Thursday, March 25, 2010

Redesigning Government IT 2010

Greetings from the 2010 ACS Canberra Branch Conference at the historic Canberra Hyatt. This is a one day conference with four streams: Data Management, Service Management, Personal Development and Enterprise Architecture. The conference traditionally concentrates on professional skills, rather than technology. This year the emphasis is on developing the young professional (with university students milling around nervously, obviously in their best clothes and on their best behaviour).

There also seems to be a defence flavour running through much of the conference. Topics this year which stand out to me were: ITIL V3, "The Virtuous IT Professional" Data developments at the ABS and the UNSW@Canberra Robotics Tournament.

The conference is as usual opened with government heavyweights. This year it is the Jon Stanhope, Chief Minister of the ACT, John Sheridan, from AGIMO. Bruce Lakin, the new CEO of the ACS and Matt Yannopoulos, CTO, Department of Defence.

The Chief Minister started by admitted he doesn't have a Facebook page or Twitter, but does have a Blackberry. He then gave examples of how technology has changed our lives. He worried about loutish behaviour online and extremism, but hoped that norms of behaviour will emerge (a refreshing change from politicians calling for Internet censorship). He mentioned the ACT Government was working on using social networking and a cluster of small local companies working at NICTA (something I hadn't heard about before). He explained that the NBN was the most costly Australian investment in decades and comparable to transport infrastructure in the past.

The Chief Minister then highlighted Transact's success at delivering broadband in Canberra, including to all schools (unfortunately ACT may therefore miss out on federal funding because it was a pioneer). He pointed out that the federal government was the largest Australian ICT customer. He made a comment about one IT vendor being woken from lethargy by the Gershon Report (I have no idea which he was referring to). The Chief Minister had to rush off as the Assembly is sitting today. This seemed to negate much of what the Chief Minister said, as if the ACT Government was an effective user of IT, then it would not be necessary for people to assemble in person in the room for the "Assembly".

John Sheridan, from AGIMO, then did the "Vision Thing". He argued for business credibility for IT people. In support of this he talked about AGIMO benchmarking of federal government IT: 2007-08 on business as usual, and now for 2008-09 on progress. The later study has more credible data. IT expenditure is flat, which is a good result in the
global financial crisis. Contractor expenditure reduced by 6% and staff expenditure increased, in accordance with government policy to reduce the use of contractors.

Applications account for 36% of total government IT spend and is the largest single amount. This is something I raised with the new government data centre policy, which could do relatively little to reduce costs, unless the applications run in the centres and changed: . John argued that there is work to do with delivering economies of scale with small servers being wasted serving small agencies.

John claimed that reliability will be addressed with the Agency Capability Assessment (P3M3). With COTS/GOTS bespoke applications will be reduced and government processes standardised. However, this sounded more like wishful thinking than a plan. What was not clear was how to overcome the usual reluctance of separate bodies to work together.

The BAU Budget Reductions are claimed to have saved $1B over 2009-13. Examples were the Microsoft VSA, Telecommunications, Desktops and Data centres. However, these are easy and low hanging fruit, relatively modest initiatives with modest savings. Saving money by using buying power on procurement of Microsoft products, desktop PCs and data centres is relatively easy and obvious, but will deliver relatively small savings. What this does not address the difficult questions of alternatives to Microsoft software, eliminating desktop PCs and replacing the applications running in data centres. These changes could
deliver savings of 75% to 90% on IT costs.

John claimed to have delivered on Green IT with "quick wins". Some of my Green ICT students wrote their agency green IT plans as part of the course.

An IT procurement kit is ready but delayed awaiting sustainability issues to be resolved (this was due December 2009). A workforce plan will be released later this year.

John argued that Web 2 could be used for cross agency collaboration. I don't see that Web 2 is needed (old fashioned Web 1 would do). He also gave the new Australian Government web site as an example. However, it is about six months since I last used In a way the service needs to be disaggregated so the services are diffused through the community, without the community having to come to the government web site.

Finance has turned on access to Twitter and Facebook to staff, indicating that the senior executive are comfortable with the technology. They are also considering Creative Commons licensing for government reports (which will be welcome, if it happens). A good
complement to this would be to provide documents in web based and ebook
instead of the inefficient, poor quality PDF documents currently
produced. This is an example of where application changes can achieve efficiencies: changing to a web format would reduce web serving costs by about 90%.

