news The new Liberal-National Party State Government in Queensland has announced it will conduct a six month whole of government audit into ICT systems used across the state public sector, in a bid to identify potential savings and efficiencies ahead of projected rationalisation of its ICT assets and processes.
In a statement issued yesterday, the new Minister for Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts, Ros Bates (pictured), said this “first audit of its type in Queensland’s history” would leave no stone unturned to find where duplication and waste could be eliminated. It will cost $5.2 million, use 32 public servants to complete and report in October.
“Previous Labor Governments allowed information and communication technologies to grow in an unmanaged and inconsistent way across Queensland departments, and there’s no way of knowing what technology is being used where,” Bates said. “On the patchy information we do have it appears Queensland taxpayers are paying for many out-dated and duplicate systems and many more licences than are necessary. We are also sure that every Department was buying the same few products at a higher price than they would if Government-wide purchases had been made.”
Cabinet has designated the Queensland Government Chief Information Office to lead the ICT audit which will focus on identifying opportunities to: Reduce duplicate ICT investments; Consider how the government’s buying power could be better used; and simplify telecommunications to deliver savings. The audit will be completed by the end of October 2012, Bates said, and will identify wasteful processes and high-risk initiatives requiring proactive intervention. However, it is believed that the audit will not cover the botched payroll systems implementation at Queensland Health, which is already being audited in a major review announced by new LNP Premier Campbell Newman in his first week in office in April this year.
In a separate speech given yesterday to a luncheon held in the state by the Australian Information Industry Association, Bates said some of the potential savings were “mind-blowing”.
“Even on early indications there are massive savings- one of the first things the audit has done is to examine how much we are wasting on paying for telephone lines that aren’t being used; We can only guess how much we have been wasting on things like this for decades,” she said. “Can you imagine where the Queensland Government and the ICT industry would be now if all of that waste, all of that inefficiency, was used to create new and innovative ways of delivering the core business of Government?”
“Those funds should have been spent not to prop up systems which had been out of support for more than a decade but to embrace cutting-edge digital technologies, to explore new and innovative platforms for business collaboration, to deliver smarter infrastructure projects, and to better engage the community in public policy processes.”
“Imagine how much more advanced we would be on delivering government services in critical areas such as health, education, communities, housing and emergency services. We will ensure that no more taxpayers funds are wasted in the future and we have a comprehensive map of where the problems are so we can move forward in fixing those problems with confidence.”
Queensland Govt CIO Peter Grant, who will carry out the review announced yesterday by Bates, may have been involved in approving the installation of many of the systems which the review will examine. Grant was appointed to be Queensland’s new whole of government CIO in November 2011, prior to the state election, but had previously held the role from 2005 through 2008, after a lengthy career in the technology industry that had included a short stint as the CIO of Queensland Health, three years as a consultant and other periods as a vice president with analyst firm Gartner and time as the Director of IT at Queensland Transport.
However, he exited the role unexpectedly in December 2007, accepting a role as the state director for software giant Microsoft. That role lasted little over a year; following that Grant has worked as a consultant for analyst firm Intelligent Business Research Services, as well as holding posts as a professor of Information Systems at the University of Queensland and the Queensland University of Technology.
Queensland has had a succession of IT disasters over the past few years that have rocked the State Government. The most public of these has been the Queensland Health payroll debacle, which resulted in thousands of public sector health workers going without pay after the department’s upgrade to a new SAP-based payroll system was botched, but many of the state’s other major IT projects have also overrun their budget and been delayed.
Bates highlighted one example in her speech to the AIIA yesterday.
“The Queensland Drivers Licence project was approved by the previous Government without a project management plan or even a benefits realisation plan; consequently the program took significantly longer to put in place and resulted in a significant cost blow-out,” she said.
“The program commenced (with Cabinet approval) in May 2006 and had a stated completion date of June 2009, the program did not commence even in a pilot form until November 2010. The cost of the program also increased to $148.3m. The Auditor-General found “The business case for the New Queensland Drivers Licence project was not maintained after it was approved in 2006 nor does it appear to have been available to the staff involved in the project. The business case was approved based on opportunities for benefits outside the provision of a secure driver licence rather than specific and measurable benefits.”
“Never, ever again!”
For a new ICT Minister, Ros Bates appears to be doing all the right things. Straight away, she has signalled her intention to knock off some of the easiest targets which any central ICT governance body should be aiming for in a State or Federal Government: Centralised ICT procurement.
As she correctly noted, it makes absolutely no sense for the Queensland Government to be procuring services such as telecommunications on an agency by agency basis when this could be done centrally to great cost savings. In addition, her attempt to quickly commence an audit into the state’s ICT systems as a whole should have the effect of succinctly identifying areas where the government can target such savings, as well as aid it in putting in place improved governance structures.
I also like Bates’ clean, fresh and honest approach to some of the stifling bureaucracy in the Queensland Government. Take this sentence, for example:
“Let’s not pretend red tape is not a problem- I am tangled in it every day- I recently found out the steps that a simple Departmental press release goes through before it gets to my office. First it gets written by a departmental official, then it goes to their supervisor for approval, then their supervisor, then to the head of the section, then from there it gets signed off by the Director-General. By the time it gets to my office it has passed through the hands of five people.
A simple press release! We need to cut through his red-tape on all levels and focus on what is important.”
In an age where very few State Government Ministers in Australia provide comprehensive online archives of their press releases, Bates’ statements come across as refreshing and positive. Of course, there are definitely indications that Campbell Newman’s new LNP Government in Queensland is already taking a few unnecessary steps in general to somewhat abuse the massive electorate mandate it has been given in the state. However, I am currently very positive about the potential for Bates and her LNP colleagues to reform the State Government in the ICT portfolio.
Let’s face it; they certainly couldn’t do a worse job with respect to technology than the previous Bligh administration ;)