The implementation of the Gershon recommendations has been a success to date, but strong leadership is going to be crucial if the Government wants to leverage the benefits of these reforms into the future, a report by Dr Ian Reinecke has found.
The Report, commissioned by former Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner, concludes that the Gershon reforms have resulted in an improved information base and a growth in innovation. It commends the Government for making the transition from tactical to strategic ICT investment.
However the report also advises that significant structural changes will need to take place if these reforms are to have a lasting effect.
Reinecke submitted his report to the Government in June this year and the Department released this document via its website on Thursday 18 November.
In the report, Reinecke makes five sets of recommendations, which focus on providing the leadership and governance measures needed to maintain ICT reform momentum. Key recommendations include:
- Strengthening ministerial oversight of ICT reform to improve decision making on ICT initiatives;
- Streamlining the role of the Secretaries Information Governance Board (SIGB) to allow for more focus on ICT vision and business strategy;
- Separating the ICT policy and project facilitation functions which currently both sit within AGIMO; and
- Enhancing AGMIO’s ability to support agencies in implementing ICT reforms including providing guidance on benchmarking information and shared services initiatives.
The Report notes that current governance arrangements are failing to ensure due consideration is given to key issues.
It blames a “crowding effect” for a shortage proper deliberation over ICT matters placed in front of the Gillard Cabinet’s Expenditure Review Committee (ERC). It also notes that the SIGB, who were originally given responsibility for business matters relating ICT, have also been swamped with technical issues, which have prevented them having the time to nurture long-term and innovative thinking.
The solutions it has offered include the establishment of a dedicated Ministerial ICT committee, to take some of the burden off the ERC. It also endorses the engagement of additional Board Members with technical expertise, to be drawn from the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) and the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (DIISR) to support the SIGB.
When it comes to the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO), which plays a key role in monitoring the implementation process, the Report says there is confusion over the roles and responsibilities assigned to this agency. It says that AGIMO is working across both policy development and project facilitation roles, and that it has neither the skills base nor the resources to continue this double act.
Reinecke’s stance is that AGIMO ought to retain its strongest functions, which are in the project implementation space, but that it lacks the authority to effectively assume the role of policy leader.
“This position was based on the belief that AGIMO has conducted its facilitation role effectively in the implementation of the Gershon Report, but that it had less success establishing a leadership role in the APS,” Reinecke writes.
As a result, the Report recommends that the policy development functions of AGIMO be transferred to a dedicated unit created to support the Secretaries Information Governance Board (SIGB). The Report also advises that AGIMO bolster its authority by further integrating itself into the Department of Finance and Integration, as a means of leveraging the negotiating power of this major government entity.
“There appear to be compelling reasons if AGIMO is to have responsibility for monitoring compliance with ICT policy that it leverages to a greater extent the authority of its host agency,” reads the Report.
And in a move that contradicts the Gershon Report’s original stance, Reinecke has advised that shared service arrangements should be considered as part of the ICT savings process.
The Gershon Report originally advised caution when it came to the consolidation of back office functions, however Reinecke observes that there are pockets of support for the move within the public sector, especially amongst smaller agencies seeking the benefits of partnering with larger entities, and portfolio groups made up of agencies performing similar functions.
The Report makes the measured recommendation that that AGIMO should prepare some guidance for agencies on this issue, including risk assessment, benefits realisation and project management methodologies.
On the subject of the ICT savings targets set by the Gershon Report, the Reinecke document is critical. It claims that the preoccupation with budget cuts has overshadowed the real Gershon focus. It adds that the savings targets had the side-effect of perpetuating the perception that ICT budgets are “costs to be contained” rather that efficiency enablers in themselves.
These budgetary concerns will have been exacerbated in July, when the Gillard Government announced that the pool of saved funds due to be reinvested into ICT projects (the Business-as-Usual Reinvestment Fund) would instead be used to return the Federal Budget to surplus.
As a result only half of the anticipated $500 million reinvestment in ICT has been undertaken and innovative ICT projects that might have been funded through the BRF will be forced to source funding elsewhere.
Since the federal election, ministerial responsibilities have been redistributed. Core responsibility for AGIMO has moved from the Finance Minister to the Special Minister of State, Gary Gray.
Gray has told Intermediumthat he hopes interested parties will leave feedback on the recommendations via the AGIMO Blog.
“The Government is considering its response to Dr Reinecke’s recommendations and I will be asking for feedback on the Report via my post,” he said.