Peter Grant: I'm not like other Govt CIOs

John Hilvert | Jan 12, 2012 3:14 PM
Turning Queensland IT around.

Incoming Queensland Government chief information officer (GCIO) is adamant that his position should not be confused with that of other GCIOs - or with his previous tenure in the role.

Speaking to iTnews in one of his first interviews, Peter Grant distinguished his current role from the GCIO post he held for the Queensland Government between 2005-2008 and also spelt out his main agenda for the year ahead.

“At the end of the three years [to 2008], I left as I planned. Not many people knew that and wondered [why] I was no longer there,” Grant says.

“[Now], everybody thinks I have just come back in the same role. That’s not the case."

Grant is proud of his achievements the first time around, including the introduction of an IT Government graduate program, an internationally-recognised planning and coordination type methodology based on Queensland Government Enterprise Architecture (QGEA), and improved relationships with the IT industry.

However, he was attracted to take a second stint as Queensland GCIO by its challenge to give the State Government a new level of confidence when proceeding with IT projects.

“It’s not been done anywhere else," Grant says. "We have no models to copy.”

Grant wants to put in place a set of governance processes and drive relationships with agencies to make sure IT projects work.

Governance is critical to maintaining the Government's confidence to run major change initiatives, he says.

There have only been a handful of real changes in the IT since the 1960s. The mainframe, the mini computer, client-server computing and then the internet.

“We're on the verge of another step change: it’s across multiple dimensions," Grant says.

"We have cloud. We have consumerisation [of IT]. We have BYO devices. We have mobile workforces. We have geo-spatial views of operations that we did not have before [and these are maturing at the same time].

“The critical thing in my role is to bring some of this innovation to the operational level of government faster.

“The challenge is to do it in a way that is operationally safe. Major change initiatives are tough.”

The process and outcomes are tricky. The challenge, Grant says, is to do this while making sure people could continue doing their jobs while maintaining the highest possible standard of government service delivery.

"We have to bring credibility back to the IT industry that we can be relied on to do important things," Grant says.

"You could not think of a better time to be in the IT industry in a key role."

Defending debacles

Grant assumed the GCIO role amid a series of beatings the State Government has taken over IT projects, including much-publicised payroll issues in its Health administration.

He acknowledges the issues but says they are being addressed and, in any event, they need to be balanced against the many achievements inside the Department.

Health has launched several initiatives that Grant says "lead the whole country. No one ever sees them," he says.

“Whenever state health CIOs get together they envy the achievements of Queensland Heath. Many admit they are miles away from getting there.”

Grant cites the example of a tool called “the viewer”, which enables doctors in any hospital in Queensland to access patient medical records, even if they come from other hospitals.

Additionally, Queensland’s digital breast screening and its telehealth initiatives broke new ground ahead of other governments, according to Grant.

“On any metric we are leading the country,” he says. “The disappointing thing for me is that these outcomes never make the front page."

Grant fears that downbeat tales of IT in the state will be a turn-off for prospective IT employees.

“It gets hard for us to sell careers in IT when we only ever publicise our failures," Grant says. “We only [ever seem to] kick [IT] for doing things that have gone wrong."

Read on to page two for Grant's views on why Gershon-style IT reform won't work for Queensland.

Grant is "no fan" of the Gershon report - the review that recommended across-the-board cuts to Federal Government IT spending that won backing from Canberra.

He believes it's an approach that would not work in the state of Queensland.

Grant takes particular exception to Gershon recommendation number three, which saw a 15 percent cut in business-as-usual funding to agencies.

“Just taking a flat number off the top of agency budgets penalises agencies that are already efficient and rewards those that were not," he says.

"The latter can remove 15 percent easily without any pain at all."

Grant also raises concerns that blanket cuts assume government agencies are not going to innovate.

"If somebody wanted to change the business model for IT, the Gershon review made that difficult with the KPIs put on them, based on how they were working before," he says.

Grant says there are more effective means to improve the operational efficiency of IT than the strategies proposed and accepted under Gershon.

For example, Queensland is looking for opportunities to remove duplication across the government.

“If you could imagine, a system selected some years ago for very good business reasons may get to a point where it could be replaced with a better alternative (one with lower operating and whole-of-life costs for example)," he says.

"Removing duplication and intelligent portfolio management has underpinned Queensland's approach to cost reduction".

Skills shortages

Grant identifies addressing ICT skills shortages as a priority for his current term.

"You just can't bring in 500 new people, even though you want hundreds," he says.

"If you bring them all in at the same level you have no one to mentor them and no one to grow their career, you create problems doing that, too."

The problem won't be resolved in the next 12 months.

"We have to develop a position where we can bring [recruits] in over time. We have to accept that work not done in the past is causing this problem now."

The Queensland Government already has a skills program called ICT's "most wanted".

The program has run twice, with a total of 91 participants. Another 48 participants are due to start next month.

Grant says a separate IT graduate program attracts some 600 applicants each year with up to 40 accepted into the program.

"We have the cream of the graduates to start with. On top of that there is a two year program where they have a whole bunch of skills developed around being really good professionals."

Some 73 percent of the graduate intake remains after a year, which Grant says is remarkable given the demand for these positions from industry and other governments.

"All the positions in the program are temporary. When the program finishes they all have to win jobs in Government. Most do."