DEEWR quietly gears up for Parliamentary Workflow Solution

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DEEWR quietly gears up for Parliamentary Workflow Solution
Susan Monkley, DEEWR, Group Manager, Technology Solutions Group

Exclusive: Can this project duck the fate of other Government shared service schemes?

The Department of Education Employment and Work Relations (DEEWR) is building a new shared service solution to manage the workflow of parliamentary documents for 41 agencies.

The parliamentary workflow system (PWS) is being built with $10.3 million in federal funds over five years, on the basis that it saves the Government $30 million over 10 years.

In 2012-13, lead service provider DEEWR will implement the PWS in two portfolios and two agencies, DEEWR's technology solutions group manager, Susan Monkley said.

“We are taking this in a phased way," Monkley told iTnews in advance of the CIO Strategy Summit this week. "We did not want to rush into implementation.

"It is very much about understanding what our journey is going to be, but also what the journey has to be for the agencies coming on board.”

The work flow of parliamentary documents is reasonably similar across agencies and offers a significant opportunity for the Government to develop a shared services solution that works, according to Monkley.

Considerable thought and planning had gone into the PWS design, in part to avoid it becoming another victim of the public sector's appalling record implementing effective shared services programs.

“This is a significant opportunity for us to demonstrate that shares services can work and demonstrate how you can make it work," she said.

Birth of a shared service 

A whole-of-government parliamentary workflow system has been on the cards since late 2010 when the Secretaries’ ICT Governance Board (SIGB) agreed that Finance should lead the development of a detailed business case.

The work, which fell to a branch of the Australian Government Information Management Office's (AGIMO), was "heavily resource intensive", according to the Williams review of AGIMO’s work released earlier this year.

"The experience of the [AGIMO] branch in managing arrangements for the whole-of-government Parliamentary Workflow Solution is interesting ... as work to develop the proposal ... absorbed the resources of almost an entire section, as well as impacting heavily on the workload of the Branch Head," the Williams report noted.

AGIMO is now the lead client agency responsible for governance arrangements for the PWR implementation, organising meetings of relevant stakeholders and chairing those meetings.

DEEWR has been handed the role of lead service provider. Its implementation plan for the PWR shared service has the blessing of SIGB.

Building on PDMS

The platform underpinning the PWS is derived from an internal DEEWR system known as the parliamentary document management system (PDMS).

Released back in April 2007, PDMS was developed by the then Department of Education Science & Training with a rollout taking less than a year. 

In 2008, PDMS was selected as the preferred parliamentary workflow solution for the newly created DEEWR.

Following the implementation, DEEWR offered to share PDMS with other agencies. 

The Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) modified an early version of PDMS to create a separate system for internal use.

The Department of Defence also expressed interest in jointly funding further development of PDMS as a solution for use across agencies. 

PDMS is now used by DEEWR and its Portfolio Agencies; Comcare, Fair Work Australia (FWA), Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO), Safe Work Australia (SWA) and Office of the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner (ABCC).

Defence implemented PDMS on its restricted and secret networks in 2009.  AusAID first implemented PDMS in 2010 and the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education took up the PDMS in early 2012.

Over 6000 staff in four agencies can now access a version of PDMS to support 13 Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries.

Read on for details of the PWS architecture and how the change is to be managed.

The architecture

The PDMS is based on Microsoft's .NET framework and uses other Microsoft technologies including SQL Server and Office.

Monkley sought advice on the technical feasibility and scalability of the PDMS architecture from AGIMO, Gartner's international advisory services and Microsoft.

"We brought Microsoft experts in to look at the architecture and the technical design of the current PDMS solution and assure us it was scalable and could be applied across the 41 different agencies in a sound and secure way,” she said.

The PWS hardware building blocks comprise HP BL460 G7 blade servers and EMC VNX SAN technology.

A hardened version of Windows 2008 R2 is the base operating system and all application components excluding SQL run in Hyper V instances.

Virtualisation server templates are used to allow for rapid deployment of the server components to cater for increases in demand.

The infrastructure is distributed between both of DEEWR’s main data centres allowing for redundancy, high availability and disaster recovery.

PWS will also be accessible from mobile devices, but timing for the delivery of that capability is yet to be determined by the PWS Governance Committee.

What agencies can expect

The PWS will offer each agency a uniform set of core modules that cover:

  • Ministerial Briefings and Submissions
  • Ministerial Correspondence
  • Ministerial Invitations to Public Events
  • Parliamentary and Senate Estimates Questions on Notice and Briefs
  • Ministerial speeches, media releases, talking points and questions and answers; and
  • Question Time Briefs

Monkley has ruled out customising the core product for each of the 41 client agencies.

However, she expects to build robust relationships with the agencies involved.

“This is very much a joint partnership as we proceed to implement with each agency, we will be working hand in glove with them to ensure success,” she said

Monkley expected that lessons learned from early implementations would be incorporated into later tranches of the project to maximise success.

“The larger challenge [with PWS] is not about the technology, it’s about change management and how we work through the process by engaging with our colleague agencies,” she said. 

Allied with this challenge is the chestnut of managing a fee for service scheme that requires being transparent about costs of the service.

This led to to the recruitment of a dedicated manager to manage and cultivate relations with agencies based around a common memorandum of understanding (MOU) that AGIMO had worked on since 2010.

The “MOU relationship manager” will be responsible for the day-to-day issues, Monkley said.

“Equally I will talk with my counterparts regularly as well.”

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