 30 jurisdictions in the United States.
Announcing the platform last year, Victorian Premier Dan Andrews said it would mean there would be less use of “pens and papers” as part of the contact tracing process, and the platform would consolidate different systems and processes into the one platform.
The Victorian government has also issued an advance tender for COVID-19 technology. A portion of this tender will be for “innovative solutions to support COVIDSafe venues and events”.
This will include technologies, devices or other instruments to help venues and public events comply with the state’s COVID restrictions, such as physical distancing and visitor registration.
The tender is expected to be formally listed this week.