Paul Edgecumbe’s resignation as NSW Government Chief Information Officer may have come as a surprise to many. However, history shows that the role of Government Chief Information Officer is one of the toughest ones in government, judging by the number of people who have come and gone from these roles at both federal and state levels over recent years.
Government CIO roles typically have responsibility to see certain programs or activities completed, but no delegated authority over agency activities and no direct control over funding.
Government CIOs find themselves in a matrix management arrangement and they require strong - probably extraordinary - interpersonal skills and a capability to influence and persuade because they have very few powers to direct.
Adding to this intrinsic difficulty is the fact that in NSW, the government has by and large under-appreciated the degree to which ICT is an enabler of efficient and effective administration. As a result, NSW is well behind other jurisdictions in terms of its online services for citizens. There are some notable exceptions, such as the RTA’s success with its online vehicle registration processes, but in the main NSW sites remain at a ‘brochure ware’ level, and a long way off embracing ‘Web.02’.
By contrast, citizen-centric services are getting serious attention at the Federal Government level. Special Minister of State, Gary Nairn recently announced just over $42m for online, citizen-centric services. Credit for this can go at least in part to Australian Government Chief Information Officer Anne Steward. Unlike other government CIOs, it is understood that Ms Steward has a central role in recommending whether agency initiated projects receive funding.
Edgecumbe’s major success in his two years as NSW CIO was to see the ‘People First’ ICT Strategic Plan launched last July. Getting it supported at a political level would have been no mean feat. After all, the previous ICT plan was published in 1998, an eon ago in terms of IT, and although there were draft plans ready to release at various times before this, they never saw the light of day.
While Steward achieved $42.4m for the Federal Government’s australia.gov.au whole of government plans, Edgecumbe received no funding for the People First Plan. Instead, the Plan had to be funded from savings found in improving and streamlining agency back office processes.
Achieving these savings and reallocating them into the People First projects was never going to be an easy and straightforward matter, even though most agency CIOs are members of the NSW Government CIO Executive Council. CIOs have key accountabilities and reporting lines within their agencies, and their first loyalty will inevitably be to the needs of their agency. They will be reluctant to see hard-won savings sent back to central administration.
Another source of challenge for those involved in implementation of the Strategic Plan is the scale of work to be completed. Even if the projects are small and discrete (and many will not be), coordination and management of the 100 or more projects is a massive job. It is understood that the Office of the NSW CIO is responsible for the Program Office elements of project, and that most of the resources for the planning phase have come from officers seconded from other agencies. A significant amount of work on the Plan was being done by officers coming together in working parties.
According to the timeline, detailed planning for most of the program elements of the Plan was to have concluded around December 2006. By now, each of these program elements was to have moved into the implementation phase. Implementation of another six elements of the Plan should have started around now.
There have been no public updates to the Plan, so we suspect there has been slippage. It is also highly likely that the election delayed progress towards implementation. And now of course, three of its most senior champions are no longer involved. This throws into question whether the implementations the Plan shows occurring by the end of 2007/08 can still be achieved.