Victoria starts airing its IT dirty laundry


news The Victorian State Government has over the past month started holding hearings which touch in depth on the wide-ranging IT project delivery issues which have resulted in the state’s departments and agencies broadly failing to deliver ten major IT projects over the past half-decade.

Australia’s state governments are currently facing a systemic failure to deliver major IT projects, with initiatives in Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia all failing over the past several years. In the case of Queensland, the state’s catastrophic payroll systems overhaul at Queensland Health was notorious enough that it attracted a great deal of public interest and contributed to the downfall of the incumbent Labor Government at this year’s state election.

The situation is particularly acute in Victoria, where in November last year, the state’s Ombudsman handed down one of the most damning assessments of public sector IT project governance in Australia’s history, noting total cost over-runs of $1.44 billion, extensive delays and a general failure to actually deliver on stated aims in 10 major IT projects carried out by the state over the past half-decade.

Some of the most extreme examples were the Department of Human Services Client Relationship Information System (CRIS), which ballooned in cost from $22 million to $70 million, the Victoria Police’s LINK overhaul, which expanded from $49 million to $187 million (if it was completed, as it has been cancelled), the myki transport ticketing system, which started at $999 million and will require another $350 million and HealthSMART health systems overhaul, which was originally budgeted at $323 million and will require a further $243 million to complete.

The publication of the report was greeted with public silence by most of the public sector players concerned, with few being willing to comment on what steps the state might take to address what appear to be systemic problems. However, in hearings over the past month by the Victorian Parliament’s Public Accounts and Estimates Committee, the issues started to be aired.

One of the most prominent groups to appear before the committee was a delegation from the Ombudsman’s office, consisting of deputy ombudsman John Taylor and Erin Barlow, principal investigation officer with the ombudsman and the lead on the project to examine ICT project failure in Victoria. Taylor told the committee (the full transcription is available online in PDF format) that the key issue in all of the IT project failures was “leadership”, with the Ombudsman finding in its examination of the failed IT projects that leadership was “lacking” in all.

The sole exception to the lack of leadership shown in the IT projects examined, Taylor said, was in the HealthSMART project. He said: “At a key point in the implementation of HealthSMART where things were foundering and there were tensions between the contractor and the department, the then secretary got on the telephone — and it is reflected in our report — and spoke to the principal vendor and said, ‘You need to get someone over here and start fixing this up’. That is the only example of clear leadership demonstrated in the 10 projects we looked at.”

This kind of executive-level intervention is extremely common in the private sector when it comes to IT project delivery. For example, in August, technology giant HP confirmed its global chief executive Meg Whitman had flown to Australia, in a move that is believed to have been at least partly aimed at soothing tensions with core client the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, after a bungle at a HP unit in New Zealand took down thousands of desktop PCs at the bank and some key IT systems.

In another example, then-Telstra chief executive Sol Trujillo held then-Ericsson chief executive Carl-Henric Svanberg strictly to account for the vendor’s part in constructing Telstra’s new national 3G mobile network in 2005 and 2006, with the Swedish national flying to Australia for the project and also taking regular phone calls from Trujillo to go through progress.

Other issues, according to Taylor, included the need for better planning and adequate funding for projects. Probity was also an issue, with conflicts of interest coming up regularly.

“Too often agencies will put up a proposal to their minister without fleshing it out,” he said. “It might even be in some instances — and I can think of one good example, [the VicRoads RandL program] — two pages of a document proposing, ‘You either do it this way or do nothing and the whole system will fail’, which of course were not the only options available. So there needs to be adequate planning, and there needs to be planning before announcements are made by government that we have got this wonderful new something that is going to happen, because then there is a commitment that you have to go ahead and proceed, and the risks there are amplified.”

The ongoing lack of project management experience in the Government was also an issue.

“Finally, one of the problems we have identified, which was glaringly obvious in one case, is a lack of project management experience,” said Taylor. “It is not good enough to have well-intentioned amateurs spending tens, and sometimes hundreds, of millions of dollars, and then wondering why it has failed. The report reflects on the LINK project, where an experienced senior police officer was given the responsibility but without the underlying skills and tools to do a very important job. To give credit to the current head of information technology at Victoria Police, he closed down the LINK project last year after four years and $52 million with nothing to show for it.”

