The Department of Human Services is preparing to set a bare-bones version of its new SAP-based centralised payments platform live in a move that paves the way for it to be offered to other agencies across government in a white label form.
It comes as the department approaches the halfway mark of its billion-dollar Centrelink payments system overhaul affectionately known as the welfare payments infrastructure transformation (WPIT) program.
The rearchitected payments platform, dubbed ‘Payment Utility’, will initially be used to transform how the department sends and receives more than $170 billion in payments through its Centrelink master program each year.
But the platform could easily extend to other agencies within DHS or across government more broadly, as it utilises a reuse model that allows customers to pick and choose from a range of modular capabilities.
That aligns with the Digital Transformation Agency’s recent platforms strategy, which aims to grow the number of “flexible, interoperable and scalable platforms” across the Commonwealth.
A spokesperson told iTnews the platform would not only “simplify and automate both inbound and outbound payments”, but give the department improved flexibility including to deliver same day payments.
“It is intended to deliver a more streamlined, responsive and reactive payment system and improve the customer experience,” the spokesperson said.
To do this it will leverage additional payment methods such as the real-time New Payments Platform (NPP), which the department has already begun dabbling with.
Earlier this month iTnews revealed the department had used the NPP for Centrelink to deliver disaster recovery payments to those affected by the recent Townsville floods.
The agency’s new centralised payments platform will also help the department improve how it “manages customer debt requirements and other inbound payments from third parties”, according to the spokesperson.
Payment Unity project
The new platform is the result of around a year's work under the payment delivery capability (PDC) project arm of the WPIT program.
The spokesperson said the PDC project was well advanced, with delivery of the platform’s first release expected in July.
It is one of several key elements the department has been working on as part of WPIT, which has spent the last two years focused on on reforming student payments and developing core system capabilities.
Many of the technical changes to the Centrelink back-end developed during this tranche will be leveraged in future drops, which are focused on payments for jobseekers, older Australians, carers and people with disabilities.
Potential for reuse
While the focus of the centralised payments platform’s build has been on delivering welfare payments, it could logically extend to the department’s other service delivery areas such as Medicare.
Last year iTnews revealed the government shelved plans to replace its 30-year-old Medicare payments processing system with a new digital payments platform, instead opting for a modernisation of the existing system.
That system - known as the health and aged care payments system - currently delivers 600 million payments worth $50 billion every year for Medicare, the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, veterans and aged care recipients.
However, its extensive number of applications and databases make changes to underlying code difficult and resource intensive - much like the department’s ISIS.
Other agencies within DHS or across government could also use the platform, which the department has proposed offering through an as-a-service business model.
What about the DTA’s payments platform pilot?
DHS’ payments platform appears to be one of the most mature common payment platform developments across government.
However just how it sits with the DTA’s in-development across government ‘payments in’ platform remains to be seen.
That platform is one of four to receive $33.5 million in the 2017 federal budget to progress development until 2020.
In last year’s platform strategy, the DTA indicated that while it would orchestrate whole-of-government platforms by developing a range of standards for the platform, agencies would likely take charge of ownership.
“The DTA will help Digital Platform owners adopt the common reference model and provide suggestions of recommended architecture patterns for their consideration.”