Centrelink gets arty with student transaction times

Social welfare agency Centrelink has followed the Australian Taxation Office and is embedding Web-based data links into the IT infrastructure of its clients, in this case three universities.

Known as ART (Academic Reassessment Transformation), the pilot project will see the University of Queensland, Curtin University and Swan TAFE in Western Australia transmit student enrollment data into Centrelink's zSeries mainframes for payment transaction processing in real-time. Centrelink uses student enrolment data to calculate the level of student support payments.

Designed to be operable with both current and legacy systems, the student information can be transmitted back to Centrelink in formats ranging from CSV (comma separated value) to XML.

Centrelink's business manager for electronic reporting, Ken Culpitt, said the new system was intended to speed payment transactions and reduce over- and underpayment of students.

"Centrelink sets up a file - a business field - to carry the information from the university's system to Centrelink," Culpitt said, adding a secure file transfer mechanism then allowed access to the Centrelink side of the network firewall.

Students have traditionally proved to among the more transactionally complex clients for Centrelink because their support payments are based on a variable income which fluctuates according to university holidays.

The ART solution is also finding its way into the hands of some specialist payroll software vendors who provide products for people working with disabilities. Two Australian vendors - HR3 and Lewis PayPack - have so far incorporated the ART module into their package to enable clients to remit details to Centrelink.

Part of Centrelink's $300 million IT Change Program, the ART module is likely be made generally available to academic institutions throughout Australia.

The scheme follows previous Centrelink projects which saw voice recognition software deployed to help automate student income reporting to the agency.

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