Bruce Lakin, the new CEO of the ACS, thanked the sponsors. Interestingly the major sponsor is the UNSW Canberra Campus, the confusing new branding for the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA). It seems UNSW wants to distance itself from its association with the military (which does not seem a productive strategy to me). Bruce continued one of the emerging themes of the conference by talking about being able to measure what the ACS does and so have evidence of its success. He also continued
the theme of developing younger professionals. ACS has a new mentoring program, which I had not heard of before and which I hope makes use of the online mentoring techniques developed by ACS's education area.

Bruce outlined the new certification process for ACS. This is now internationally recognised by IP3. The new Certified professional (CP) with CT (Certified Technologist) and CS (Certified Specialist) will be recognised in the UK, USA and other countries. This has required alignment with the SFIA, including for the Green ICT course I designed.

The keynote as Matt Yannopoulos, CTO, Department of Defence. Before his presentation I chatted with Matt, who confessed to me he wasn't a blogger, but the Chief of Army was. I suggested he not rush into blogging as there are downsides (I wrote Defence's first policy on the use of the Internet). Matt is leading the development of the Defence ICT architecture. This fits with the "Defence White Paper 2009", "Defence Capability Plan 2009" and "Defence Reform Program 2009". There are ICT plans and military specific ones, such as for network centric warfare. The interesting part in all this is that Matt was taking about the business of the organisation, which is defence, and how IT supports this. The CTO is only responsible for about half the IT in Defence, with the other half being embedded in military systems. The aim is to integrate these more. Matt then mentioned "thin client" in particular as a way to save money and get control of desktops. One of my jobs when at HQADF was to look at thin clients and it is interesting to see this is still an issue, more than a decade later. If Defence can work out the difficult task of integrating thin clients, that could make a good model for the Australian Government generally.

Matt pointed out that Defence is the this largest telco in Australia, behind Telstra and Optus. He confessed Defence has a printer for every three people and many thousands of applications to be rationalised. Defence created a "technology stack" (defence people love such diagrams). Matt made a brave assumption that people were prepared to change the way they work and use technology to help and use enterprise wide systems. He mentioned problems with the defence pay system last year (when at Defence I helped cancel two successive pay system projects).

The plan for the future is that the CTO will provide the communications and processing infrastructure. Applications can then be run over the top. The previous practice was that each defence project would purchase and run its own network and hardware. In my view the divisions between military services and claims for secrecy make it much harder to
integrate defence systems, but it is not impossible.

Matt pointed out that defence has about 90,000 desktop PCs, but also 10,000 trucks. In the future each truck will also have a screen in it and be potentially part of the system.

In terms of integration, Matt gave the example of a desk at the new
Australian Defence Force "Headquarters Joint Operations Command (HQJOC) ", with a desk for one person having five monitors and four telephones on it. He mentioned that most staff have at least two computer son their desk for security reasons. In the logistics area paper is mostly used and the most advanced application in common use is a
spreadsheet (I recall seeing one defence logistics base where forms were faxed from one building to another). He pointed out that military operations depend on logistics.

A term Matt kept using was "composite applications". This seemed to be similar to a "mashup". He argued that in many cases small, quick and simple integration would provide benefits to the user. He said he did not want to buy heavily coupled integrated applications, but services.

The JSF project is paying for a secret level backbone for their own use, but which can also be used across the organisation. Matt used the example of the stove-pipe systems limiting access for military purposes in the middle-east. He also mentioned silos stopping reuse.

Matt said he was looking at the possibility of using cloud based services like Google apps, initially for personnel on deployment to use to communicate with their family (not for military purposes). This could be a good way to introduce military personnel to new ways of working. Obviously cloud systems within the Defence network can be used for security.

The Government announced the defence strategic reform initiative yesterday.

One area the Defence CTO might usefully explore is the use of embedded IT in military systems. In the past electronics were added to military ships, aircraft and vehicles to make them more effective. The military hardware would be designed and then the electronics added. If the electronics development as delayed then the hardware would be less
effective, but still work. However, modern ships, planes and vehicles depend on computer systems and those IT systems represent most of the cost. Several recent defence weapons projects have recently had problems, or completely failed, due to IT problems. This may require a change of approach for Defence procurement projects, where weapons
systems are treated as IT systems with some specialised hardware (I am giving a talk on this in Adelaide next month, tentatively titled "Engaging with Defence on Open Source: Commons for Collins or GPL for Growlers?").

No comments: