Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Government ICT Reform Program

Greetings from "Walking the Walk - the governance and progress of the Government's ICT Reform Program" by John Sheridan, Australian Government Information Management Office at the joint ACS/AIPM meeting in Canberra.

John is discussing the implementation of the Gershon Recommendations. He mentioned the Portfolio, Programme, and Project Management Maturity Model (P3M3) tool would be used. I got a laugh when John said it could be found online in thirty seconds after I found the link I shouted out "got it!". P3M3 has five maturity levels, conceptually similar to CMM.

John commented that IT budgets in industry are expected to be flat, during to the global financial crisis and government IT people could not expect any better than this. Part of the savings which the government is requiring from agencies on ICT will be available for new initiatives which agencies bid for. I am not entirely convinced that this approach makes sense. ICT on its own does not do anything for an organisation, it is only there to help carry out functions. Therefore the ICT budget should reflect what the agency does and how ICT can be used there. If ICT can be used, then the ICT budget should be larger, otherwise lower.

In an extreme example of what not to do, one public sector organisation I visited recently had a financial shortfall. The organisation has a very efficient innovative ICT system, but they also has a
surplus of staff. As they agency could not get rid of the staff quickly, they decided to instead turn off the efficient ICT system and use manual processing. This provided the clients with a poorer quality of service and cost more, but it provided the required modest budget reduction.

However, if not taken to extremes, the practical benchmarks John talked about can be usable. One example was the ratio of full time staff (equivalent) to printers. This is a quick indicator of what agencies are doing.

In the case of industry interaction, AGIMO will make use of a similar approach to Intellect, the UK IT industry body. Green ICT will also be addresses, hopefully by the public service staff and contractors enrolling in my Green ICT Course. ;-)

While the ICT Reform Program will provide modest improvements , it will not deliver the improved services and cost savings which are feasable by effective use of ICT for Australian Public Service and their clients, the Australian public. AGIMO should plan to build a Government 2.0 system.

The separate islands of ICT in the various government agencies need to be joined, with a government mashup. That a particular agency has an efficient internal system will be of little value if it is only available in that agency. Services need to be avialable across the public service and accessible to the public. There is little sense in making the tiny isolated email and electronic document archives of each agency more efficient. There is also little point in giving public servnats better desktop PCs which keep them isolated in their offices, separated from their collogues and clients.

The Gershon recommendations are focused inwards on the ICT operations of government. The reforms are about making ICT as it is done in agencies more efficient, rather than providing the service in new and better ways. As an example, there is the assumption that each agency needs to provide its own independent ICT service and that this is about computers on desktops connected to servers. This is not the way ICT need be done, nor necessarily the best, or most cost effective.

One important part of the service the Australian Government now supplies are web based services. To the general public, who the public service serves, the divisions between agencies are artificial and arbitrary. There is no good reason why each agency should have its own web site served from a separate web server, with a different design and set of staff servicing it. A better cheaper services would be provided by an integrated approach.

Similarly, most of the ICT services used by public servants in agencies are the same across the public service. There is no good reason why these services are duplicated in each agency. Apart from the cost of this duplication it creates unnecessary costs in retraining and coordination. All agencies could use, for example, one email system and one electronic document management system which automatically permanently archived all electronic documents.

Much of Australia's federal political leadership has spent the last few days in a controversy over a fake email message. This indicates a failure of the Australian Public Service to properly implement and operate their records management system. If the system was working correctly, it should have taken only a few minutes to find if the email message in question was genuine or not, by checking the archive. This is not just a matter of administrative efficiently, as there are laws which require records to be kept and criminal penalties for not doing so.

There is no good reason why most public servants should be tied to desks. They can be provided with mobile services to do the work at their client's location. Some of these clients are the public, some are MPs and others are other public servants. Services which can be provided over a secure Internet connection and to a mobile device would allow for a better service.

The current Gershon reforms remind me of decades ago when IBM was proposing standardised terminal interfaces for mainframe computers. This was a very well thought out initiative, which I supported. However, it was overtaken by the rise of the PC and became irrelevant. As PCs are now declining in importance, with mobile web based applications and cloud computing. By the time the Gershon reforms are implemented, the ICT systems they are designed for will be obsolete.

John Sheridan, Division Manager Business Improvement Division at AGIMO in the Department of Finance and Deregulation, will provide an outline of the progress of the Government's ICT Reform program which is implementing the recommendations of Sir Peter Gershon's Review of the Australian Government's Use of Information and Communication Technology. Mr Sheridan will describe the structure of the program, outline the projects involved, and summarise results to date. He will provide details of the risk management approach inherent in the new processes for Agency Capability Assessment and discuss the management and progress of the ICT Business as Usual budget reduction project and the companion reinvestment pool.


Mr John Sheridan

John Sheridan joined the Australian Public Service in 1999, after 22 years in the Australian Army. He was the Defence IT architect from 2002 until 2007. From April 2007 until July 2008, he led Information Systems Division and was responsible for the design and development of Defence’s IT systems. In August 2008, John joined the Australian Government Information Management Office to negotiate the whole of government Microsoft Volume Sourcing Agreement. Since January 2009, John has led Business Improvement Division. He is responsible for ICT business as usual budget reductions across government. He graduated first in his class from both the Officer Cadet School, Portsea in 1980 and the Australian Army Command and Staff College in 1994. He has a BA(Hons.) degree, Graduate Diplomas in Computing Studies and Management Studies, and a Master of Defence Studies.
Walking the Walk - the governance and progress of the Government's ICT Reform Program, ACS, 2009

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