Govt computing reshuffle causes discontent

Web-standards group fighting to stay within the SSC's ICT branch

Border disputes have allegedly broken out, following the announcement of a government computing reshuffle.

Computerworld understands the web-standards group is fighting to stay within the SSC’s ICT branch, as it believes its purpose is strategic. The plan is to transfer it to the operational unit, Government Technology Services. This will, eventually, be placed under the control of the Department of Internal Affairs.

But, SSC spokesman Jason Ryan says any rumours of discontent are “just that, a rumour”. The parties haven’t decided yet whether some units will go to GTS or stay with the strategic side of e-government, he says. “Staff are being consulted.”

Half the staff of the State Services Commission could cross over into the GTS unit, once this is properly established. This is testimony to the huge role management of government computing has assumed within the SSC, says government CIO Laurence Millar.

The plan is to pass the operational aspects of all-of-government computing over to GTS, leaving just the strategic aspects under Millar’s control. This will result in staffing in the SSC’s ICT branch being reduced to about a quarter of what it is now, says Millar.

A general manager will be recruited for GTS and the agency will stay under the SSC for a year to 18 months, before being moved to the Department of Internal Affairs. This means DIA chief executive Brendan Boyle will regain some e-government responsibility. Boyle was recruited, in 2000, to both create and head the e-government unit — subsequently, the ICT branch — under the SSC.

The formation of GTS has sparked fears among bidders for government contracts of a return to the days of a centralised government computing service, with all-of-government projects limiting freedom of choice for individual agencies. Millar says this won’t happen, but agencies will be encouraged to collaborate on developments where their interests coincide.

“Previously, Customs would put in a system and [the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry] would put in a system separately.” Now, MAF and Customs will be expected to handle their requirements as a “joined-up investment”, and the systems will interoperate.

Millar sees this leading to centres of expertise evolving around ICT applications within related clusters of agencies. For example, MAF and Customs together constitute a natural cluster for border control. The National Library, which is concerned with digital content management, and Archives NZ, which has digital rights management responsibilities, constitute another natural cluster.

Millar hinted at such a strategy a year ago, when he talked about a “build once, use many times” approach being developed for ICT use by government agencies, rather than “big-bang consolidation” (Computerworld, December 13, 2006).

Gateway, a uniform methodology for monitoring capital spending, is also being brought in, both for major ICT developments and other big projects. Gateway was developed by the UK’s Office of Government Computing and has also been adopted by some Australian state governments.

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