Barlow also had a great deal to say about the issue, focusing in one of her comments on the need for evidence-based planning.

“If you look at a couple of the projects and some of the assumptions that were made in business cases, there was no evidence to support those,” she told the committee. “There seems to have been a lack of oversight or a lack of accountability for some of those assumptions that were made in business cases — for example, with the myki project that you are looking at there was the assumption that this project could be completed in two years, and yet the evidence was that no similar system had been implemented in less than five. So it is not only the public officers who are putting up these business plans with assumptions that are lacking evidence but also where is the oversight to test those sorts of assumptions?”

Technology services giant CSC, whose iSOFT subsidiary was involved in the failed HealthSMART project and which holds a number of other major IT services contracts with Australian Government organisations and large corporations nationally, also appeared before the committee to give its own opinion on the ongoing problems (PDF of transcription here). The two executives to appear were iSOFT Asia-Pacific managing director James Rice and iSOFT operations chief Gary White. The iSOFT HealthSMART contract was signed but the government never actually engaged iSOFT to deliver on large sections of it – leading to a degree of “frustration” on iSOFT’s part, according to Rice.

White told the committee that while he believed the public servants he was dealing with in the contract were “competent”, in practice the contract was complex as it saw iSOFT engaged both with the HealthSMART organisation and the separate agencies – hospitals and other health facilities – that it was supposed to deliver its new IT systems to. “The contention in the project management space was very much a three-way, tripartite agreement going on, where you had ourselves trying to deliver to HealthSMART and ourselves trying to deliver to the agency,” he said. “No three were trying to deliver an outcome. I suppose the issue always is in that situation is that there were always three different opinions and three different drivers from each party.”

The mindset behind the project as a whole was also away from where it should be, according to White, with those behind the project not necessarily seeing it as the long-term endeavour that it needed to be, and change management processes not taking into account the fact that different hospitals and health facilities all worked differently – so the IT upgrades concerned could not always be implemented the same way.

“I think there is a lack of change management involved in the program, and therefore when we started to implement it in the agencies, we started to come across issues that they do not admit patients that way, they do not discharge patients that way, they do not transfer patients that way,” White said. “HealthSMART, as an agency, did not seem to have the power to force or implement that change upon the agencies. It was very much the agencies driving HealthSMART. That is where that contractual thing got slightly awkward because we were trying to implement in the agencies something which HealthSMART defined as a footprint, but the agencies were pushing back and were not willing to implement it.”

The project also appeared to have been poorly defined right from the get-go.

“I do not think a wide-enough community of the stakeholders was engaged in that up-front defining of the process, and therefore what was perceived as being an inadequate system, possibly by some users, was not,” said White. “It was just a system which was poorly defined by key stakeholders in the initial stages. I think there needs to be built in that review process, every six months or every year, a continual review of those functional specifications to make sure it meets the needs of the client.”

Another organisation to comment extensively on the HealthSMART project and other IT projects in the State Government in general was the Victorian Office of the Auditor-General, which sent several representatives to the committee, including the Auditor-General himself, Des Pearson. The PDF record of that transcript is available online.

I want to say several things about the parliamentary committee hearings which have been touching on these failed IT projects in Victoria. I realise that some of this article has been raking over old ground, so bear with me here as I explain my rationale for covering it this way.

Firstly, the Ombudsman’s report into this issue last year made it clear that these are extremely serious issues. Cost overruns of $1.44 billion, extensive delays and a general failure to deliver in 10 major IT projects carried out by the Victorian Government over a half-decade? That’s pretty much the definition of systemic failure, and it needs to be addressed at a systemic level. I published several articles last year looking at steps which could be taken to start to address these issues.

But what the committee hearings last month demonstrated is that fundamentally, these issues are not being addressed yet at a systemic level. The parliamentarians questioning the government auditors and CSC didn’t appear to have much knowledge of IT governance themselves or the details of what these projects were supposed to do, let alone knowledge of how to put in place sustainable structures across government to stop major IT projects going off the rails again. And all the auditors and ombudsmen can do is recommend, recommend and recommend, while they wait for the politicians to decide to take action … on something they don’t really understand. As I believe the ombudsman representatives said at one point in the hearings, they understand the issues but have no actual power to enforce change on recalcitrant and often incompetent departments.

