Qld’s email project stuck in low gear

news The Queensland-based Courier Mail newspaper revealed this week that the state’s Labor Government has spent $46 million on its whole of government email platform, despite it so far catering to just 2,000 accounts.

Ros Bates, LNP Shadow Minister for Information and Communication Technology called Labor’s ‘IDES’ (Identity, Directory and Email Services) program a prime example of Labor’s long-term waste and mismanagement. “The Bligh government’s pattern of monumental waste continues. The $23,000 cost per user is the price of a family car,” said Bates.

The Courier-Mail reported on Tuesday that only 2000 people had signed up to use the system, which actually needs 81,000 users to break even. Still, Simon Finn, Information and Communication Technology Minister reportedly said that the project is within budget, and that the number of users, which is rising every week, is slated to reach 53,000 by the end of 2013.

Bates said that a similar type of waste had occurred with the Health payroll debacle when Queensland Health had in effect declared themselves exempt from good project management disciplines, project governance and pragmatic business process reform. With no Minister having been held responsible, Bates said that costs and charges were being passed on to taxpayers who were already struggling with the Bligh government’s increasing costs of living.

“For every hundred thousand dollars wasted, there are frontline service people who cannot be employed in our communities, child safety, schools and hospitals; there are resources and equipment that cannot be purchased for operating theatres, classrooms, or youth detention centres,” stated Bates.

In June 2010, Queensland Auditor-General Glenn Poole had also slammed the handling of the three huge Queensland Government technology consolidation projects, including the state’s ICT Consolidation Program (ICTC), the IDES project and the Corporate Solutions Program. The IDES project had already been delayed in implementation from the first quarter of 2009 to August 2009, after its launch in July 2008, as reported in ZDNet.

Bates lambasted the Bligh government as being arrogant and careless about taxpayer funds after 20 years in power. She accused the government of having wasted numerous chances to get situations like these under control.

“The Minister’s comment that it doesn’t matter because ‘it’s all the Government’s money’ shows how out of touch this government has become,” Bates said. “It is not Government money, it’s taxpayer money and it’s part of the booming debt soaring toward $85 billion which has to be paid back through taxes and charges on hard strapped Queensland families. Labor got another chance last time. Not again. Not this time,” she added.

You would think — you would really think — that this was one project that the Queensland Government couldn’t easily stuff up. After all, what they are basically doing here is something fairly simple: Setting up a colossal Microsoft Exchange email platform so that individual government departments don’t have to manage their disparate email platforms themselves. But no, Queensland has managed to stuff even this up.

What this demonstrates, in my opinion, is two things. Firstly, as a number of noted Australian technology analysts have been saying for some time, the nation’s experiment with vast IT shared services projects has failed. These systems are best farmed out to external outsourcers; who are just much better placed to provide these kind of services.

Secondly, yes, I do believe that the Labor Government’s inability to keep any IT project on the rails — even one focused on basic infrastructure, as this one is — says somewhat about its ability to govern. I don’t know whether the LNP in Queensland could do any better, but I think it’s probably about time they were given a chance to. They certainly couldn’t do any worse when it comes to IT management.

Image credit: Theo Kleen, royalty free. Opinion/analysis by Renai LeMay


  1. “These systems are best farmed out to external outsourcers; who are just much better placed to provide these kind of services.”

    I agree that these systems are best farmed out to external stakeholders — Google probably would have this up and running in a couple of months at a fraction of the cost.

    “the nation’s experiment with vast IT shared services projects has failed.”

    It appears to have failed thus far, but I don’t think this is necessarily a problem with the model, more so the execution. It shows how poorly government understands IT.

    “Secondly, yes, I do believe that the Labor Government’s inability to keep any IT project on the rails”

    While you’re probably right, regardless of who is in power, Government appears to completely fail with all IT projects. To be honest, we probably won’t see a change in this until Gen-Y gains power. ie: A generation who actually understand technology.

  2. “They certainly couldn’t do any worse when it comes to IT management”

    Or maybe they could, or maybe it’ll be the same. It’s not like there’ll be a significant change in the staff or contractors actually doing the work. The government of the day is just this little thin crust that sits on top of the various departments that implement the will of the people. Think “Yes Minister”.

    The same external companies will be advising (you don’t think it’s Anna herself who picks these things do you, we’re advised on what to do by external companies who tell us shared services is the way to save dollars and increase efficiency), the same managers will be making the decisions, the same staff will be implementing.

