news The two most senior ministers responsible for delivering technology projects in the NSW State Government have both declared they are “excited”, Big Kev-style, about the progress which the state has made over the past six months on implementing the state’s new whole of government ICT strategy, designed to lead it out of “the dark ages” of ICT service delivery.
In May, the state’s new Coalition administration published a wide-ranging ICT strategy which it said was slated to make it “the leader in ICT” when it came to public sector service delivery and the development of the state’s technology sector as a whole.
The strategy is based on a number of key planks, which all have key deliverables which various NSW State Government agencies will be required to deliver over the next two to three years and beyond. The planks dea with issues ranging from consumer-facing web forms and mobile applications, to the establishment of private cloud computing infrastructure and even a new whole of government social media policy to guide the interactions of public servants through platforms such as Twitter.
Its implementation is being led by NSW Deputy Premier and Minister for Trade and Investment, Andrew Stoner, and Minister for Finance and Services Greg Pearce, who have both taken a personal interest in the ICT sector.
Last week, the pair held an ICT forum at NSW Parliament House to give industry and media an update on the progress of the implementation of the strategy. “I’m a bit like Big Kev,” Stoner told the audience, pumping his fist in the air in a move reminiscent of the businessman’s popular advertisements. “I’m excited.” Added Pearce directly after Stoner’s speech: “I’m excited too!”
Pearce said the Coalition Government in NSW had been able to achieve more in the ICT portfolio in 18 months in office than the previous Government had been able to in 16 years holding power.
An ‘implementation highlights’ document distributed on the day listed a number of action items on the plan as being “completed”, ranging from the development of a technology roadmap for the new Service NSW agency to the publication of an Open Government plan, expanding the role of the Government’s ICT board to include the governance of ICT procurement, the piloting of two early industry engagement projects with a focus on improving frontline services, and the development of an electronic information security policy. A new ICT Skills and Capability Working Group has also been created to ensure a whole of government approach to ICT resourcing.
Separately, Stoner highlighted a major of other moves in his speech that the Government had recently taken, such as signing a key contract with NEC to manage the telecommunications of NSW Police and the deployment of wireless networks at 129 rural and regional libraries to boost Internet access in those areas. NSW was also supporting local IT startups through initiatives such as the Tech23 event.
Pearce also separately outlined a number of initiatives which the NSW Government had undertaken over the past few months. The state had created a new ICT governance framework and a NSW ICT board, giving the industry “a seat at the table straight away”, he said, and had established an ICT leadership group composed of chief information officers and business leaders in government, reporting to the state’s ICT Working Group and developing specific work plans and strategies.
NSW had mandated that its departments and agencies use its standardised ProcureIT contract, Pearce said, to make it easier for industry to engage with government, and was finalising a short-forum version of the contract for low-risk engagements. It had also starting allowing suppliers to retain the intellectual property generated in engagements with government, and was establishing an IT services catalogue, again, to make standardised purchasing easier.
By the end of this year, Pearce said, all NSW departments would adhere to the government’s Open Government model, releasing data online and using social media to communicate, and new social media policy guidelines for public servants and departments had been drafted and would shortly be available for inspection by the public.
Work was being undertaken on opening up the Government’s data through the data.nsw website – for example, so that it could be used by third-party application developers. An open access licensing framework was being developed to that end, and NSW was organising events with universities and industry to educate them about the new datasets, Pearce said.
Work is also progressing in the IT infrastructure space. Pearce mentioned the major datacentre contract which NSW has recently signed, and he also mentioned that a cloud computing strategy was being developed, with a private cloud pilot project being scoped, with the IT industry to be consulted in the next few weeks.
In general, Pearce said the ICT environment moved fast, but that the public sector had traditionally moved slowly. “The risk is that the benefits can be lost while the sector moves in behind it,” he said. “We need to be flexible and adaptive.” With this in mind, he said, NSW was taking “a new and more open approach” to connecting with the IT industry, rather than the old approach, which Pearce said was like “going out with a shopping list and not being sure if what was on the list was going to be any use to you”.
“The govt’s ICT strategy, I believe, is rightly an ambitious program of reform,” the Minister said. “I believe it is significant and confirms our commitment to continuing on this journey with you.” However, Pearce acknowledged that the new whole of government ICT strategy was “a document of some terror” for him, specifying as it did some 85 actions and key timeframes which had to be met.
It’s not the first time that the NSW Government has unveiled a wide-ranging IT strategy.
In mid-2006, the state’s then-chief information officer, Paul Edgecumbe, outlined a $565 million savings strategy to consolidate state government technology infrastructure, with back-office applications such as email and payroll systems to be consolidated, and the savings directed to ‘front line’ technologies such as e-learning, patient care and emergency services.
That program was broadly viewed by the industry as problematic, with Edgecumbe having left his position after just two years in the role, and his successor, Emmanual Rodriguez, repeatedly refusing to communicate about the outcomes of the project. Rodriguez has stepped down from the CIO role. However, the AustralianIT reported in January 2011 that the so-called “People First” strategy had delivered about $523 million in savings in the long run, basing its article on an audit by consulting firm Ernst & Young of the initiative.
I wrote the following last week in a separate article, and I believe it applies here as well:
“After speaking with Deputy Premier Stoner and Minister Pearce yesterday, I was left with an overwhelming feeling of optimism about NSW’s chances. The pair know what they are talking about in this area, and they were very clearly aware of the issues which I mentioned in other states. They are actively working in this area in NSW and are absolutely across the details and the issues. They both “get” technology – including, surprisingly, enterprise IT – and are competent in discussing it with relation to their administration.
To say this is refreshing is an understatement. The previous Labor Government in NSW also had an ambitious IT modernisation and service delivery agenda, but it is highly debatable whether it ever actually managed to deliver on that agenda, and for the last five years of its life, getting any minister or even public servants to comment on any issue in this portfolio was basically next to impossible. IT was like the problem child for the Labor NSW Government. In comparison, the new Coalition NSW Government has placed IT front and centre, with ministers who understand the portfolio and are seeking to rapidly and aggressively develop the local industry.”
It’s hard to know right now to what extent NSW is actually delivering on its wide-ranging whole of government ICT strategy. There are many action points included in the document, and it involves dozens of departments. No doubt the State Government is behind on quite a few aspects, but also ahead on some. That’s the nature of this kind of endeavour.
But what we definitely do know is that there is a great deal of movement in this space, being led by two highly informed and activist ministers, where previously there was little to no movement, and little to no interest in this portfolio by the political leaders of the NSW Government. The mood at last week’s ICT industry forum in NSW Parliament House was highly positive, and I recognised quite a few ICT industry luminaries at the event who seemed excited about the progress NSW is making. We can joke all we like about Big Kev, but the truth is that both Pearce and Stoner, not to mention the IT industry and government IT workers themselves, do actually seem “excited” about this strategy, and that’s a fantastic thing. Let’s hope the will for positive change in this area endures.