Former government IT man Michael Amer says total outsourcing is the only answer to effective government IT management.
The government’s track record with IT projects is far from stellar, as headlines reveal an ongoing crisis of confidence in government’s ability to effectively manage and deliver IT projects.
Michael Amer, who worked for Government Computer Services for six years, questions the government’s ability to effectively manage an IT project.
“The big question is: how does government assure that it receives best value in return for the billions of dollars required annually as investment to maintain this information infrastructure?” asks Amer.
His answer: outsource the entire IT effort, hardware and software, and establish an IT organisation that is responsible for setting standards and for administering all IT arrangements for all government bodies.
“Most western countries have similar agencies to that, to promote the effective use of information technologies in government.”
Amer points to projects like INCIS as examples of how government IT projects can get out of hand.
“Police have taken on both the cost and the liability of failure. I’m saying, go to major organisations and contract them to provide the application [as opposed to specific parts of the project].”
Amer’s position goes beyond just outsourcing the project. He would like to see all software ownership outsourced as well.
“Applications shouldn’t be owned by the government. They should be contracted as development to private enterprise to provide them as an ASP [application solution provider].” Amer believes this way government agencies could avoid the problems that occur in IT, but still reap the benefits.
“Very large, robust and complex information systems are required for government to function in a modern economy. Well-implemented information systems deliver increased productivity, an expansion of meaningful and valuable core business functions and improved efficiencies.”
But Ross Stewart, partner with recruitment specialist Wilson White, says most government departments already outsourced the majority of their IT structure and it hasn’t helped yet. “Look at INCIS, that’s outsourced to IBM and that’s a classic example of an IT project gone bad.”
As for a central agency, Stewart believes that role is already partly filled by State Services, albeit after the event.
“There’s not a lot of commonality between departments, apart from things like Word and Excel and so on. There’s a hell of a difference between social welfare, police and Airways corporation.”
Minister of Information Technology Maurice Williamson says government IT project management has undergone vast changes in recent years.
“We have an ad hoc group of ministers who meet to discuss projects in excess of $5 million to ensure we don’t get the sort of high-profile disasters like INCIS.”