All-of-govt common solutions may eventually be compulsory

'I'll do it my way' approach to govt ICT has led to fragmentation: Sam Knowles

Some ministers have suggested government agencies be compelled to adopt emerging, common, all-of-government ICT services, says Sam Knowles chair of the recently formed government ICT Council.

“I don’t think that’s the way to get buy-in,” he says, “but that’s not to say it won’t happen at some stage.”

He was addressing a meeting of the New Zealand Computer Society’s Wellington branch yesterday.

As a strategy one step back from outright compulsion, the Council and other all-of-government ICT decision-making bodies “will start formalising opt-out processes – over time, not right today” where an agency that doesn’t want to take advantage of the common solution will have to provide a good reason why.

“A number of years down the track,” when the common processes have “thoroughly proved themselves”, the opt-out choice may be withdrawn, Knowles says.

Government has not had a good history of mandating or even strongly encouraging agencies’ use of common ICT facilities, from failure of the GoProcure procurement hub in 2003 to the more recent grumbles from users of the unsuccessful Government Shared Network, which one.govt replaced.

Decades of an “I’ll do it my way” attitude in government agencies has led to a duplicated and fragmented ICT infrastructure, claims Knowles, the former CEO of Kiwibank.

“We spend a lot of money; we’re not particularly well at meeting [users’] needs and a lot of that cost is going just to maintaining the legacy of what we’ve already built,”

“That’s not greatly different to many companies in the commercial world,” he said, “but it is probably fair to say the government has taken quite a long time to figure out how to start addressing this issue.”

In the commercial world, remedying the legacy of uncoordinated development has been recognised as a leading issue for many years, he says. He was considering the same challenges in the 1980s when working on restructuring the banking shared-services company Databank, he says.

Attitudes to the current plans for ICT rationalisation range within government from “it is about time” to “it is never going to work”, he says – “and sometimes those two comments come from the same people".

Initiatives that are under way have met with varying degrees of acceptance, Knowles says; the one.govt common networking service has had good buy-in – 21 agencies connect through more than 600 ports – but i.govt, the single sign-on service, has gained only 12 user agencies to date.

Common buying schemes for laptops (126 agencies signed up) and multifunction devices (86 agencies) are almost no-brainers, he says “If you can buy a laptop for two-thirds what it cost you yesterday, why wouldn’t you?” Yet acceptance is still far from universal.

The stimulus to smarten up government ICT is coming not only from a direction of fiscal restraint but from technologically-savvy users wanting service through an increasing number of channels. Pressure for government data to be opened up and made available to third-party suppliers is another major factor steering the move, Knowles says.

Government has set up a three-level committee structure to coordinate the push towards all-of government services. The ICT Council forms the bottom layer of this The other two major pieces are the Ministerial Committee on ICT and the ICT Strategy Group, including agency chief executives and representatives of coordinating agencies.

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Tags nz computer societysam knowlesgovernment ict council

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