The NT Government is struggling with an IT skills crisis of Uluru-sized proportions, and it is having a significant impact on its bottom line.
Tech professionals have become the latest breed of fly-in, fly-out worker in the top end, and it is seriously restricting the efficient modernisation of government IT.
The skills crisis is among a handful of issues identified within iTnews' State of IT report, released this week.
The handful of local IT workers doggedly working away at getting NT's public sector IT up to scratch have nonetheless ticked some of the most important boxes when it comes to IT maturity.
The territory has a fully formed cloud computing policy (PDF), completed in July 2011, plus a hard line BYOD policy (PDF) setting out which devices can and can’t connect to the government network. It also has in place uniform standards governing printers, videoconferencing and other potential purchases as a means of simplifying procurement.
NT is starting to lift the profile of IT at higher levels too. In September David Tollner took over the Corporate and Information Services portfolio from Premier Adam Giles, under whom it languished unnoticed for a year.
Relative to its size and the challenges of its remote location, NT has held its own against significantly larger states like WA and SA with a IT maturity score of 4.5, placing it fifth out of the seven states and territories surveyed.
But despite its small size (less than 20,000 staff), the NT has managed an IT faux par of eastern state proportions.
Efforts to build a government-wide asset management system have gone off the rails quite spectacularly, leaving the Giles government with a bill it claims to be in the vicinity of $70 million. Tollner has described the Labor-project as bearing “many parallels to Queensland’s Health payroll scandal.”
Many of the NT’s problems can be traced back to its remote location. The asset management system bills escalated very quickly when contractors had to be flown in and out to work on the remediation. The NT struggles to retain senior IT personnel, who are often tempted back to the larger southern cities. It is not an enviable position to be in.
The asset management system catastrophe may, in hindsight, prove to be the kick in the backside that the territory needs to get its house in order. Already Tollner has announced that an ICT governance framework will be put to cabinet, aiming to strengthen oversight of technology investments and to hopefully improve project management.
Tech projects have also been subject to a full parliamentary inquiry, which recommended – among other things – that the territory hire itself a whole-of-government CIO.
But the big hurdle will be skills, skills, skills. Unless NT can produce a mighty large carrot to coax IT workers into its ranks and make them stay, it will be stuck paying a premium for southern contractors whose experience and IP follow them back across the border as soon as the job is done.