FORUM: Focus on risk management could overshadow innovation

Randal Jackson asks whether the RFP process will get in the way of the govt's ICT goals

Innovation was the vogue word when the Government launched its ICT Roadmap overview. It was clearly stated that innovation was the primary purpose of the ICT council, which wants sustainable collaborative models and dialogue with suppliers based around innovation.

An Open Door to Innovation policy will be trialled over 12 months, a standing invitation for proposals from companies with proven and developed products.

“We will provide active support, input, advice and engagement to shape and qualify proposals to the appropriate decision-making bodies,” the council says. “At all times, we will work in partnership to achieve the best results for you and for government ICT.”

One important aspect that has not been addressed is process. Any government tender these days is focused on risk management. Risk needs to be addressed but not to the point of limiting options – and thus innovation.

It was a lesson discovered through adversity by the Christchurch City Council. As detailed recently in Computerworld, information manager Gavin Till found that after the two devastating earthquakes, decisions had to be made quickly, without following process. Focusing instead on outcomes and addressing risk on the fly produced the necessary results, to the point that he has now adopted that methodology for future decision making.

As Till says, it’s better to produce something now for the business that may not be 100 percent to specification rather than wait some years for a gold-plated solution.

Yes, risk needs to be accounted for, but not to the extent where tender documents want to address every possible risk. Follow that path and there is no room for innovation.

NZ Rise co-chairman Don Christie reckons that outcomes become even riskier because of the high focus on risk management.

Extended process also has the habit of generating multiple managers, all of whom have a vested interest in retaining their jobs. They inevitably add to the cost of projects.

New Zealand is a country of just four million people. We can’t afford huge costs to service a relatively small population. When the focus is on process and risk management, there is little left for innovation.

It’s often said that government is about process, not outcomes. Better that we should get on with the business of enabling both business and society.

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