Using the NBN to reinvent Centrelink

As the political jousting on the NBN pauses for breath, now might be a good time to consider just what impact the NBN could have on government service delivery costs.

As the political jousting on the NBN pauses for breath, now might be a good time to consider just what benefits universal high-speed broadband could bring to both the private and the public sector.

What impact might the NBN have on government service delivery costs? The simple answer is none if there is no fast, ubiquitous network. However, even with a network available meaningful change will be hard to come by if government agencies don’t rethink their service and delivery models.

Here’s a glimpse of what’s achievable.

Department of Human Services (DHS): Centrelink and the Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs could arguably become one of the largest retail service provider’s in this country, offering free or cheap internet access for job-searchers (web searches, video interviews and VoIP) and discounted internet for pensioners to access banking, government services and more.

Moving to tele-access from physical offices would be a major cost saver for government.

  • People can work from home (savings on accommodation and overheads).
  • People can be contracted from country areas: cheaper hourly rates and with higher unemployment rates, a much more committed workforce.
  • On-demand inbound call centre capacity; pay $20/day on-call allowance, with 30-60 min work slots ‘as needed.”

Centrelink and FaHCSIA stand to shave anywhere between 25 to 33 per cent, perhaps even 50 per cent, off their service delivery costs while improving their compliance monitoring and fraud detection. 

High-speed internet will provide the raw power needed to enforce robust methods of fraud detection to find cheats and multiple-claimers.

This in turn could help swing the service culture around from "guilty until proved innocent" to actually helpful, as simple, fast access, removes or reduces assessment delays.

They might even be able to fly-in to disaster zones and setup temporary mobile networks (based on Wi-Fi mesh and a satellite or fixed wireless uplink), supply merchants with 3G/4G EFTPOS devices, handout cheap smartphones (they get pictures of the people and GPS coordinates for tracking them), and provide charging stations which can also include a guarded ATM.

Centrelink can transfer money into accounts, but if people can't access the net to do their banking, or convert bits into cash or use EFTPOS, then it's useless. How do you solve the "I don't know my bank account number" problem? Maybe "online secure vaults" are needed and here’s another viable segment that AusPost or Centrelink could get into.

Strong Identification can be more than just using passwords and questions, but also a live video call to a real person to confirm ID against a few stored photos. It's not unreasonable for people to register a picture with Centrelink & FAHCSIA when they claim benefits.

When it's only a two minute task to update the picture (direct from a video-call at home) in a regularly scheduled contact (that'd be nice: "how are things going? What can we do for you? Are you working again?"), then people would presumably be happy to comply.

The political posturing may serve the goals of some in Canberra but the real potential of the NBN will remain unrealised without a meaningful conversation, one which is crucial to helping Australia improve its economic competitiveness. The government service delivery scenarios explored in this piece are just one of myriad possibilities that the NBN brings, it’s time we looked passed the politics and started thinking about the benefits to all Australians.

This is an edited version of a blog post originally published on August 31. Steve Jenkin has spent 40 years in ICT in wide variety roles including large and small software projects, seven years writing real-time Exchange software in a Telco and Admin, Software and Database work on PC's Unix/Open Source software and mainframes.