DIA previews government ICT strategy

Balance between all-of-government approach and individual departments doing their own thing

Department of Internal Affairs deputy chief executive Tim Occleshaw has given the Government ICT Strategy and Action Plan to 2017 a soft launch at the Govis conference earlier this week and at last week's CIO Summit.

The full text of the strategy will not be released for "a few weeks" yet, Internal Affairs Minister Chris Tremain says, but he and Occleshaw gave enough detail of the strategy and plan to form a fairly full picture.

It will concentrate on stimulating collaboration within and among government agencies on ICT plans and encouraging -- and in some cases, it appears, enforcing -- the use of uniform all-of-government software and hardware solutions.

"Centrally led; collaboratively delivered" is the catch-phrase and the man at the centre is Government CIO Colin MacDonald, who has been given "functional leadership" of the ICT sector in government (Computerworld, September 28, 2012).

Central leadership "won't break the public-service model, of individual chief-executive accountability for the programmes, projects and operations of each agency," Occleshaw told both conferences. But "sometimes" the GCIO will have "right of way at the intersection", he says.

So under what circumstances will this "right of way" be invoked?

"We are working through these matters, and more information will be available shortly," Occleshaw told Computerworld.

"For example, where there is a mandate for a common capability such as Infrastructure as a Service, the GCIO will require that agencies use that service and does not expect agencies to build their own."

The question has been a thorny one for many years; Computerworld discussed the potential conflict with the first head of the State Services Commission's e-government unit, Brendan Boyle, early in his tenure. Other planks of the latest ICT strategy, such as the intention to be "customer-centric", and the feasibility of government-agency restructuring presenting a different appearance at actual and virtual levels, are also reminiscent of that Boyle interview.

Occleshaw sees future government ICT being "customer centric not just at the end-point", where the user operates the web portal or front-end application, but as a foundation principle in the design.

Government ICT is today "fragmented" as a result of individual agencies' operational strategies, Occleshaw acknowledges. At the horizon of the new strategy, 2017, he asked his audiences to "imagine an integrated ecosystem, where the boundaries between agencies will be much less visible to the user."

A slide in his presentations shows government agencies as a tightly linked circular shopping mall, with various all-of-government services and external providers in a cloud above it.

He envisages staff at agencies with superior knowledge of vital aspects such as security and privacy helping those in other agencies with less experience.

"Government is developing common architectures and standards" which will facilitate easy reuse of experience and software among agencies, Occleshaw says, "but uptake is variable." A more standard approach will reduce duplication. It is likely that a repertoire of common backend or back-office systems will be developed or acquired for "commodity" applications such as basic finances and human resources.

"We need to look at what functions are specific to particular agencies and which are commodity functions," he says, seeing a future where agencies will largely assemble systems from standard components rather than developing them from scratch.

A sufficient uniformity of outlook will confer flexibility, he says. "We need to give government the ability to shift the boundaries between agencies without breaking the model."

Occleshaw acknowledges that government has a job to do in restoring public confidence, following several security and privacy breaches over the past year, along with the Novopay situation. That too will be a thread of the strategy and action plan

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