If you look at what happens in Federal Government, it seems that there is more connection between the secretaries of departments and the departmental chief information officers; more understanding of the importance of IT project delivery at a secretary and chief executive level, and even more communication between the secretaries and ministers on these issues, as well as cross-department between chief information officers.

But in state government, not only do the politicians not appear to understand the issues, but it looks to me as if the CIOs of the various departments are also operating in more of a siloed approach than in the Federal Government, meaning less controls on projects to stop them failing, and less knowledge-sharing across departments.

So what to do?

For starters, better skills in departments. Head-hunting highly capable IT project management specialists in major departments, and placing them on lucrative long-term contracts to ensure they see major IT projects through to completion. Link them directly with departmental secretaries and cross-departmental bodies, so that when major projects go off the rails, warnings bells get flagged very early. As Queensland-based IT analyst firm Longhaus has mentioned (see our articles on this subject here and here), thinking outside the box in terms of basic IT skills resourcing for governments – following the private sector into areas such as offshoring if possible, outsourcing if necessary. Governments keep on trying to hire these resources in Australia but can’t really afford to compete with the private sector to do so.

Above all, standardised, off the shelf solutions should be the norm in government. Keep everything as normal as possible and resist customised solutions. Get great change management people in place to help force through business process change so that software solutions don’t need to be customised.

And of course, underpinning all this, these departments and agencies need strongly competent, strongly willed and savvy chief information officers that can push all of this change. It’s not going to happen by itself – it needs a guiding hand rather than the vagueness which seems to pervade state government IT projects at the moment. Public sector executives who want to take responsibility for change and have enough energy to back it and enough political nous to negotiate the public sector bureaucracy minefield. I guess that’s going to be the hardest part. From that, all else will flow.

Some of this may end up being the purview of Grantly Mailes, a former whole of government chief information officer for sister state South Australia, who was appointed in June this year to lead a committee to establish a new wide-ranging IT strategy to resolve Victoria’s ongoing problems with IT service and project delivery.

Another articles we liked on this subject: Scattered authority doomed HealthSMART (iTNews), Age cops rap over ’24-year search’ (The Australian).


  1. Want to know something scary? In our Qld State Government Department … guess who’s heads are going to roll first with the Campbell Newman cuts coming?

    Yep … the Change Management team overseeing our ITIL maturity.

    I swear, government gets rid of the very people that help standardise to make environment’s stabler, while preserving sychophant “Project Managers” who couldn’t manage their way out of a wet paper bag. When will they realise that the way they’re used to doing things is a$$ about?

    P.S. Apologies for the implied swearing, it’s not meant to offend, just using common vernacular.

    • ITIL is an infrastructure standard (loosely, it doesn’t actually work well for that either) being applied completely mistakenly to projects – the insanity is using it in the first place. It’s a standard for the sake of having a standard. Consultants have sold two major failed project management model ‘standards’ developed in the UK, Prince II & ITIL to Australian state governments, who totally ignored the *massive* failures they created in Britain.
      e.g. Wasn’t the British new health system a 12 billion pound fiasco – no system delivered and 2 billion pounds to clean up after as well. And this is the model that our CIOs have universally chosen as a blueprint…

      Looking outside the UK and stopping our IT leaders playing buzzword bingo would be a better plan of attack.

        • @Tony / @Stephen No.. you are clearly wrong..

          Any established framework or methodology is usually acceptable. It all depends on the competence of those running it and the tools you can acquire to use it.

          ITIL carries some overhead, but the point of it is to provide governance and act as a feedback mechanism to correct problems. The issue is simply the people. My experience with public service tells me that the majority of public servants are over-paid welfare recipients. (Note I say majority not all). They are completely incompetent due to an accepted un-responsive attitude and apathetic culture within the respective departments. I see occasional shining lights of brilliance in there, but they are too few.

