Can a govt-wide open source messaging platform really cost just $150k?

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Can a govt-wide open source messaging platform really cost just $150k?
Source: Gartner

DTA chief pushes the envelope as messaging times slashed from days to minutes.

The Department of Health has drastically cut down the amount of time taken to send emails to My Aged Care service recipients using the Digital Transformation Agency’s new whole-of-government notifications platform.

The department, which is just one of 99 Commonwealth, state and territory and local government agencies now reaping the benefits of, has gone from slowly sending multiple batches of emails to a single bulk send.

“The Department of Health’s My Aged Care service was manually sending around 13,000 emails every month,” DTA chief Randal Brugeaud told the Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo on Monday.

“But they were sending that in parcels of 250 emails at a time - clearly a laborious, time consuming process.

“Notify, however, allows them to send bulk emails at once, so it moves from a process that takes several days to a process that takes less than half an hour.”

The platform, which entered public beta in March, allows agencies to send reminders and messages to citizens using via SMS and email using a self-service account.

This avoids the need for agencies to access to the government digital services platform myGov or have existing infrastructure, particularly for simple correspondence.

Agencies can use the platform at no cost to send unlimited emails and up to 25,000 text messages in a year during the trial. Text messages beyond this threshold will cost 6 cents each when sent domestically.

“Communications can be tailored and service teams can integrate with the platform into their backend systems to upload batches of messages, for example, or use APIs to integrate,” Brugeaud said.

“And we’ve also developed a range of supporting code and documentation as part of that small investment to assist agencies with integration.”

The platform has been built on using source code borrowed from the UK’s Government Digital Service, which allowed the DTA to quickly develop the platform.

“In total it was four people, eight weeks, $150,000 to deliver a public beta platform,” Brugeaud said.

Aside from the My Aged Care service, the platform is also being used by the Queensland government’s smart service centre, which takes calls on behalf of 250 government services in a central location.

“ allows [300] service centre staff to manage SMS notifications in response to calls they receive increasing vertical resolution,” he said.

“And they’re using Notify to send notifications to users applying for camping sites to confirm their booking.”

Other uses of the platform include “cyber security threat updates” and other “business continuity alerts” and “training reminders”.

Notifications, tell us once wrapped into one

When the DTA started out developing and researching the notifications platform, it was done in parallel with another platform, dubbed ‘tell us once’.

The ‘tell us once’ platform, which was one of the first platform identified by the DTA’s predecessor when it was established by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in 2015, will allow users to share their details across federal and state government agencies.

But as the discovery processes began, the DTA realised that the two programs of work “overlapped significantly”.

“While they were initially split, what we found is as soon as we started to get the initial findings from discovery, these things overlapped significantly,” he said.

“And as a consequence of those insights, we brought them together into a single activity, so what was shown as two became one when it came to a platform scaffold effort.

“What we found was until somebody got a notification that you’ve heard that from government and have applied the change, the the person would invariably get on the phone and say: ‘Have you made the changes to my details or Medicare or taxation or what have you.

“So these things were very much linked.”

From data exchange to API standards 

Another example of where the DTA’s platforms approached changed after discovery was the data exchange platform.

Brugeaud said the platform had originally been conceived so that information could be securely shared through a “central exchange platform”.

But as the DTA went through the discovery process it “determined that a discrete data exchange was not the way to go”.

“As we went through the research and design, we decide that, actually, this is not the best way to do it,” he said.

The DTA is now actively pursuing a “national API standard”, which Commonwealth, state and territory ministers agreed to work towards during a Austalian Data and Digital Council meeting earlier this year.

Justin Hendry attended Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo as a guest of Gartner

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