PM advisory group recommends increasing powers of govt CIO

Christchurch recovery could be testbed for more online access

An advisory-group report on boosting efficiency in the public service recommends increased powers for the office of the Government CIO.

In addition to driving the standardisation in ICT among government agencies, the CIO should be given “the ability to directly influence or even control the ICT budgets of agencies would be required,” says the report, which was released at the same time as Prime Minister John Key’s speech to the Auckland Chamber of Commerce on the creating a more efficient public service.

Encouragement since the late 1980s of a culture of individual responsibility by government agency chief executives has meant each department has “tended to consider its own accommodation, ICT, processing and procurement needs in isolation. Over time, this has led to higher back-office costs and incompatible systems.” This has made it difficult, says the group, to tackle cross-agency issues “such as prioritising investment in ICT” in a coordinated way.

For some, talk of centralised ICT budget control will stir memories of the early 1980s, when computer purchases were controlled by the Computing Services Division of the SSC and machines that no longer served the needs of one government agency would be reused in a smaller agency if possible.

There is evidence of fragmentation and duplication in agencies’ service delivery, says the group. “Each agency makes its own decisions about service delivery approach, resources and channels. This leads to many fragmented and disconnected service delivery points.” Online services should be used more, though not in isolation. “Evidence suggests that citizens like online services, which are cheaper, but like access to other channels as well. However, even a five percent reduction in the cost of a single service could save an estimated $40 million a year. It is to be expected that, over the next 10 years, there will continue to be a major shift to electronic service provision, in place of the more traditional channels.”

The Government CIO’s office, it is suggested, should help push along this change. “This report recommends that agencies align and optimise their service delivery resources and shift transactional services to online channels more rapidly. It also recommends that the Government Chief Information Officer develop a systematic, cross-government strategy for achieving this. This would provide citizens with an integrated set of services, better use scarce expertise and reduce costs over time.”

Use of shared government cloud computing facilities “could deliver a step-change in efficiency, save millions and remove ICT boundaries across agencies”, the report says. But creating the economies of scale to make such a cloud setup work would need “a radical increase in standardisation and the centralisation of decision-rights”.

Key, in his Auckland speech, says the report “sets a clear direction for change”, but it is not initially clear to what degree its detailed recommendations will be adopted. Those points not committed to in the March 15 speech are being “worked through” by government, says Key.

One suggestion in the report is that the Christchurch rebuild could serve as a testbed “to trial more extensive use of interactive, web-based information technologies to provide information to and engage with citizens on the design and improvement of services”.

The advisory group which produced the report, had the following members:

Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Chief Executive Maarten Wevers (chair)

Watercare Services Ltd (Auckland) Chief Executive Mark Ford

Air New Zealand Group General Manager, people and technical operations, Vanessa Stoddart

Wise Group Chief Executive Jacqui Graham

State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie

Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf

Victoria University School of Government Professor Peter Hughes

State Services Commission Deputy Commissioner Sandi Beatie.

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