          In summary, no matter how many boxes you tick, or processes you implement, if you have complete idiots or lazy sods, nothing can save you. Despite the harsh nature of the job cuts in Qld, I really don’t feel sorry for them at all, as I expect many were in jobs way above their intellectual capacity. Government departments have, in many but not all cases, become an extension of the welfare system with very good superannuation benefits.

          I find the only way I managed to make things happen in government IT departments was to bring attention to the incompetence of those causing problems, (ie humiliate them), or passively threaten them with more bureaucracy that would make them shuffle more paper.. So a hurt or humiliate approach is required to make people do the job they have some how conned their way into.. I am of the opinion that smaller government is better simply because it reduces the possibility of “vegie-patches” sprouting up in cubicle farms around the country. Brutal I know, but at the end of the day it’s mine (and your) tax dollar funding this bureaucracies.

          • To crusty, your reply indicates you may well be as much a part of the problem as a part of the solution with such attitudes..As a PM that reads this site, such comments are disengenuous and also what i would respond harshly too in the work place. it generates an inmature us and them culture and not a mature collaborative approach that solves the real issues.

          • yes.. it’s harsh.. yes it’s immature, but unfortunately, there is an “us and them” culture.. very much like high school at times. I have found this is the approach that works, any other “softly, softly” approach doesn’t yield a satisfactory result.

            Keep in mind that people behaviour changes once they know you mean business, then I change my approach to match. That is to say, no point smashing people if they’re doing good work and performing.. quite the opposite. Others see it, and you find people respect you for it to. It’s a “consequences” approach to management. Act like a spoilt brat, and you get treated like one. I should also point out that when coercing people into doing their job, I also indicate that I’ll back off once people start reaching agreed goals. So it’s not like I’m in the bow of the ship beating them mercilessly while they row faster… And when I meet a truly hopeless individual I get them out of my project. Some people are just cabbages. Not a great situation, but you can’t make a donkey into a race horse.

      • I don’t agree.

        ITIL is a service management framework, and when implemented (and if staff are disciplined enough to stick to it) makes a very effective method of managing services in our environment. Before we became an ITIL shop, our infrastructure was a dog’s breakfast.

        Today, it still is a dog’s breakfast, but at least we can see all the moving parts, and we can trace when something goes wrong, a luxury we did not have. It’s only a buzzword if you’re selective about your implementation. I can attest to this, having worked in the organisation before it’s implementation, and continuing to work there afterward and being able to see the difference.

        • That doesn’t explain why it’s being used for organisation of complete IT sections in gov though. And frankly you’ve offered some huge caveats to blame failure on the users and not the inherent flaws in the system.
          It didn’t work where it was invented so why should it work here?

          I also forgot the other major flaw in gov IT – management building reporting structures specifically designed to remove any responsibility for failure of their own decions being attributed to them. It’s always the people implementing the impossible plans who are left to carry the can.

          • “That doesn’t explain why it’s being used for organisation of complete IT sections in gov though.”

            I don’t understand. IT provides services. ITIL provides a service management framework. You can elect to use it, or not. But unmanaged services means you effectively are trapezing with no net. Most businesses want a little more certainty than that. A service management framework, like ITIL, providers that.

            “And frankly you’ve offered some huge caveats to blame failure on the users and not the inherent flaws in the system.”

            The system isn’t perfect (what system is?). Neither are the users. There are failures every day on both sides. This isn’t particular to ITIL, or any other service management framework. However, frameworks do provide a documented mechanism to deal with even those items that can fall outside it.

            “It didn’t work where it was invented so why should it work here?”

            Oh come on. That’s a lazy argument. You can’t speak generically about Britain and ITIL. Just because it’s invented there, and some implementations haven’t succeeded doesn’t mean that the system can’t work.

            “I also forgot the other major flaw in gov IT – management building reporting structures specifically designed to remove any responsibility for failure of their own decions being attributed to them.”

            That’s not a problem with ITIL though. ITIL has roles and responsibilities inherent. If someone doesn’t sign off on something, then something doesn’t get done. The problem you’re explaining has nothing to do with the framework, and more to do with getting signatures in the first place from those in authority, and happens regardless of whether it’s government and private enterprise.

