PWC recommends 'portfolio' thinking for govt tech

Consultancy backs aspects of Australian Gershon report

All-of-government ICT projects should be managed in a portfolio style, PricewaterhouseCoopers recommends in its report on the failed Government Shared Network, released this month.

With this approach, like a share portfolio, resources can be diverted quickly from one less successful project to another that is bringing more benefits, while the overall impact of developments can be considered together and synergies exploited.

This requires a strengthening of overall central governance, PWC suggests.

PWC supports the idea of a ministerial ICT committee, which has been proposed for New Zealand following the recommendations of the Gershon report on ICT in the Australian Federal government.

“It is recommended that central agencies, including the proposed Ministerial ICT Committee, will be the driving force and catalyst for the planning and delivery of all-of-government ICT,” PWC says.

The Cabinet-level ministerial committee would make decisions on ICT incentives with an all-of-government impact; these would be passed up to it by a “central agency ICT committee”, working at a more tactical and operational level.

The consultancy suggests there is the belief in some larger government agencies that these have more experience than central agencies when it comes to implementing all-of-government initiatives.

The accountability models enshrined in the Public Finance Act and machinery of government structure “do not currently support a collaborative ethic”, PWC says.

Moreover, performance management incentives concentrate too heavily on “vertical” delivery of services within agencies” rather than “horizontal outcomes and outputs focusing on a citizen or group-of-citizens basis”, it says.

Reports on the progress of the GSN project through 2005 to 2008 show repeated misgivings by independent quality assurance company Hexad, concerning the overall co-ordination of GSN development against the all-of-government ICT progress.

The fourth of about 20 independent quality assurance reports, written in January 2006, noted “the GSN project appears to be proceeding in advance of all-of-government operations.

“The GSN project plan and plans for operational readiness of all-of-government operations will need to be brought into alignment,” it states.

Subsequent reports continue to lament the lack of coordination between GSN and the broader government programme, and recommend a clearer delineation of responsibilities between the two.

For a period in 2006, quality assurance reports show development being held back by a search for funding specifically for the GSN, in isolation from all-of-government efforts as a whole.

In early 2008, after “Project Exit” (the point at which the GSN was moved from a development to an operational facility), Hexad pointed to slippage in delivery dates of GSN services to those agencies that had adopted the network.

“The root causes of slippage in GSN delivery dates should be identified and addressed,” Hexad says. It suggests in another report late in the project, that unexpected technical difficulties were arising in connection with the wide variety of computer equipment that agencies were running.

There is concern the slippage “may introduce a high degree of scepticism within the wider environment regarding the ability of the GSN programme to meet target delivery dates for GSN projects,” the 2008 report added.

The PWC report was one of two released this month into the GSN. The other enquired into the probity of the procurement process and the relationship between New Zealand government CIO Laurence Millar and consultancy Voco, which led the GSN project.

The report found no fault with Voco’s activities or any deliberate wrongdoing on either side, but did find mishandling of the contracts at the State Services Commission.

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