Central power key to e-govt, says former NZ CIO

Laurence Millar revisits his e-government efforts

Former government CIO Laurence Millar promised at the start of his address to the GOVIS conference last month that there would be “no dirt” revealed in relation to his abrupt resignation from the post, and that of Deputy State Services Commissioner.

However, there were a few hints on what he thought was wrong with the Clark and Key governments’ view (particularly the former) of e-government.

At GOVIS 2003, Millar commented on e-government as a private consultant and he’s now in that outside position again but with five years’ experience in the public sector to draw on.

Displaying a graphic from early in his time in charge of e-government (2004 to 2009) showing many agencies’ efforts converging into one large arrowhead of consistent direction, he says “we’ve got some way towards that but there’s still quite a long way to go.”

The “shining vision” of one-stop service to the customer for a transaction involving several agencies is still, there, he says and there are people working towards it.

“I’m at a loss to know why it takes such a long time to get things done in government.”

Government’s integrated service framework has arguably suffered two significant setbacks in the past few months, with the canning of the Government Shared Network and — subsequent to Millar’s address — the collapse of the G2009 all-of-government negotiations with Microsoft.

Later in his speech, he compared New Zealand’s progress with the UK and Canada. They've more successfully “mainstreamed” ICT in government, integrating it successfully with core government processes, he says. “But government there is more centralised than New Zealand. The ability to operate command and control from the centre is a lot more powerful.”

The independent decisionmaking power of agencies’ chief executives has often been pointed out by commentators within and outside government as a handicap to all-of-government initiatives like the GSN.

Millar also expressed his relative dislike of the complex 2006 version of the e-government strategy which tried to integrate e-government with overall development goals for government and state services as a whole. This he says was less workable than the first (2003) version of the strategy.

”It was too complex; one of the key things is it’s got to be simple; you have to keep giving the same message over and over again.”

The inclusion of “participation” as a goal in the second version of the strategy, however, was “prescient”, he says.

He is proud of the centralised authentication system, igovt; “that’s the shape of authentication for the future; it’s internationally recognised as best practice.” By comparison, he says, the UK is still pressing ahead with plans for a universal identity card, against considerable public resistance.

Millar’s title was “the Sisyphean Challenge of Transforming Government”, a reference to the mythical figure of Sisyphus, condemned to roll a boulder up a hill repeatedly, only to have it roll down again; the symbol of unending, repetitive and pointless labour. He says he is inclined to agree with the first two adjectives, but the labour is not pointless or unrewarding, he says.

He displayed a cartoon version of Sysiphus with an official at a desk sitting on the uphill side of the boulder, adding resistance. But sometimes, he acknowledges, in answer to a question from the floor, “I wasn’t sure which side of the boulder I was on.”