            “It’s always the people implementing the impossible plans who are left to carry the can”

            Sadly, that turns out true more often than not. Case in point, the IDES project.

        • I think that bears out the problems with the use of ITIL and its colleagues.You still have a dog’s breakfast, but your project managers now think they can do something. If they were good, you would not have a dog’s breakfast to start with.

          The issue is that “standards” like ITIL are essentially attempts to deal with an underlying problem of inadequate professional expertise and experience.

          The core difference between successful software firms and disasters is that successful software firms, like Google and Microsoft, demand that project managers have professional expertise. Most government IT projects don’t.

          This results in a recognisable pathology where projects drift, genuine expertise escapes or avoids the project, conflict arises in relationships with vendors and users, and extortionate amounts get spent on external analysis.

          Early on in my career, I learnt an important lesson, and most private corporations know it too. It is that boring is good. Those boring old highly paid IT managers who schedule big delays in projects are the ones whose departments work like clockwork. Government is about ten years behind.

          • “I think that bears out the problems with the use of ITIL and its colleagues.You still have a dog’s breakfast, but your project managers now think they can do something. If they were good, you would not have a dog’s breakfast to start with.”

            All ITIL does is shine a light on what’s already occurring. It makes everyone’s tasks in service management visible. It’s unfortunate that not all IT departments started afresh with new infrastructure, commissioned according to vendor standards and best practices. The fixing (or upgrading) of it isn’t up to the service management framework, it’s up to the engineering teams (and their managers).

            “The issue is that “standards” like ITIL are essentially attempts to deal with an underlying problem of inadequate professional expertise and experience.”

            I’m not sure what you mean by this? ITIL only provides a framework of accountability, role responsibility and reporting. Dealing with inadequate professional expertise and experience isn’t part of ITIL. I’d refer that to HR, although reports from ITIL infrastructure (like missed deadlines) may assist in that.

            “The core difference between successful software firms and disasters is that successful software firms, like Google and Microsoft, demand that project managers have professional expertise. Most government IT projects don’t. ”

            “This results in a recognisable pathology where projects drift, genuine expertise escapes or avoids the project, conflict arises in relationships with vendors and users, and extortionate amounts get spent on external analysis.”

            Agreed. Too many projects have gone down because the person leading it had one or both of 2 problems.

            1. They didn’t know what the hell they were talking about.
            2. They weren’t listening to the people that do know.

            Sadly, I’m finding this appears to be endemic in government (as opposed to when I worked in private enterprise it’s less so).

            “Early on in my career, I learnt an important lesson, and most private corporations know it too. It is that boring is good. Those boring old highly paid IT managers who schedule big delays in projects are the ones whose departments work like clockwork. Government is about ten years behind.”

            Unfortunately (government being 10 years behind), yes. Boring is good. Boring means there’s no emergencies. Boring means that everything works. The problem with boring though, is that when things are boring for an extended period, management gets a little twitchy, and start questioning perfectly competent people about their roles and whether they really need to be there. That last part I’ve noticed in both government and private enterprise.

  2. In Queensland Health certain IT strategic advisors and contractors remain while the core brunt of the cutting has been to the actual public servants. It will be an evolving story – these cuts have been so blunt as to render the public sector incapable of managing outsourced arrangements. It will be the source of future failed programs down stream. And those that should be removed remain.But why would it be any different?

  3. We will continue to see these sorts of 9 figure debacles while (a) public servants are not held directly accountable and (b) sharks like Accenture take advantage of docile public servants and rort the tax payer. They have botched projects at ATO and still got the gig at other institutions despite fleecing the tax payer for millions. Make the public servants accountable and the fleecing will stop. Also, I think government procurement is still prone to corruption and kick backs which also explains some completely unsuitable tenderers getting very fat contracts and completely missing the mark with very expensive white elephants.

    • Can’t say much, but you need to go higher than the ones you blaming. There were strict rules on the QLD fiasco which lead to the failure. Think of the Three Monkeys and how the hell would they communicate with each other sums it up.
      No doubt it is those that set the terms of references to the projects that are failing. Also I would hazard a good guess there are many Politicians who couldn’t understand what is in front of them when it comes to IT. The few that would, alas, are not involved directly with it. eg: Kate Lundy (at least she is enthusiastic about IT).

