Centrelink reaps savings with mobile apps

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Centrelink reaps savings with mobile apps
Gary Sterrenberg DHS CIO at the 7th Technology in Government Summit 2013. (Photo by John Hilvert)

Almost one million downloads in past year.

A new generation of mobile apps from Centrelink have enabled users to complete simple tasks 69 percent more efficiently than via conventional online channels, says Human Services CIO Gary Sterrenberg.

Known as ExpressPlus, the apps were quietly launched in August last year and made available to anyone registered for Centrelink Online Services.

So far there are five designed for families, job seekers, students, seniors and a “lite” version to provide employment incomes in English, Arabic, Chinese and Vietnamese.

Two more as yet unnamed new apps are in the pipeline and due to be announced shortly by the Department’s secretary, Sterrenberg told the  7th Technology in Government Summit in Canberra.

The apps lets users update their contact details, subscribe to and view online letters, view their payments and transaction history, and capture and upload documents.

So far the apps have recorded some 15 million transactions.

Yet each app took only four weeks to build and one week to deploy, Sterrenberg said.

This was preceded by intensive alpha and beta testing placing emphasis on user requirements.

The immediate pay-off was for DHS services in managing a massive growth in demand that began last year.

In December 2012, DHS had a “double lodgement day” with two lodgements required over the Christmas period.

“We had 365,000 transactions completed in four days. Otherwise the other channels may not have coped,” Sterrenberg said.

So far there have been some 975,000 downloads of the apps and downloading continues at the rate of about 8,000 downloads a day.

Sterrenberg said the mobile channel was popular but the effectiveness of the apps was a consequence of the user-centric design principles DHS deployed.

It was able to reduce the cost of the computer resources of common transactions, saving some 200,000 hours of processing time used by the ExpressPlus apps.

On one day the amount of online transactions (90,000) was almost double that of face to face transactions in Centrelink offices (50,000).

In particular the student apps grew by 35 percent over the past year.

“We would not have been able to cope if we did not have these new self-managed channels and provide convenience and access that citizens deserve,” Sterrenberg said.

The new apps have proved to be popular with all demographic levels.

He said they recently signed up a 98 year old male for the seniors app, with the apps designed to be more personalised to ensure citizens are presented with options most relevant to them.

The apps support real-time digital conversations and have reduced non-compliance of student forms from around 80 percent down to 5 percent.

Another example Sterrenberg gave concerned registering new born babies for their benefits.

In the past this was done with a 20 page form that could take up to two months to process and was saddled with a 60 percent initial error rate of completion.

This was been reduced in one instance to just 20 minutes as the mother had been able to upload a photo of the Doctor’s certificate.

Using the concept of what Sterrenberg dubbed a “happy flow”, the app was able to pre-answer the relevant questions and the transaction took only five key strokes to compete.

In response to questions about authentication and fraud by users, Sterrenberg said his agency had staff in South Australia with tools to check for anomalous tranactions in real time.

He also saw voice authentication as part of a two-factor authentication likely to be rolled out in the future.

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