blog Those of you who follow such matters may recall that Western Australia’s Department of Health is not precisely known for its skills in ICT governance. The department has botched a number of major IT projects, including the fit-out of the new Fiona Stanley Hospital built in the Perth Central Business District, which went at least $151 million over its IT budget.
Much of the problems appear to relate to the fact that there has, for the past half-decade and more, been no permanent chief information officer at the Department to manage its IT operations, with that role having been allocated to temporary fill-in executives, as well as integrated into other roles.
As a result of these issues, in April 2014, the Western Australian State Parliament’s Education and Health Standing Committee told WA Health in no uncertain terms to, you know, hire a goddamn chief information officer to start fixing its mess. This is what the Committee told the Department at the time, referring to the Health Information Network aspect of WA Health which is supposed to handle technology support.
“We are also concerned that DoH has failed to make a permanent appointment to the position for over four years. In our view, such a sustained string of acting appointments is undesirable, particularly when HIN was supposed to be leading its most ambitious and challenging program of work undertaken to date. Dedicated leadership was needed in this period more than ever, yet this was compromised by the failure to appoint a permanent head for HIN.”
“Indeed, [senior project manager] Mr Giles Nunis told us that leadership within HIN was “left wanting” and “inexperienced” with regard to developing, program managing and implementing the technology component of the commissioning project; with his 20 years of ICT experience, it took him just two days to work out what the problems with FSH were and identify a path forward.”
The report stated that the Department “must ensure that a permanent appointment be made to the position of chief information officer, Health Information Network, as soon as possible”.
Commentators such as yours truly received the news in October 2015 that the Department had finally advertised for a CIO positively; it appeared to show that the Department was trying to rectify its ICT governance problems.
However, according to an article published by iTnews yesterday, that recruitment effort has failed, with the Department now claiming it is unable to find a suitable candidate and has instead allocated the role to the newly created Health Support Services shared services agency. The outlet reports (we recommend you click here for the full article):
“… a spokesman for WA Health has confirmed to iTnews that the recruitment was unsuccessful, after the agency was unable to find a suitable applicant from the field of candidates.”
In my view, this is a farcical outcome.
For starters, it is clearly ridiculous to say that a major state government department such as WA Health would be unable to find a qualified candidate to be its chief information officer.
Secondly, even if the department has spun out its IT shared services into a separate agency, it will still need an individual within WA Health itself to coordinate relationships when it comes to IT services with that agency.
The other side to this issue is that you cannot expect the CEO of a broad-based shared services agency to pay the amount of attention to the IT side of things that is needed. Clearly they will have a plethora of other issues to worry about. Even within that kind of shared services organisation, a dedicated IT lead is needed.
From a fundamental point of view, every major organisation in Australia needs a senior executive to hold its top technology role. The minute you abandon that concept, is the minute you invite the kind of IT disasters and cost blow-outs that are already rife within Australia’s state-based public sector.
And in an organisation the size of WA Health — with tens of thousands of staff and a huge budget — the scale of those IT disasters is likely to be significant.
And all due to an appalling lack of recognition for rigorous ICT governance structures.