      • I understand what you mean. Typically the ministers have sone over paid bureaucrat defining the terns if reference. They are the ones that need to be liable. Usually anything is fixable when issues arise, technically or contractually. But if you have donkeys running it the minister has buckly’s chance in heading off problems. But qld health payroll was negligence at every level of management to the ministers level. Unfortunately, the penalty is a fat pension for the minister for years of waste. If their pension was on the line with this project they would try a lot harder…

        • Unfortunately, soon as a Politician is involved, regardless of who they are with or not with, you and I, all of the Electorate are accountable and to blame.
          Sorry, none of use can really dump our responsibility for the inept Pollies we stick into power, regardless of if we directly voted for them or not. The curse of Democracy. But I would rather that curse than some of the alternatives we could end up with.
          Don’t you hate it when you can’t blame someone else. :{D

  4. Having worked with various govt departments, they don’t really know what they want (before, during and nearing the end of projects) and you’re dealing with countless countless stakeholders.

  5. Well ITL will soleve all including world poverty not.

    The major problem apears to be the outsourcing of everything during a project and this includes Project Management.

    The department heads and politicians think that they can outsource everything without realising that to do this you need to make sure you have some seriously good internal Project Management people running the projects and not the Vendors.

    Secondly it’s not just as simple as buy COTS as they also can serious blowouts and cost overuns, trying to shoehorn legislative requirements into something that Coles uses. It does not always provide a cost benefit.

    Thirdly have some internal knowledge that can let the PM’s know that the vendors are talking crap.
    and back to the first point

  6. I think it says something that the IT sector seeks to use IT governance as something that is some how separate to and distinct from corporate governance. And its use of the term as being something that would otherwise be described as management doing its job.

  7. Excellent post Renai!

    I commented on the Ombudsman’s report at the time:

    The problem with this whole scenario is that the issues run much deeper than “ICT projects” that can be solved by a CIO. The reality is that ICT pervades all aspects of policy and service delivery in the public sector … so a failure to deliver ICT-enabled business change projects is a failure to manage the modernisation of public services … which is a core responsibility of department secretaries and agency CEOs. The Ombudsman’s report could equally be renamed “Own motion investigation into the ability of senior executives to run public services in the 21st century”.

    The essence of the problem is the pressure on agencies to deliver more with less and the inability of executives to say “no” to ministers. Everyone in the system is caught up in a mad whirlwind of trying to cope with a set of impossible demand/supply challenges that create an “emperor’s new clothes” effect. In too many cases it was obvious at the outset that a project was unachievable, but the incentives were simply to hope for the best, go with the flow, try to work things out along the way … and hope it all blows up on somebody else’s watch.

    The solution for major projects is all about executive accountability and focus. Making real and sustainable improvements requires resetting the basic parameters of executive accountability. Hoping for the best quickly becomes a suboptimal strategy if there is a real expectation that you will be held accountable for the project outcomes via a disciplined Benefits Management Plan.

    The solution should be approached from the perspective of ensuring that departmental secretaries, deputy secretaries, and agency CEOs have the skills and are paying adequate attention. When they are paying attention they will more carefully consider which projects are mobilized relative to their capacity to deliver, how projects are resourced and managed, and how critical decisions are made.

    If department secretaries and agency CEOs are expected to provide unequivocal assurance to government that projects are achievable and on track then they would actually need to know that the projects are, in fact, achievable and on track. The knowledge of this accountability would flow through into the way decisions are made to propose projects for funding, to set up projects for success, and to ensure that the right decisions, and timely decisions, are made during implementation. Oh, and also that capable CIOs were appointed and supported.

    • Good read there Steve. While I can’t speak for projects outside of my place of employment, your article is spot on for a goodly amount of my workplace initiatives.

  8. Yes, management who won’t make decisions, micromanage, make large changes to scope and resources in short time frames, leave the PM out of the communications loop and then blame them for resultant problems… these things are problematic. Then we supposedly have PRINCE2 but those on the Project Boards don’t want to know about it so we have the PM playing soccer and the Board playing rugby league.
    I do have concerns about the suggestion that the purpose of change management is to force standardised off the shelf products onto the users, regardless of their needs. That’s the tail wagging the dog. Not that process shouldn’t change but the software and process should together create an efficient and workable system. Software which can be sensibly customised is better to my way of thinking.

