Cloud strategy transforms Victoria’s largest agency

Dr Steve Hodgkinson, DHHS

Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has rebuilt its IT systems over the last three years, moving all its applications onto Azure, Microsoft’s cloud platform.

CIO Dr Steve Hodgkinson says the new environment has enabled DHHS to develop applications much more quickly, using an approach he calls ‘Platform+Agile’,

‘Platform’ refers to the cloud, and ‘Agile’ to the rapid development methodology adopted on top of it.

Dr Hodgkinson outlined the strategy at Microsoft’s ‘Digital Difference’ showcase in Sydney on 13 November, a preview of a larger Microsoft Summit being held this week. The event was intended to show how Australian organisations can take a leadership position to compete in the digital economy.

DHHS is the largest agency in the Victorian Government, with 12,500 employees and an annual budget of $23 billion. There are 350 people in the IT area.

Instead of lengthy IT projects designed using traditional ‘waterfall’ methodologies, Dr Hodgkinson explained how DHHS has taken a different approach to applications development. He revamped DHHS’s relationship with the Victorian Government’s shared service provider CeniTex and used his Platform+Agile strategy to redevelop most of the agency’s ITsystems.

“It means we deliver results more quickly,” he explained. “It means unpacking the logic of the way government has traditionally gone about projects.

 “Platform+Agile says that you stop treating each new business system as an independent event. Instead we make strategic decisions about platforms that we use as the basic environment to build business systems, then reuse those platforms.”

DHHS’s platforms now comprise a range of applications from Microsoft, Salesforce.com and ServiceNow, all running on Microsoft’s Azure public cloud.

“It’s relatively straightforward enterprise architecture thinking, but the combination of emerging maturity around agile development and large scale cloud services platforms meant that we have a genuine catalyst for a fundamental rethink about how we go about doing projects,” Dr Hodgkinson said.

On the sidelines of the conference, he told Government News that this approach was very different to the way public service applications have traditionally been developed.

“We need to get governments to think of themselves as consumers of IT services. The Platform +Agile approach means you don’t have to go through the usual procurement processes of government, because you don’t have to start from scratch.

“You are already 90 percent of the way up the stack. You can configure it all with a small in-house team that has the business knowledge and context. They know all the relationships.

“You don’t have to develop a business case and go through a long RFP process. That can take six to nine months.

“If you are smart about how you use those products you can get a minimum viable product (MVP) running pretty quickly at a low cost and with low risk. Then get the MVP in front of users, get feedback and start the iterative co-design. It’s much less costly and it’s much less risky.

He says it means real digital transformation. “People see progress and they quickly realise which originally specified requirements were unrealistic. It ensures a more commonsense approach compared to older waterfall methodologies.”

“When a use case comes up we genuinely make a strategic decision about which is the best platform – for costs, availability of skills, reuse of microservices, etc. That preserves competition and contestability of the platforms so we don’t become overly locked in, but take advantage of the strengths of different platforms,” he said.

Dr Hodgkinson gave an example of how the development approach works, in a project that transformed Victoria’s family violence referral system.

“In the past police attending a domestic violence incident needed to complete a faxed referral to the social services sector to request a service response – such as a drug and alcohol, child protection or domestic violence service. Faxes were sent out to multiple agencies for action.

“There are over 70,000 such referrals a year, and the faxed referrals process had been in place for over a decade. It was an inefficient process and a real bottleneck.”

Over six months DHHS created a new cloud based online process for the referrals, which accounted for the protected status of the information in the reports and navigated the needs of multiple agencies involved in the initiative, including agencies with stringent security requirements like Victoria Police.

“It was a revelation to everybody about how a project of that scale and complexity could be implemented so quickly with no fuss,” said Dr Hodgkinson.

“The system has been refined further and is now fully integrated with the core client and case management system and will soon be used by Victoria Police to close the loop on referrals for the first time – providing police with visibility of how referrals were actioned by social services agencies.”

He is very happy with the cloud platform. “Cloud services platforms are scalable, secure, trusted, have security certification, you can iterate, and we have in house teams who know how to do these things and we have partners. It’s a kind of finely tuned factory type process once you set it all up.”

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