A rift between the two divisions of the Australian Government Information Management Office has skewed its priorities and stalled efforts to centralise IT, according to an external review of its operations.
Cultural differences between AGIMO’s Agency Services and Planning and Policy divisions was among several issues identified by a review of the Operational Activities and Structure of AGIMO, headed by former Departmental secretary Helen Williams.
Issued to the Secretary of the Department of Finance in January and released in redacted form late Friday, the Williams review offers a forensic perspective of the organisation’s handling of reforms recommended by the prior Gershon report into Australian Government use of IT.
AGIMO was tasked with managing whole-of-government coordinated ICT procurement panels, data centre reform and an Entry-Level ICT skills programs, all of which remain priorities for government.
Williams observes that moves to centralise Government IT “may have stalled”, and noted that rising expenditure on application development in particular represented an “obvious inefficiency for government, including placing extra pressure on ICT workforce skills.”
The review mused that whole-of-Government procurement roles could lend themselves to being managed elsewhere within the Department of Finance.
But on balance, the review noted the importance of ICT knowledge, technical expertise and links with stakeholders, and recommended that ICT procurement functions remain in the AGIMO group in Finance “at this stage”.
A question of priorities
While AGIMO’s achievements were rated as “creditable” in achieving savings, the review argued that the Office’s overall priorities were unbalanced. Williams stated that they were overly focused on the budget savings agenda, echoing a concern raised by the Reinecke review back in June 2010.
Whereas Gershon had recommended AGIMO focus on analysis and policy, AGIMO has grown to take on implementation, the review noted.
AGIMO was trying to take on too much for a relatively small agency within Finance of 229 staff.
Gershon’s review recommended that AGIMO’s top priority should be to identify common approaches and develop a business case for the Secretaries ICT Governance Board (SIGB), an initiative that had since received "the least attention".
Williams again recommended that AGIMO work to identify, for the consideration of this Board, agencies that have the interest and capability to undertake ‘lead agency’ roles in some areas, to ensure that not all functions not fall back to AGIMO by default.
It was recommended that AGIMO work closer with the SIGB to set priorities across its work program. Those priorities should include the divesting of functions that could become part of business-as-usual for agencies, and limit acceptance of additional functions to cases where AGIMO has the necessary capability and resources.
Williams also called for AGIMO to address a “difference in culture” between its two largest divisions – a schism that had “adverse consequences for AGIMO overall.”
The four branches in the Agency Services Division (Network Services, Strategic Sourcing, Central Facilities and Online Services) accounted for 151 of the overall total of 229 staff in AGIMO, it was noted.
By comparison, the three branches in the Policy and Planning Division (Governance and Policy, Investment Management, and Cyber Security and Skills) total only 68 staff.
While it is not unusual for more staff to be employed in operations vs policy, the development of two distinct divisional cultures - with members of both groups being “clearly partisan” in their support of their own division - attracted considerable attention in the review.
“This cultural difference was raised by the great majority of people spoken to in the course of the review,” Williams noted.
Williams recommended greater cross communications and collaboration across AGIMO, staff rotations and moving some branches between the two divisions.
“The fundamental challenge for the AGIMO executive is the cultural one,” the review said.
AGIMO chief and Government CIO Ann Steward endorsed the Williams review for its “thorough analysis of how best to realign AGIMO’s existing resources to ensure that it is well positioned to address its new tasks.”
Steward adds that she is implementing the recommendations over the next few months.
The 78-page Williams report makes some 56 recommendations on all aspects of AGIMO’s operations, among the other more important of these were:
- AGIMO report to the SIGB on the progress of the top 10 ICT-enabled projects selected on the basis of budget impact, policy or program risk, or cross-government implications;
- AGIMO appoint an appropriate lead agency to coordinate the overseas recruitment of ICT skills, noting that this is not an area where AGIMO has particular expertise;
- AGIMO review Cyber Security priorities to decide which projects merit continued funding.
- AGIMO transfer management of the Australian Government Online Directory site to the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) after its ‘Web 2.0’ revamp.
- AGIMO consider discontinuing the Government Style Manual
- AGIMO assess whether it should cut funding for the ‘2.0 Excellence Awards’
- AGIMO undertake a cross-divisional review of its online content to ensure that it is clearly presented, up-to-date and easy to navigate.