Agencies hold back on ICT sharing

Government agencies have been reluctant to collaborate on software and communications standards and their overseers admit it simply isn't good enough.

Brad Ward of the Ministry of Economic Development and Associate IT Minister David Cunliffe acknowledge that despite several years of effort by the e-government unit to impose some interoperability on government ICT operations, agencies still work substantially in their own "silos".

Cunliffe and Ward were speaking at a Wellington session convened to get public feedback on the draft strategy. The minister described how he had to fill in nine different forms to satisfy the requirements of various public-sector agencies in getting treatment for his knee, "and 90 percent of the information on those forms was identical".

Rationalizing government operations, they say, will enable businesses as well as individuals to enter information only once. This will be online and should reduce the cost and effort of complying with government regulations.

The obstacles to increased collaboration are not primarily technological, Ward agreed with a questioner from the audience, but are influenced by a fierce traditional independence of agencies and their chief executives. Increased sharing of information among government agencies can also be expected to raise privacy concerns, he acknowledged.

Reg Hammond, head of the MED's ICT policy team, suggests there will be "carrot rather than stick" in encouraging government agencies throw in with the strategy. They are likely to find that suggested ICT projects which are seen as strategy-aligned will be funded more readily than others which are not.

The feedback workshop, like the preceding one in Auckland, was oversubscribed for its limit of 150. A second workshop will be held in Auckland to cope with the overspill from that event.

A series of 10 "community" workshops will also be held around the country, seeking to take the message direct to the people.

The message they are already giving, says Cunliffe, is that they know much of what they want to achieve with ICT. "The message is: 'Don't tell us what to do; give us a toolkit to do it'." The government team pushed hard the message that increased use of ICT could be expected to lead to more efficient businesses, but Ward notes there is "no simple correlation between the adoption of ICT and increased productivity." Factors such as management acumen are essential, he says. It's clearly not enough to put in an ERP or CRM suite and expect an automatic improvement. "You must understand your business, then work out where to apply IT for best effect."

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