Messy end for ITSA

The Benefits Agency is to merge with the Employment Service, but standardising their IT systems won't be simple, Mike Simons...

The Benefits Agency is to merge with the Employment Service, but standardising their IT systems won't be simple, Mike Simons reports.

The Department of Social Security's IT Services Agency (ITSA) ceased to exist from last week as part of wholesale reorganisation of the Government's social security and employment provision.

The Government announced a merger of the DSS' Benefits Agency and the Employment Service last month, and ministers said the new agency would be "equipped with the latest technology" to provide "an efficient and up-to-date service" for 10 million working-age customers.

The ministers' vision rests on the ability to merge disparate and often archaic IT and communications systems. However, it is not clear where the new organisation will be based, let alone what IT products it will use.

The Benefits Agency is currently upgrading its systems to Windows NT from Windows 3.11. The DSS systems run on a combination of Unix, Novell and Windows NT. The Benefits Agency uses the Route 400 e-mail system, while the Employment Service is upgrading to Microsoft Outlook.

However, Texas-based outsourcer EDS is already the main IT partner of the Employment Service and heads the Affinity consortium, which supplied much of the DSS' IT.

Wrangling between EDS and the DSS over new IT systems at the Child Support Agency is one reason why the outsourcing of ITSA has been delayed, and why staff were given less than a week's notice of the agency's demise. From 1 April, ITSA has been operating as the DSS' IT Services Group, and the handover to EDS might not occur until July.

Union officials at ITSA said they were anxious that the Government was heading for another "big bang", with major new IT systems being implemented as part of a big business change.

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