Government officials from different agencies will be told to work together and use “common capability” tools in ICT “by default”, new Department of Internal Affairs chief executive Colin MacDonald says.
This is a major change from the stance of individual responsibility and accountability of previous years, he acknowledges.
“Yes, you can opt out,” he told an audience including many senior government executives at the FutureGov conference recently; but in order to opt out, CEOs and staff will face a severe test from their ministers. “The bar to opting out will be set high,” MacDonald says; “just how high is the subject of a paper going to ministers very soon,” so everyone will get a chance to provide input.
“My contention is that if we are to meet those high expectations of ministers then opting out of common capability will have to be very well evidenced; there will need to be very good reasons why an agency would want to do it,” MacDonald says.
MacDonald assumed the role of CEO in April, the same month the DIA got a new minister, Chris Tremain, after ICT Minister Amy Adams relinquished the portfolio in a Cabinet reshuffle.
“I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that you have a new minister and a new chief executive coming into a portfolio at the same time,” MacDonald told the conference; “but it has given us the opportunity to go on that learning journey together to understand where we are and where we’re heading.”
He sees optimistic signs of a constructive spirit towards collaboration. Agencies that have similar functions are starting to work in clusters, he says. “Each cluster has a lead agency and within each cluster we’re starting to see a lot of collaboration on developing common capabilities.”
“While we don’t want to control everything from the centre” some uniform “functional” capabilities like call centres might work better with centralised control. “Why would you have clusters for call centres?” he asked rhetorically.
Tremain called for increased dialogue between agencies and potential technology providers under an “open door to innovation” initiative. This invites proactive “proposals from companies with a proven and developed product,” rather than their waiting for a relevant request for information.
Such “openmindedness” is also part of the new government ICT mindset, he says. “We need to keep an open mind to innovation but at the same time develop a clear direction” he told the conference.