All-of-govt: will agencies need sticks or carrots to comply?

Detail of the Government CIO's all-of-government ICT strategy is beginning to emerge

The detail of the Government CIO’s exercise of “functional leadership” over all-of-government ICT is being teased out in papers due to go to Cabinet “in a few weeks”, says Sam Knowles, chair of the ICT Council.

At stake is the delicate balance between a chief executive’s, minister’s or government agency’s idea of a positive move in the agency’s ICT strategy and what is aligned with the all-of-government direction of ICT, steered by government CIO Colin MacDonald and the Department of Internal Affairs.

“The challenge is how do you make each marginal [ICT] investment take you down that [all-of-government] route?” Knowles asked a breakfast meeting of the Institute of IT Professionals to discuss the government’s ICT roadmap. “There have to be sticks and carrots, but one of the key elements is the change to functional leadership,” he says.

Functional leadership is defined in a Cabinet paper published in June this year as “leadership, on a cross-agency or cross-system basis, of an aspect of business activity. It is aimed at securing economies or efficiencies across departments, improving services or service delivery, developing expertise and capability across departments, and ensuring business continuity.”

MacDonald is specifically cited in that paper as an example of a functional leader.

“Colin MacDonald now has a mandate to actually make all-of-government decisions, in the sense of looking at the plans of agencies, understanding their investment and having a dialogue around how they’re making that investment relative to the all-of-government vision,” Knowles says.

“The intention isn’t to compel agencies to do what they don’t want to do; the intention is to have a debate and surface what is driving the decisions that are being made. If it’s discovered that what are driving them are things that are not in the interests of all-of-government, [we will] address those issues.”

The issues should be solvable by discussion between the agency’s ICT and the all-of government representatives “but if there are disputes – I’m sure there will be; that’s the nature of change; you don’t have change without breaking a few eggs – [we will] surface those disputes to government and have the arguments at the appropriate level about whether the right investment calls are being made.”

“Centrally led, collaboratively delivered” is the slogan representing the new philosophy, says Knowles, “with all the buzzwords in there; co-created strategy and planning – which means we have to get together to do it; unified and consistent architecture – which means we have to have a view as to where we want to get to before we set off on the journey; and continued devolution of delivery to clusters and departments.

“That means the true accountability for what actually works is with you, the ICT professional in the department to make it actually work,” he told the audience. “Despite all the frameworks and philosophies someone has to make sure it’s actually delivered.”

Computerworld asked how a slowly developing all-of-government ICT strategy can be reconciled with the drive within large agencies to establish a consistent direction of their own in areas where there is no fully defined all-of-government direction yet. Examples this year include Inland Revenue’s enterprise architecture standardisation and the Ministry of Education’s sector-wide adoption of the Hindin workflow and application-tool set

“That’s partly what this functional leadership is about,” said Knowles; “to give Colin MacDonald an explicit legislative mandate to [tell agencies]: ‘we do it this way’.”

But if the all-of-government way has not yet been defined, might the errant agency or group of agencies have to unwind what they’ve done when the framework is settled? A sensible approach will be taken, says Knowles. Often it will make more sense to allow a genuinely useful legacy system to play out its time before easing the agency into the all-of-government direction, he says. “If they’ve got a legacy issue like this, to make them take one step to the common government solution is often not sensible.

“This is more about making sure there’s really good debate and thinking going on and [the agency’s] not just saying ‘we’re going to do this because we’ve always done it this way’.”

Knowles was critcised by Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff for an apparent lack of attention to the privacy problems of citizens doing their government business online. “You mentioned only in passing something I see as fundamental to the relationship between government and the citizen,” she said.

Knowles replied it was not his intent to dismiss privacy challenges; he was simply tailoring his presentation to an audience of ICT professionals. Clearly the efficiency of the citizen having a central point for all of their dealings with government has to be balanced against privacy needs and every one will have their own view on where the appropriate balance lies, he said.

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