Three tech giants shortlisted for visa platform job

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

Three US tech giants have been shortlisted by the government to have another go at developing its new “permissions capability” platform to handle visa processing, after a botched first attempt that cost nearly $100 million was abandoned last year.

The Digital Transformation Agency issued a tender for work on a “permissions capability” platform late last year, which would initially handle digital passenger declarations and digital visa processing.

Now the government has narrowed down the tender to three potential bidders, as the Australian Financial Review reported, and each are massive US tech firms, with no Australian firms in the mix.

Tech giants: The search for a visa systems lands in a familiar place

The three shortlisted bidders are IBM, Pega and Oracle. IBM is bidding for the work by itself, while Pega has teamed up with Accenture, and Oracle would work with PwC and Sayers.

A final decision from the government on the platform is expected in the next two weeks.

The selected private contractor will build the base platform that is capable of handling the digitisation of incoming passenger declaration cards and a simple digital visa application. The platform will be able to be reused across the Commonwealth, not just for visas.

The work will be for the development of an “integrated, enterprise-scale workflow capability to be used across the Commonwealth, not just by Home Affairs”, and will be a “scalable, innovative permissions capability”.

It comes after the government scrapped its work on a similar digital visa processing platform in March last year after having already spent nearly $100 million on it. The concept was first floated in 2017, with a tender issued in December 2018 and a winning bidder meant to have been selected by the end of 2019.

But a series of conflicts of interest slowed the process, with the government eventually abandoning the plan last year, announced a “brand new approach” instead. Despite not yet selecting the contractor, the government had already spent more than $90 million on the project, with the bulk of this money going to private contractors.

Boston Consulting Group scored the most of this funding, picking up $40 million for its work on the doomed scheme.

This approach is the creation of a “visas and permits processing capability” by a private contractor.

The original tenderer options included more Australian options, with the final two consortiums being Australian Visa Processing, which included Ellerston Capital, PwC, Qantas Ventures, NAB and Pacific Blue, and a joint bid by Australia Post and Accenture.

The concept has been widely criticised for the privatisation of a core government function, with the Opposition saying it would have scrapped the original plan if it had won the 2019 election.

This time around, the government has maintained that the visa processing platform will be publicly funded and operated, with the relevant government agencies to retain control of the responsibility and decision-making, and all data will be stored in Australia.

Government services minister Stuart Robert said in July last year that the new platform was a “government priority”.

“Government is developing a new whole-of-government permissions and permits platform which will leverage previous work in this key area, and which will deliver a modern visa and permits processing capability as a priority,” Mr Robert said last year.

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