Conferences always represent an opportunity for invited speakers, especially the CIOs and other senior executives of key agencies, to strut their stuff about the achievements of a particular project.
Such was the case at this week’s 3rd annual Technology in Government & the public service, held in Canberra.
Two presentations especially stood out: John Wadeson (Deputy CEO & CIO of Centrelink) spoke about how service demand is shaping the use of technology in service delivery and Ben McDevitt, Chief Executive of CrimTrac, gave a case study covering the National Police Reference System (NPRS).
Wadeson focused on:
- the shift to on-line services by Centrelink clients, whether via web of telephone – the latter using innovative voice recognition authentication;
- the rapid adoption of digitisation – scanning data from forms data where these are lodged and;
- the deployment of mobile services, highlighting Centrelink’s deployments in emergency situations such as Cyclone Larry, the Queensland floods and most recently the Victorian bushfires.
It is clearly evident a key outcome of the application of ICT in response to service demand is faster, more responsive service delivery by Centrelink. Wadeson made the point that when Cyclone Larry hit North Queensland, the Minister of the day promised relief payments would be made by Centrelink “within a week”. Following the Victorian bushfires the expectation (and delivery) was just days and sometimes hours.
McDevitt demonstrated how ‘joined up’ information sharing between Australia’s police forces enables the rapid provision of identification information. Criminal history and missing persons can be made available to all on-duty officers within around 90 seconds using mobile terminals. This is transforming police work. Especially in remote areas where access previously demanded long travel to gain access to facilities back at a police station.
However in both cases, the presentations continue to miss a key point – one that was also highlighted by Sir Peter Gershon in his review: effective measurement of benefits from technology. In both examples, there are clear productivity gains – using fewer inputs to produce more and better outputs. There are also stakeholder benefits in terms of service delivery faster, where and when needed (although criminal stakeholders will dispute this!).
Yet, these don’t appear measured in any concerted way.
The problem is that in the absence of effective benefit measurement neither the general productivity claims nor the benefits that the investment business case was built upon can be confirmed. This makes it all the harder for proponents of technology projects to make their case for public sector investment.
So often, success is easy to see but hard to quantify. Yet, that is the challenge to public sector agencies and their suppliers alike. Without this focus, business cases will be weak, investments will be denied and, in a wider sense, the ICT industry will continue to struggle in identifying and justifying its contribution to productivity growth and to the economy.