    A change in party may or may not achieve the change in direction required. The next IT change will probably involve “The cloud”. To be truly effective “The cloud” needs ubiquitious high speed bandwidth. And not just in one direction. Both up and down. There’s only one party currently spruiking a network that covers all the requirements for true success with “The cloud”. The other party’s solution still thinks broadband is only about home users downloading porn, iPads and iPhones facebooking, and that 60Mbps down and 1 or 2 up is enough for anybody for the next 30 years (much like 640K eh). They don’t think about business use of the net, they don’t think about the bandwidth requirements of “The cloud”.

    Just think about taking all your critical business data and putting it on the other side of a 22/1 ADSL link currently. Great for getting, not so good for putting back up.

    So what’s the solution? I don’t know. I could scream “Change the party” like everyone else but that seems simplistic and doesn’t seem to actually address any real problem.

  3. Lets not forget the Identity Mgt and single sign on components of IDES.

    WRT delivery failures – regardless of government in power, there will be continued failures until there is public sector employment reform – perform and be empowered to make appropriate decisions or get marched.

    Also, CITEC can’t continue to be half pregnant – either be fully commercialised, employ people to perform, and charge commercially competitve rates to the government departments OR be inefficient and dont charge for poor delivery.

  4. It is something of a farce for these projects to be regarded as political footballs. Either flavor of government could easily get themselves in this pickle. As has been noted, blame needs to be sheeted home to the senior agency executives and their ‘trusted advisers’ who proposed this project and who have driven its implementation.

    The chief culprit is the consultant(s) who wrote the strategy and designed an undeliverable project. What we need is a public sector blacklist for consulting companies who have (a) developed stupid strategies, and (b) failed to proactively apologize and refund their fees when it becomes obvious that the plan that seemed such a great idea ‘in theory’ turns out to be a very bad idea ‘in practice’. In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is … and isn’t this exact point the basis upon which consultants justify their fees?

    The main issue comes down to the organizational difficulty of trying to implement any kind of one-size-fit-all system within a state government. It can be done, but it takes a huge effort of will and has a very high risk of total failure. And for what? Even the best case outcome will be to create a socialist economy ‘Trabant’ style system … monolithic, underinvested, inefficient, full of compromises, expensive to use, failure prone and out-of-date even before it is fully implemented. The supposed economies of scale benefits always turn out to be a false dream.

    Why is it so? Because state governments are complex and fragmented organizations comprising a diverse range of agencies and sub-agencies with differing requirements, priorities and ability to pay. Trying to get this lot to agree on anything is the work of Job … and in truth there is little real benefit or need for them all to agree. What they should do is what they do well – focus on their policy and service delivery responsibilities and get on with serving the community.

    The job of the central agencies and their whole-of-government strategies is to add value to the activities of the individual agencies by providing better, faster, cheaper services than agencies could otherwise afford or obtain for themselves. If this were so, then agencies would voluntarily adopt the services out of self interest. Instead, what we all too often see is strategies that mandate agencies to consume services and buy off panel contracts even if they are worse, slower and more expensive. Socialist economy thinking indeed. The Trabant is a very good car and you should be pleased we have provided such and excellent vehicle for your driving enjoyment comrade!

    These days, the better approach is capitalist economy thinking. Leave it up to agencies to choose from market based solutions within a light touch regulatory and standards framework. Google and Microsoft have both built excellent multi-tenant cloud-based email and collaboration office automation systems. Monash University migrated over 100,000 staff and student users into Google Apps … better, faster, cheaper and less risky … and iteratively evolving in response to the demands of mobility, social networking and analytics in ways that no government email service could ever be. If that is too edgy for you then on-shore managed services can achieve similar outcomes.

    The core logic of the cloud model is best explained by my phrase “cloudy is as cloudy does”. It already exists and is working at huge scale, try it. You’ll like it. If you do, keep using it, you’re welcome. If you don’t, then just stop and try another cloud service or a more traditional hosted or on-premises solution. Here are some suggested standards that will help you and promote interoperability. Its your choice. Do what works best for your agency. Once you’ve failed with that (again) the cloud services is here waiting, just sign up when you are ready.

  5. CITEC already charge my department significantly more for a managed MAN service than it would cost for us to get a dark fibre service from a service provider. What’s worse is that we HAVE to purchase from CITEC – so we pay more for an inferior product.

  6. for $46 million I could have each email hand delivered with a pretty pink ribbion, is there a gov computer project nationwide that has not failed or at least cost more than putting a man on Mars?

  7. I think a car in the sand spinning it’s wheels would be more appropriate than the tortoise.

    By the sounds of it, it’s burning lots of money fast, just going nowhere.

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