NSW Govt to get another central CIO group


blog From the NSW Opposition this morning comes news that it will to create a new centralised IT decision-making body to oversee technology projects and purchasing across the state government, following the upcoming election (which the Opposition is expected to win in a landslide): Writes The Australian:

“NSW opposition financial management spokesman Greg Pearce said the group would comprise key ministers and government executives that provided long-term strategy oversight and monitoring of delivery of major ICT projects, in consultation with IT players.”

My initial reaction to the move is positive. Centralising the governance of technology spend and oversight of major projects is pretty much a no brainer for any government. There are always cost savings to be garnered from signing whole of government purchasing deals with companies like Microsoft, and it’s critically important for the public sector, which has had so many botched IT projects, to make sure large overhauls are kept on track.

We’ve seen good examples in South Australia and in the Federal Government of how centralised IT decision-making bodies can really aid in achieving reform across departments and agencies.

However, in NSW’s case, we have to keep a few things in mind.

Firstly, the State Government already has several peak IT strategy groups … there’s the office of the state CIO, which was recently integrated into the Department of Technology, Services and Administration and had been overseeing the apparently successful People First strategy … as well as the CIO Executive Council, which is made up of tech chiefs from the major departments.

And that’s not even going into any discussion of where the real power in technology projects and purchasing lies in the State Government; with the powerful and largely independent CIOs of the major departments themselves. You wouldn’t expect the CIO of the immense NSW Department of Education and Training to pay that much attention to overarching strategy groups — they report to their own department first, after all.

Thus, the Opposition’s new plan makes all the right noises, but will largely come down to execution rather than ideas. There is tremendous scope to clean up the way the NSW Government does technology. But there is a long and hard road ahead for anybody who wants to embark on that effort; the Opposition will need a series of internal champions (probably new appointments) and strong support from the departmental secretaries as well if it wants to get anywhere.

Image credit: Dane Munro, royalty free


  1. To be successful in governing IT in NSW, Barry O’Farrell will need to focus not merely on the SUPPLY of IT, but on its USE. Across all sectors of the economy, IT is now a tool of business and success comes not merely from having good tools, but from using those tools well. Thus, his proposed central IT decision-making body will need to ensure first and foremost that the business plans of NSW government agencies clearly and appropriately define the intended use of IT. Of course this means that the plans must also be informed of the potential for improved government service and operation through the effective use of IT.

    With overall government strategy and individual agency strategy properly informed about the potential and clearly defining the intended use of IT, the O’Farrell team will then need to ensure that responsibility for successful delivery of IT-enabled change and the delivery of benefits associated with that change is also clearly and irrevocably assigned to agency heads. Agency heads cannot be permitted to abdicate responsibility and cannot be allowed to transfer accountability to junior managers or to external suppliers.

    One tendency observed in other government jurisdictions that the O’Farrell team should watch for is the mutual tendency of bureaucrats to over-specify the tool, so that while in theory it can do everything, in reality it becomes so extreme in its complexity that it is at best extremely expensive to build in its entirety, highly prone to fault, almost impossible to test comprehensively, difficult and cumbersome to use and prohibitively expensive to maintain in an operational state. In the future, we may well learn to call this behaviour the “MYKI Syndrome”.

    AS/ISO/IEC 38500, the Australian and International Standard for Governance of Information Technology provides the high level guidance that the anticipated new NSW Government needs to establish appropriate arrangements for its ongoing direction and control of ICT use.

    The Gershon Report and the follow-up Reinecke Report, both focused on the federal government, provide indelible lessons that should also inform Mr O’Farrell’s efforts.

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