Human Services to probe staff mobile bills

Telstra Elite Mobile Broadband USB 21mbit modem

Thousands of staff at the federal Department of Human Services who now use work-issued phones and other mobile devices will soon have a sophisticated new computer system looking over their shoulder to catch staff trying to pass-off personal calls as work-related business.

A tender issued by DHS reveals that the massive federal agency is hunting for new ways to nail down telecommunications costs and undeclared phone and data usage under its $474 million deal with Telstra that was inked in 2012.

Details of the solution that DHS is shopping for suggest the new bill surveillance software must be able to “provide monthly transactional statements based on mobile device usage and be provided to all users, managers and high level Senior Executives.”

“Monthly transactional statements would itemise calls and data usage so that Departmental officials responsible for the devices can verify costs incurred and ensure that device usage is consistent with Department policies,” the documents say.

The number of work-issued mobile devices used by DHS staff is one of the largest gadget fleets in Australia, with the department estimating that there are 7000 devices in its fleet which also includes “wireless data cards, tablets and satellite phones.”

But that sheer level of scale has the potential to produce multi-million dollar cases of bill shock that DHS management are clearly keen to avoid.

An obvious issue the agency is attempting to manage better is clearly identifying which calls are work related and which are personal.

The statement of requirements makes clear the department is after “the ability to manage and monitor mobile phone accounts and data use and allow individual users to easily calculate any personal usage for the purposes of reimbursement.”

“The resultant reports must provide clear visibility of all charges to enable a mobile device holder to reconcile their monthly billing,” the documents say.

However keeping tabs on the cost of employees’ personal phone calls is the simple part of the clawback on costs.

Far less clear is how DHS intends to monitor and calculate mobile data charges deemed personal and what the parameters for this may be.

While it is understood there are firm policies about what kind of content is acceptable and unacceptable for DHS staff to access on their department mobile devices, the line between personal and work-related data usage on the web – for example checking the weather   could be more ambiguous.

And while managers might soon be dialling into the billing details of their staff, the upside for employees is that the system envisaged should make it easier to assess personal usage via  a “web portal” that “allows device holders to access an electronic version of their monthly invoice and identify personal calls/data usage.”

There is also a real possibility the project could be extended across the Australian Public Service.

The tender documents make it clear that any deal struck with DHS can potentially be accessed by other agencies on the same terms and pricing as the welfare juggernaut that holds some of the most potent bargaining power for bulk buying in Australia.

“A successful Tenderer will be required to offer to provide the Requirement to other Commonwealth Agencies on the same terms and conditions as it provides them to the Department (including price),” the documents say.

“Any Commonwealth Agency will be able to accept this offer by giving a notice to a successful Tenderer.”

One item likely to appeal to other agencies is that the new system DHS hopes to buy will also be able to spot charges for phones not being used at all.

Under the heading of “Restricted Department Summary” the tender documents outline a need for the “Telecommunications Contract Management” to see “costs associated with usage of all mobile devices across the Department, most expensive services, uncompleted reconciliations, services with nil recorded usage and undelivered reports.”

DHS has been contacted for comment regarding the tender.

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