Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Effect of New Government on ICT in Canberra

Greetings from the Australian Computer Society Canberra Branch meeting, where Scott Cass-Dunbar, Director, IT Advisory, KPMG is talking on "Bigger than big data – the real trends reshaping IT in Canberra". Even before the new coalition government has introduced spending cuts, there has been a downturn in government ICT.  Scott commented that the more rigorous process for approval of projects has meant that fewer projects get approved. New people in AGIMO have taken time to settle into their jobs.

Scott commented that ICT was an easy area for budget cuts to be focused on, which will be a problem into the future. There are government projects which need significant investment, which they are unlikely to receive. In addition, Scott pointed out that the APS has an aging ICT workforce reaching retirement age, who may not be replaced.

Scott then looked at the "The Coalition’s plan for the digital economy & e-Government" (Liberal party of Australia, 2013). He commented that many of the issues addressed by the new government are similar to those from Sir David Varney's 2006 report for the UK Government "Service transformation: A better service for citizens and businesses, a better deal for the taxpayer".

Scott emphasized that the new government's plans for ICT were not aspirations, were very actionable and to be implemented within a few years. He gave Canada's on-line services as an example of what might be provided. Many of these changes are around the use of the Internet in place of physical delivery of services. This is not just for access in remote areas, but also in cities to replace face-to-face government services.

The new Government will aim to reduce ICT cost and complexity with shared or cloud services. The "heavy" ICT user agencies will retain autonomy of their ICT, but required to provide regular reports to DoFD and AGIMO. The "heavy" agencies will provide services to other agencies. Also there will be sharing with state and local government. As a former public servant, I have some doubts about how this will be implemented.

A trial of a secure government cloud for "critical data" by 2014 will be conducted. Also measures to attract and retain IT staff will be introduced (I am not sure what these will be). Also there will be more interchange of staff between levels of government and the private sector.

An "Australian Government ICT Advisory Board" will be created to provide senior private sector ICT advice. It will be interesting to see how the private sector advisers will cope with the special requirements of government.

There is expected to be a two month "commission of audit" followed by about three months while the results are considered. This could result in many moths of delay in new projects. There is expected to be considerable competition for expertise for delivering ICT services.

Scott suggested there was scope for ICT professionals to become drivers in the new processes. New proposals for ICT based services can be put as unsolicited bids (including from universities).

As someone who helps educate ICT professionals, one omission from the strategies of the new government is obtaining staff with the required skills. Simply buying these skills from the private sector can be very expensive. The Australian Government could re-skills some of their staff to provide what is needed.
Scott sees the "ICT Professional 2.0" as needing need EQ, Personal Communication, Policy Understanding, Funded Outcomes, PBS, Technology Business Translator, Personal Brand, Reputation and understanding the reasons for systems. These are not attributes, I suggest,  which staff can get simply from doing a short training course. Although I have proposed teaching communication skills to graduates.

One risk for the new government is a lack of understanding and interest in ICT, apart from Malcolm Turnbull,  with no equivalent to the ALP's Senator Kate Lundy.

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