  9. Renai,

    That looks like a basket of clean laundry!

    Leadership is a constant failing in government – both at political and senior public service levels.

    However the people asked to fix it (time after time) are the people responsible for the failure in the first place.

    There is no way to get movement without bringing in talented, well-supported, outsiders – willing and empowered to bang heads together and sack under-performing senior executives.

    • “the people asked to fix it (time after time) are the people responsible for the failure in the first place.”

      I agree that this is a major problem in government. And when new people come in, they often get socialised to the same culture, and then lose many of the attributes which the Government needed to start with. It’s an ongoing issue, and I’m far from sure where the ‘circuit-breaker’ can be found in many situations.

  10. I agree with Craig. any observer of QLD government IT will know this to be totally true – and it bemuses many that in Brisbane the same people cycle through projects with apparent impunity. Whats more the current QLD government audit is principally being undertaken by the same people responsible for the lack of performance and delivery. The current political spin is that the last time the previous /sorry now current CIO didnt have the control of ICT across departments. In addition, key advisors and contractors remain within the government environment while many perm public sector employees are removed.

    I suspect a number of comments re project failures are from people in Queensland. Problem is if you speak out or rock the boat of those that have their noses in the trough you risk loosing work/job/career.

    Brisbane IT market is small – and probably only going to get smaller.

  11. The unsolvability of these issues is what leads me to being so positive about the opportunity of enterprise-grade cloud services. If we accept that state governments (particularly) have significant weaknesses in their ability to manage ICT … which have, by the way, worsened appreciably over the past decade … then we just have to reduce the amount of ICT that is managed on an agency-by-agency basis. As budget pressures increase this situation is escalating to a major crisis. What to do?

    1. Invest in strengthening in-house executive skills and ICT capabilities? (no money)
    2. Traditional outsourcing? (no economies of scale, bad track record)
    3. In-house shared services? (are you joking!)
    4. Enterprise-grade cloud services? (“cloudy is as cloudy does” … sweet!)

    Solution? 4+1 Stop squandering goverment’s limited executive attention, skills and resources on activities that are better done by proven cloud services providers (IaaS, PaaS and appropriate SaaS apps) and invest the efficiency dividend on strengthening Agile project management capabilities and delivering strategic ICT-enabled business transformation projects using modern technology … IMHO ….

    • Steve,

      Dont disagree with those points – but you are essentially defaulting to hoping that a disruptive technology will resolve these issues. There are still many forces that are very strong that keep the status quo going. Not least of all the business models of large global consulting houses and systems integrators. Would be good for you to consider more closely and publish what will drive the approaches you have been publically espousing. Will treasury have to simply stop giving agencies money for IT? When/why might this occur. What are the conditions for large gov agencies to adopt agile project management when they are politicalised/risk adverse and prince 2 etc provides many with a cash cow to milk. How might this play out?What has to happen for those points to really occur and not simply for those with noses in the trough to morph themselves and their language.

      • Yup … Fair comments … but I’m not naive in my views I don’t think. I’ve done 5 case studies of early adopters of cloud services and the experiences are better, faster, less expensive and less risky. The best way to accelerate progress is just to agitate for action … no in a “bet the farm” manner but just to get some projects running so folks have some hands-on experience and can get a better grasp of the real benefit/cost trade-offs.

      • The question of how to move things forward is an interesting one. Of course it all comes down to leadership, but I’m a bit skeptical about the merits of whole- of-government brute-force from DTF etc. I discuss some of the catalysts here:

        The Ovum Cloud Services Catalysts Framework defines the key leadership decisions, business needs, and Internet-age-thinking catalysts that empower agencies to embrace the cloud in case studies of early adoption. These catalysts include: an imperative or willingness to act; an acknowledged mismatch between business needs and ICT means; an opportunity for a fresh “greenfield” start; willingness to use a service with no/minimal customization; the need for a scalable solution (up and down); the need for ubiquitous access (any device, any location); the preparedness to access iteratively evolving functionality to drive innovation; and the enthusiasm to embrace an agile and flexible platform and an ecosystem of solutions.

