Opinion: The NSW Government has faith in its new ICT Strategy, and so should we


The NSW ICT Strategy, emerging just before the second O’Farrell budget and just over one year after the Coalition government came into power, is comprehensive, innovative and attuned to emergent technology directions (such as cloud computing, social media and bring-your-own-device or BYOD). 

It recognises the pervasive role Information and Communication Technology plays in contemporary life and acknowledges that government cannot be left behind in terms of citizen expectations of timeliness, reliability and quality of government services delivered via these new and preferred modes of communication. It also recognises that cloud computing and BYOD in particular have the ability to drive down the cost of government’s use of ICT significantly.

As such, this strategy positions NSW ahead of any other jurisdiction in Australia in its degree of forward thinking and preparedness to publically commit to it. This repositioning is all the more remarkable given the previous Labor government, by the end of its term, was difficult to engage on ICT matters and lacked any vision as to how to make best use of technology.

Organised by the AIIA, 300 industry delegates attended the launch of the strategy on Friday 4 May 2012. The Minster for Finance and Services, Greg Pearce, the Director-General of the Department of Finance and Services (DFS), Michael Coutts-Trotter and the Chair of the ICT Advisory Panel, John Baird, gave addresses which convincingly demonstrated commitment to the strategy at the most senior levels of Finance and Services – something which in itself sets it aside from the launch of the previous strategy in 2008. 

Their addresses did what a formal document cannot – give an insight into the key people driving the ICT strategy and the degree of their personal belief and commitment to it.

Coutts-Trotter assumed the role of Whole of Government Chief Information Officer (GCIO) when  he became head of the DFS in April 2011, following the resignation of the second GCIO, Emmanuel Rodriguez in December 2010.  Rodriguez had in his tenure modified an overly complex and ambitious initial ICT Strategy, People First, developed by the inaugural GCIO, Paul Edgecumbe. It is now apparent that rather than signalling its diminution, this move by Coutts-Trotter to assume the role was in fact a means of ensuring that the ICT change agenda could be executed more effectively across Government by giving it weight at the Director-General level.

While it took a change of government to support and launch the new ICT Strategy, the enablers that will allow this strategy to succeed include not only the new governance and procurement arrangements (either already in place or being put in place by the Coalition Government), but also the now three year old Machinery of Government changes that saw the creation of the Super Departments.   

The rationalisation and centralisation of decision-making that this has provided across government is significant and it has now been accompanied by a major turnover in Directors-General in the 12 months since the Coalition came to office (six of the nine DGs are completely new to NSW Government). These new Directors-Generals are in turn creating new reporting structures, new senior roles and filling these with new people. Similarly there has been wide-reaching turnover in agency CIOs. Without these changes, implementation of this strategy would be far harder to achieve.

Notwithstanding this strength of commitment, new blood and new attitudes, the challenge (and it was ever thus) will be to get the Super Departments to embrace, support and facilitate the major changes the strategy will require.  They are the ones who must manage business as usual (BAU) at the same time as implementing the far reaching changes embodied in the strategy. The strategy recognises this when it addresses the necessary skilling that must take place inside the public service to manage this change, and the need to approach industry for assistance in this area.

Industry is now speculating on the level of budget support for the strategy.  Pearce has said that there will be no additional money to fund the plan itself.

I too predict there will be very little in new ICT initiative funding in 2012-13 for three reasons:

  1. The first half of the next financial year – at least – will be given over to finalising the action items arising from the strategy, and most of these fall to Finance and Services to execute on;
  2. Agencies which were building business cases for funding in 2012-13 of new ICT projects of any size would have found them subject to ‘tests’ related to key new elements of the strategy, such as potential conformance with the data architecture, or the ability to be acquired from the as yet to be finalised service catalogue; and
  3. The Government has a firm commitment to return to surplus in the 2012-13 budget which means it will curtail new spending wherever it can.

Any implementation of ICT Strategy-related change is instead likely to be funded out of a redirection of existing BAU operational expenditure. This will create pain for the super departments, who are already struggling to implement the shared services reforms without major additional funding. 

Thus if the 2012-13 funding were to be used as evidence of Government support for the strategy, the nay-sayers will be able to shortly say that the strategy has no support. 

I feel that would be an extremely poor reading of the situation. The evidence of this Strategy’s success will be the 2013-14 budget, and during this coming year, the achievement of the Strategy’s documented actions within the timeframes specified.

Judy Hurditch is Intermedium's Managing Director and Principal Analyst. She has almost twenty years public sector experience, predominantly in IT-related project management and business system roles.

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