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The Federal Government’s ICT Strategy: what will it change?

by Paris Cowan •
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After two drafts and nearly 18 months, the Federal Government has released its first ever whole-of-government ICT Strategy, which will see it through to 2015.

The Strategy divides the Commonwealth’s ICT priorities between customer facing service delivery improvements, internal public sector operational concerns and Gov 2.0 outcomes such as leveraging technology to engage the constituency.

The catch phrase of the strategy is productivity (the word is used 45 times throughout according to the ‘official’ AGIMO count) echoing the ambitions of the Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and his campaign to establish a National Digital Economy leveraging off the NBN.

Many of the actions contained in the ICT Strategy are already underway – like developing ‘tell-us-once’ information sharing capabilities to reduce the silo effect on Government services, and making the Government’s investment into ICT more transparent through annual benchmarking.

So what, if anything, will change as a result of the 2012-2015 plan being signed off by the Secretaries Information Governance Board?

Cohesion and cultural change?

The very existence of a cohesive plan for the whole of the Federal Government, which has traditionally been a far more devolved operational environment than that of its State and Territory counterparts, may prove to be enough to stimulate cooperation and coordination between Federal agencies.

Nearly all of the outcomes listed in the ICT Strategy will rely on this cooperation for their success, and this will hinge on some cultural – rather than technological – changes across a public service that can sometimes been constrained within agency silos and their unique processes and behaviours.

The Government hopes to push forward the joining-up of online government services, including providing agencies the capacity to share customer information between themselves. It hopes that by 2015 “people receive the government service they need or are entitled to, with minimal or no need to interact with government”.

To reach this point, legal as well as cultural conundrums will need to be overcome, with current legislation restricting what Commonwealth agencies can do with customer data.

Reaching this outcome will also place a disproportionate burden upon the major service delivery agencies that interact with the public on a regular basis, like the Department of Human Services and the Australia Taxation Office. Only time will tell whether additional ICT funding will flow through to these agencies as a result, but it seems likely.

More whole-of-government panels?

The Government, through the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) has already completed a significant program of coordinated procurement reforms. It has worked towards a series of cooperative procurement targets set by the closest thing to a whole-of-government strategy the Commonwealth had seen prior to this document, the 2008 Gershon Report.

In May this year, Government CIO Ann Steward outlined $181 million worth of ICT savings achieved by the reforms, which include several mandatory whole-of-government procurement panels and a Microsoft Volume Sourcing Arrangement (VSA).

Unsurprisingly, the Government intends to move forward and expand upon this procurement program.

So far AGIMO has not moved any further into coordinating software procurement, beyond the VSA, which would make this a likely target for any future panels or aggregated contracts.

Cloud? Shared services?

Once again in its typical devolved style, the Government has used the ICT Strategy to open the door to agencies looking into shared services arrangements, without going as far as compelling them to take any particular action. It refers to “sharing resources and services to deliver the greatest value and improve efficiency and effectiveness” but does not outline any explicit path towards this outcome.

Similarly it has stuck with its standard line on cloud computing:

“APS agencies will make greater use of cloud computing where it provides better value for money than the alternative and is appropriately secure,” it says.

Early sales leads?

If all goes to plan, industry should look forward to better indications of upcoming procurement opportunities, thanks to the strategy’s commitment to provide “more transparency earlier in the investment cycle around APS ICT activities, investments and plans, especially for common or generic systems such as human resource and financial management”.

Industry members should also keep an eye out for the appointment of lead agencies by the SIGB, who will take over specific types of projects.

The Department of Finance and Deregulation will set up a small dedicated team within AGIMO which will assist SIGB in overseeing the ICT Strategy’s implementation.

The ICT Strategy applies to all FMA Act agencies with the exception of the Defence and Intelligence communities which will only be required to participate to the extent that the actions relate to non-specific administrative, financial and HR functions.

Related Articles:

Federal agencies must learn to share, says draft whole-of-gov ICT strategy

Shared services reaches further into Canberra

AGIMO’s $181 million coordinated procurement success story

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