        The catalyst framework provides a tool for thinking about the degree to which a cloud service is a good fit with the characteristics of an agency. It also provides a diagnostic tool for agency executives and for vendors to highlight the catalysts that may need to be created or nurtured in order to enable agencies to understand and embrace cloud services.

        I think the reality is that the discussion is better framed agency-by-agency because as soon as it becomes part of a whole-of-government agenda it all gets bogged down in very risk averse thinking and is quite insensitive to the pursuit of real policy or service delivery outcomes.

        The real value of the cloud model is revealed when outcomes-focused executives use cloud services to get stuff done with a pragmatic approach to risk management … whereas the central agencies are more inclined to focus on risk management even if it totally frustrates the achievement of outcomes …

        • Steve, appreciate the commentary you are providing. I believe you are providing a valueable service and enhanced reputation by doing so. Thanks.

    • Throwing different technology at it is unlikely to solve the problem. By cloud-ifying the services, you only address where you put it. Which is somewhat out of reach of the incompetent and unresponsive hands that are tasked with running it, and limiting the interfaces so they can’t screw it up. Trust me when I tell you that limiting the options simply means they will break fewer things and not get it right. In fact you will limit the options a department needs to do its job. Also, cloud only addresses the “where”, and not the business process or evolution of requirements. So cloud will have next to zero impact. Rather the problem is purely cultural. By eliminating the deadwood by providing accountability in a meaningful way, as well as a breeding a new culture of middle and upper management with a higher focus on competent results is the only way to end the cycle. Perform or get sacked..

      • But mature enterprise-grade cloud services are not a technology solution … this is the whole point. They are a shared service comprising a pre-assembled and proven bundle of people+process+technology. They radically externalise a whole chunk of ICT capability beyond the agency so they can’t screw it up … All they can do is consume it. good!

        • So its just adding cloud to a methodology. You might be able to tweak the process to take advantage of the paradigm that eliminates some risk. But it still boils down to the competence of those running it. Whatever the solution, competent and engaged professionals are key and this doesn’t automatically mean changing the technology as the solution. In fact the general (ill informed) belief is that technology is the goto answer, because it’s easier to spend money on tech than actually root out the issues with culture which is the premise of my response to govt IT problems. By changing the technology, you usually get different people thus changing performance. The fact that the technology has changed is merely co-incidental. You’ve turned this topic into a “cloud” discussion that you believe addresses the some of the underlying problems which is somewhat of a fallacy. Sure, you can use cloud. Not saying you shouldn’t, but it should come after solving the problem with people. Cloud and methodology doesn’t fix this type of problem in govt IT projects that go bad, it merely forces a change of people which may result in a good outcome…Besides government in Australia generally is not “cloud ready”, until policies catchup to the implication of multi-tenanted systems that can integrate with legacy systems.

          • Yes, you are right Crusty. We need to solve the problem on many fronts as per all of the threads above … Phew! oh well … It is the weekend and I’m about to catch a flight back to Oz from Singapore … Perhaps a solution will come to me over a beer in the airport lounge … ;-)

  12. Some further observations for Steve and Renai,

    I am currently undertaking a cloud computing brokerage consultancy (on behalf of a client), market testing for various supply side capabilities. I am discovering old colleagues re branding themselves using cloud computing language but discovering their behaviour has not changed. Indeed, I can remember them in workshops and meeting 10-15 years ago saying and doing the same things – only with a different wave of technology eg three tier client server to n tier technology and ESP a decade ago.

    They are still technologists seeing a business opportunity for themselves. (just as they did with previous waves of technology).

    Will cloud computing suffer the same hype cycle as everything else and is it just another /next wave of technology which will suffer the same problems of every other technology wave?

    Without adequate and mature client/supplier and business /technology relationships it seems to me that we will continue have the QH payroll situation repeated only with a new set of technologies.
    Removing or going around a poorly performing internal IT department direct to cloud computing when there is also abdication of managerial and executive leadership with regard to the use of technology will not change anything.

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