news The Federal Government this morning revealed it had abolished its whole of government chief information officer role in the wake of the departure of the last public servant to hold the position, Glenn Archer, with the position’s responsibilities to devolve to a much lower profile role in the Department of Finance.
The position of whole of government chief information officer dates back to June 2005, when former Centrelink manager Ann Steward was appointed to the position, which also formerly led the Australian Government Information Office (AGIMO).
AGIMO, which evolved out of the National Office of the Information Economy in the early years of last decade, has been responsible for setting whole of government technology policy when it comes to the internal IT operations of the Federal Government. From 2005 until early 2013, AGIMO has slowly been growing its responsibilities within Government, most visibly in areas relating to whole of Government procurement.
However, with much of the practicalities of the whole of government CIO role remaining in practice in the hands of individual departmental chief information officers and secretaries, AGIMO has appeared to struggle at times to find its place. In January 2013, following a review by consultant Ian Reinecke, AGIMO was split into two, with two internal staffers to replace Steward’s role after the executive resigned in November 2012.
One of the two public servants appointed to a more senior role in December 2012 was Archer, previously First Assistant Secretary, Policy and Planning, within AGIMO. Archer’s whole of government CIO role was to focus on whole of government ICT policy; while a colleague, John Sheridan, was appointed chief technology officer to focus on whole of government service delivery. Archer resigned from his post in early February to join analyst firm Gartner.
This morning Chris Dale, Assistant Secretary of the Government Network Services Branch from the Department of Finance, which houses AGIMO, noted in a speech given to the CeBIT conference in Sydney that Archer would not be replaced. The full speech is available online.
“The role of the Australian Government Chief Information Officer will not be replaced,” he said. “Rosemary Deininger has undertaken Glenn’s responsibilities as the First Assistant Secretary of the newly created Efficiency, Assurance and Digital Government Cluster. Rosemary will oversee whole of government ICT policy and investment, and will chair ICT governance bodies such as the Australian Government’s Chief Information Officer Committee.”
“The role of John Sheridan as Australian Government Chief Technology Officer in charge of the Technology and Procurement Division continues to provide whole of government ICT services and infrastructure, and he retains the role of Australian Government Procurement Coordinator responsible for all whole of government procurement advice, services and the Commonwealth Procurement Rules.”
The move effectively puts an end to the decade-long position of AGIMO within the Federal Government and devolves much of its responsibilities to other groups within the Department of Finance. Sheridan himself is already largely viewed as being a Department of Finance representative rather than a representative from a separate agency such as AGIMO.
Criticism of AGIMO as a stand-alone agency within the Federal Government is not new. Documents released under Freedom of Information laws in April 2012, for example, appeared to show that the minister overseeing AGIMO was concerned about its ability to deliver on a whole of government technology strategy, with yet another review being commissioned into its performance. And in November 2010, consultant Ian Reinecke in his review of the Government’s implementation of the Gershon IT reforms confirmed AGIMO had successfully delivered many of the reforms, but revealed there were a variety of conflicting views about the agency’s efficacy held throughout the Federal public sector.
Dale’s speech in general did not outline a broad way forward for the Federal Government’s centralised IT policy. Instead, it largely focused on outlining reforms promised by the Coalition in its pre-election commitments, especially the eGovernment and Digital Economy Policy (PDF). However, Dale did not significantly outline how the Government plans to enact those reforms.
In addition, he stipulated that the reforms were expected to cost little. “It is also worth addressing at this point that the pre-election commitment is budget neutral, so there will be no additional money for agencies to implement the vision,” he said. “This is not a bad thing, as digital improvements should be integrated into business as usual planning rather than seen as something separate.”
In its government IT election policy, the Coalition pledged to undertake a reboot of whole of government ICT leadership. Well, I guess we’re now seeing precisely how that promise will be met — by abolishing the office of the Whole of Government chief information officer and allocating precisely zero dollars to its eGovernment reforms. Awesome — sounds like it’s party time for government technologists.
This morning Dale told CeBIT that it was “a very exciting time for technologists in the public service”, adding: “At all levels of government, we are aware of the valuable leadership role the public sector plays in supporting Australia’s transition to a digital economy.”
However, personally I would argue that this morning’s speech highlights the precise opposite. In actual fact, isn’t it a terrible time to be a government technologist, with the new Coalition Government removing the public service’s chief IT champion (its whole of government CIO) and mandating a raft of new eGovernment initiatives, but without allocating any additional funding to see them enacted? It all sounds like more of the same factors that have previously resulted in chronic underinvestment in IT in Australia’s government departments over the past decade. Wow … exciting!