Coalition lagging on key IT strategies

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Coalition lagging on key IT strategies

No action on whole-of-gov policy in over a year.

With 18 months of governing the nation now under its belt, the Abbott Government is still yet to reveal its whole-of-government IT plan.

The Coalition was quick to jump on board the IT reform bandwagon in the lead-up to the September 2013 election, issuing a detailed position on eGovernment and the digital economy.

Notes from a meeting of the government’s peak IT decision-making body - the now scrapped Secretaries ICT Governance Board (SIGB) - in October 2013 revealed it was working to a 2014 deadline to release a refreshed IT strategy.

But more than a year on, a Department of Finance spokesperson this week indicated a formal plan is still under development.

“The Government made a number of commitments at the election as part of its policy for eGovernment and the digital economy. It is expected to consider the final details of its approach in the coming months,” a spokeswoman said.

In an address to industry members in May 2014, Finance IT strategist Chris Dale said the department was using the Coalition's campaign document as a “blueprint” for the direction the agency should be pushing for IT while it waited for formal guidance from the political executive.

But in the meantime, the public service’s patience is waning, according to Ovum public sector IT analyst Kevin Noonan.

“IT is crying out for attention,” Noonan told iTnews.

“Speaking to senior IT managers in Canberra, they say it is hard to figure out where things are up to. The lack of a clear strategy makes it more difficult for the line agencies to settle on their priorities.”

Both Noonan and Finance did point to some achievements in 2014, including a thorough investigation into the viability of shared services, a revised cloud services approach and myGov service delivery reforms (spearheaded by the Department of Human Services).

IT stuck in limbo

But both the industry and public service are still waiting on a long list of other items, some of which are only slightly behind schedule and others that are very late.

The late-list includes outstanding recommendations of the National Commission of Audit, which centred on an IT outsourcing push. They “continue to be methodically considered and reviewed”, Finance advised, despite the audit being handed to Government in March last year.

Finance also confirmed that the whole-of-government IT spending audit kicked off by the Coalition last year had been completed at the end of 2014, but was still being considered by the Government.

Added to the mix is the Coalition's delayed action on an annual ICT expenditure benchmark, which was launched in 2008 by the then-Labor Government and kept up every year until 2014, after the Coalition rose to power.

Finance said the 2012-13 report had been completed last year but was still awaiting sign off. The benchmarking process itself is also under review, the spokesperson said, “to improve the timeliness and value of ICT benchmarking data to all stakeholders”.

Such perceived indecision has created what Noonan describes as a “leadership vacuum” in Canberra’s IT circles.

This perception was not helped when the Government announced it would cut several key intra and inter-governmental IT committees in its mid-year economic and fiscal outlook (MYEFO) late in 2014.

“What was noteworthy from MYEFO was a lack of specific savings attached to cutting these committees,” Noonan said.

“There are two ways to look at the Government’s moves. Either it doesn’t have a plan and is simply dismantling key groups, or it is dismantling old structures to clear the way for something new - in which case I will be the first to congratulate them.

“However, all that industry has to go on at the moment is that the dismantling has happened and there is no indication what is coming.”

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann denied IT had dropped down the Government’s list of priorities.

“Delivering on our election commitments as outlined in our eGovernment and the digital economy policy remains a high priority for the Government,” he told iTnews in a statement.

“We have made significant progress in implementing our policy and we will continue to prioritise initiatives in a strategic and orderly fashion.“

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