WA ventures into shared ICT platforms

The Western Australian Government may be starting to consider options for sharing IT platforms between agencies to derive greater efficiencies from the public sector, with WA departments of Finance and Education jointly releasing a request for information for a common-use integrated workplace management system.

The RFI supports one of the strategic goals of WA’s ICT Strategy 2016-2020 – simplifying technology use by implementing common platforms, systems and standards. The document notes there was room for greater efficiencies in the system used to manage the state’s diverse holdings of non-residential buildings, such as schools, hospitals, police stations, courts, and other public properties vital for community service delivery.

Currently, agencies across different portfolios use a range of software applications that “vary in terms of functionality, hosting arrangements, integration with other systems, and digital services/e-workflow capability”, including “a mix of designed-for-purpose, commercial asset management programs (such as Mainsaver and Progenesis) and adapted-for-use office programs (such as Microsoft Excel and Access)”, according to the RFI document.

Finance and Education hope to improve the state’s asset management practice and extract greater value from relevant asset portfolios by procuring a common-use, commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) application, “preferably delivered through a software as a service (SaaS) contract” and capable of meeting a wide range of asset management requirements for different agencies.

Although at this stage the common-use concept is limited to Finance and Education, the two agencies envisage a scenario in which “[t]he contract would be managed by Finance and the application would be made available to other government agencies on a subscription and user-pays basis.”

Changing tides in WA public sector

The state’s aim of deriving greater efficiencies from its public sector is drawing the government back to the potential savings offered by sharing certain ICT systems.

Although insistent that “[t]his Strategy is not about creating an ‘ICT Shared Service’”, WA’s ICT Strategy recognised that “[c]ommon systems that support similar business functions or clients across government will allow agencies to focus more of their resources on the unique services they provide to the community.”

The state’s final Service Priority Review (SPR), released on 6 December 2017, also noted the benefits associated with implementing system-wide processes for some common government functions.

“Adopting greater alignment and, in some cases, standardisation of processes across government can bring significant savings”, stated the SPR. It also stressed the importance of the public sector obtaining “maximum value across its common corporate functions; this is even more critical in times of fiscal challenge.”

This recommendation was endorsed by the Final Report of the Special Inquiry into Government Programs and Projects, tabled in WA Parliament on 20 February, which criticised the “lack of a common purpose across both government agencies and Ministers” and the need for greater collaboration to reduce agency silos.

The WA agencies’ acknowledgement of these strategic goals suggests a maturation in the state’s approach to ICT. In both digital government readiness and cyber security readiness as determined by Intermedium, WA had been among the lowest scoring jurisdictions in Australia.

However, its recent extensive public sector reforms, supplemented by the SPR recommendations, as well as the significant consolidation works being undertaken by its GovNext-ICT program, signal a shift in the state’s attitude towards the role of the government in delivering services to its citizens. The coming years could see WA ranking among the digital government frontrunners like New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.

Asset management solutions across Australia

Standardising asset management systems at either a multi-agency or whole-of-government (WofG) level is relatively uncommon in Australia. However, the rapidly changing ICT landscape may push other jurisdictions towards common asset management platforms. Along with the ever-present pressure to reduce agency spending and achieve operational efficiency where possible, the growing range of innovative cloud offerings can make a collaborative asset management arrangement an appealing option for many jurisdictions.

Apart from WA, two other states have thus far attempted something that resembles a shared asset management system.

In 2014, Northern Territory decided to cut its losses and abandon its asset management system, on which it had already spent $70 million, after an external review by KPMG revealed that it would cost another $120 million and five years to fix the system.

Originally commissioned by the Labor Government in 2006, its original estimated cost was just $7.2 million.

In April 2017, the Australian Capital Territory published a request for tender to replace Transport Canberra and City Services’ (TCCS) aging asset management system. This follows a request for expressions of interest (RFEOI) from 2015, which sought a COTS product that will initially be used by the Territory and Municipal Services Directorate (now TCCS), with the system potentially to be rolled out to other agencies in future.

The ACT tender specified a preference for an “onshore cloud hosted” solution. The tender has not yet been awarded.

Other states such as Victoria and New South Wales have a more fragmented approach to procuring asset management systems, with individual agencies usually seeking their own solutions. For example, Victoria’s Department of Environment and Primary Industries released a tender in 2014 for its new Roads and Bridges Asset Management System (RAMS), awarding the $565,785 contract to Pitney Bowes Software. Transport for NSW has recently awarded a $2.4 million contract to Dimension Data for the provision of software asset management services.

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