Costly, under-featured MyGov is just fine, says Oz national auditor

Five year march to One Login To Rule Us All still not over

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The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has rubber-stamped the government's MyGov portal, in spite of cost-overruns and a lack of performance metrics.

The cost blowout was impressive: from an original four-year budget of AU$29.7 million (approved by the previous government in 2012), the project actually spent nearly triple that at AU$86.7 million.

The ANAO's report says MyGov received “nearly double the forecast” number of user accounts, and that led to a fourfold increase in operational expenditure, from $8.5 million in 2012-2013 to $37.3 million in 2015-2016.

As noted by consultant Justin Warren, that suggests MyGov doesn't scale with rising load.

Operational expenses, the report said, also reflected the costs of a high-availability infrastructure added to MyGov in 2015 to maintain performance “especially during peak demand periods” (the report doesn't explain why a system designed to deliver government services wasn't designed as high availability in the first place. Maybe it's cultural - the HPE storage design at the ATO emphasised speed over reliability).

The report can't explain whether the expert money was worth it, because: “Performance metrics to enable the quantification of actual savings in the six areas identified in the business case were not developed.”

Those six areas were a reduction in rework or verification of user details; an increase in transactions completed online; a reduction in in-person contacts with citizens; a reduction in incorrectly-addressed mail; fewer password resets; and a reduction in postage costs.

In the absence of such metrics, it is not possible to determine whether the expected savings have been realised in all six areas.

If the project had realised all of the forecast $47.6 million in savings that it failed to measure, it still ran behind its budget blowouts.

By November 2016, MyGov claimed nearly 11 million user accounts – however, it's not known how many of those are active, because an unknown number of users have created duplicate accounts to get around issues like lost passwords, because that's easier than performing an account reset.

The Department of Human Services reckon duplication is rare, however, telling the ANAO there are 10 million active accounts. Of those, the DHS reckons it gets 160,000 logins daily.

Governance pops up another oddity for a project given a tick of approval: there was only “interim governance” between July 2015 and June 2016, while the project was being absorbed into the Digital Transformation Office (later renamed Digital Transformation Agency).

The report also says various functions considered “mandatory” (in 2012 when the business case was put together) have yet to be implemented. These include a free text search across agencies, which is still using a 2014-era “interim” solution, and data validation, which was passed off to a Centrelink function that actually works.

Somehow, the ANAO pass-mark comes in a report that notes how much users seemed to dislike the system when the Digital Transformation Agency surveyed them in April 2016. Sign-in was difficult, "users created workarounds" to avoid using MyGov; users got anxious if they couldn't resolve issues because the application didn't give them feedback; instructions were too complex; and ultimately users reckoned they got better service by avoiding digital channels.

The previously-mentioned Justin Warren live-Tweeted his paragraph-by-paragraph walk through the ANAO report, and put it on Storify. ®

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