The Western Australia Cabinet has established a Director’s-General ICT Steering Committee (the Committee) to provide leadership on the more effective and efficient use of ICT across Western Australian Government, the attendees of the Intermedium / AIIA 2014-15 Western Australian Budget Briefing on 25 June 2014 were told.
The establishment of the Committee and its initial considerations were the focus of the addresses by both Mike Bradford, CEO of Landgate and Anne Nolan, Director General, Department of Finance.
Mr Bradford explained that the Committee included the Directors-General (DGs) of Health, Education, Police, Finance and Landgate, as well as many of the smaller, but ICT proactive agencies. He said that the Committee had already taken stock of the Government’s ICT landscape and was seeking to leverage ICT across the WA public sector to:
- Improve productivity;
- Improve service delivery;
- Encourage collaboration between Departments; and
- Leverage relationships with industry to achieve desired outcomes.
The challenge the Committee now faces is to determine how each of these outcomes is prioritised, and to decide what projects and initiatives will best satisfy these outcomes, Mr Bradford stated.
Mr Bradford also indicated that the DGs have been given the opportunity to articulate their views on ICT. “There are no surprises; every DG is concerned that their ICT is not keeping pace with the requirements and expectations of either their staff or the users in the community”, Mr Bradford said.
“They have real difficulty matching cost and extracting value from their ICT investment; they’re concerned about duplication and a lack of consistency, and importantly, they are concerned about a lack of appropriate advice on ICT investment,” he added.
Managing the Cost of ICT
Mr Bradford said the Department of Finance estimates that the WA Government spends about $1 billion a year on ICT, and employs about 1,800 FTEs in ICT roles.
He said however, that “we actually think this is a significant under-estimation, because it doesn’t include big projects that have ICT embedded in them. This is an issue that we’re working to deal with, to improve productivity and make savings.”
Anne Nolan indicated in her address that the Committee is “developing a set of principles, a high level over-arching strategy, as well as working to provide leadership, standards and policies.”
Engaging with Industry
The need to invest versus the need to save was a key challenge, said Ms Nolan. “The ICT industry has been big on the theme of ‘we are here to save you costs’. Most of the DGs look at this and think, ‘but this is costing me money’.”
Ms Nolan Invited the industry to “show us that ICT can actually reduce costs. It has been promised for so long, we really do need to see that.”
Industry consultation is one of the issues being considered by the Committee. It intends to look at how the WA Government can engage more constructively, and more systematically, with the ICT industry, Ms Nolan said.
“We’ve had a lot of suppliers approaching government recently, with a variety of solutions. How we actually manage that, particularly in an environment where suppliers have different ideas and solutions to the same problems, is one of the tasks we now face.”
Making ICT a top priority for Directors-General
Ms Nolan said that ICT is something that DGs need to see as directly related to how they do business. “That’s one of Western Australia’s major challenges.”
She indicated that the Committee planned to conduct a workshop, in which selected suppliers will participate as an initial step in the engagement process with industry. “While one of the objectives of this workshop is about engaging with industry, another part is about getting DGs aware of what ICT can deliver, and how it can help them run their business, as opposed to something outside the business that the ICT guys worry about,” Ms Nolan said.
Success to breed success
Both Ms Nolan and Mr Bradford put emphasis on ‘success breeding success’.
“We have agencies delivering great outcomes both within the agency and for the community,” said Mr Bradford. “We are very good at advertising our challenges when things don’t go so well; we are not so good at advertising our successes and encouraging their broader use across the public sector.”
Ms Nolan saw achieving small wins as the best starting point. “We can develop a strong ICT environment by working with a bottom-up approach, by showcasing smaller achievements and letting success breed success. We need to move away from a culture where people see ‘big ICT project equals big risk; run a mile’,” she observed.
The Shared Location Information Platform was an example of successful collaboration across government, according to Mr Bradford. By using this infrastructure across government, organisations are making savings and Treasury had agreed at the outset that savings could be reinvested by the agency.
“This is naturally very attractive to agencies. We need to be very focused on these kinds of incentives to get collaboration going across the sector,” he said.
The Prospect of a Whole-of-Government CIO
The Economic Commission of Audit, undertaken after election of the current government just over a term ago, made a recommendation to establish a whole-of-government CIO role in Western Australia, but the Government did not adopt the recommendation at that time, Ms Nolan stated.
“It’s not about ICT as a technology, but ICT as a strategy and how to embed that strategy into whole-of-government thinking. It requires another set of skills again to work across government”, she said. Finding a person with both sets of skills would be a challenge, she observed.
“We have seen the wafer thin surplus forecast. It is the DG’s role to help make sure those surpluses are achieved. ICT can be an enabler to improve surpluses, but agencies will need to be persuaded of the clear link between the investment and the maintenance of the surplus,” she said.