Finding out how much government departments spend on information technology is easier said than done.
In March Computerworld wrote to all departments and asked, under the Official Information Act, the amount of money spent in the past five years on IT projects (excluding operating costs) and the defined benefits achieved.
We also sought to find out -what the projected expenditure was on current projects, and projected expenditure and anticipated benefits on IT projects looking out three years.
Coincidentally, the government itself wanted to know what was being spent — particularly in the wake of bad publicity over projects such as INCIS at police, and NDIS at the National Library. The State Services Commission was given the task of doing the stocktake of all IT projects.
Computerworld’s individual requests to government departments were passed on to the commission. Deputy commissioner Ross Tanner wrote: “In recognition of the size of the task I am extending the time limit for responding to your request to July 31, 1997.
“As to the second and third portions of your request this information is being -withheld ... as the information is subject to budget secrecy restrictions ... and to enable the government to carry on commercial negotiations without prejudice or disadvantage.”
Last week Computerworld contacted the commission for the answers to our first question. Tanner, who is now involved in other business, referred us to the commission’s information management chief adviser, Helen Meehan.
Meehan says the public service didn’t have the skills to do the stocktake, so it was put out to tender for an international benchmarking survey. The tender was won by Pohlen Robinson, which will use Real Decisions’ international database.
A questionnaire is currently being tested before it is sent to all departments.
Meehan says the project is on track to deliver the information in September but that date is dependent on responses from departments.
When Computerworld sent out the original letters, a senior executive at one department told us that it was easy to fudge information sought under the Official Information Act. Hopefully, that won’t happen and the information will become available in September.
After all, the government would like to know too.