The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) has cited federal government dependency on IT contractors and combined public service headcount limits as a key struggle the bureaucracy faces in delivering technology-driven reforms.
The frank assessment of what’s working – and what clearly isn’t – penned by DTA head of digital capability, Lucy Poole, said “skilled digital professionals still face many obstacles” after the agency held discussions “to understand what they need to make change happen.”
The comments, made on the DTA’s official blog, signal mounting impatience with “cultural and systemic issues” that Poole said can “seem insurmountable” when it came to the “things people are struggling with”.
Poole’s up-front stand comes as Randall Brugeaud assumes control of the organisation following the departure of former bank technologist Gavin Slater in June after just a year.
Slater’s exit was preceded by the spectacular exit of imported disruptor Paul Shetler amid frustrations over the pace and scale of digital reforms which he later publicly criticised .
The clear signal now being sent by DTA is it promptly wants to know where the choke points inhibiting progress are, straight-up, without messages being sugar coated.
“Our in-depth interviews with people across federal government organisations have shed light on what helps and slows transformation,” Poole said in a call to arms for the APS to build the digital skills it needs.
So far agencies don’t appear to be holding back.
Poole cited “hierarchies that discourage diverse thinking and group problem solving, or the staffing caps which see contractors filling skills gaps” as issues raised with the DTA.
Policymakers and IT lobbyists have also copped a serve of sorts from the self-reforming government IT machine.
“Old legislation, policies and technologies including procurement rules also hamper transformation,” the DTA blog said in its taxonomy of struggles.
The derivative jibber jabber of the consulting classes also cops a spray.
“Many of those we spoke with felt they are tripping up on unhelpful terminology and management consultant speak, missing the practical opportunities in front of them,” Poole said, adding interpretations differed as to whether digital was a technology, methodology or mindset.
Imbuing APS staff with a digital state of mind that lasts the distance is also clearly an ask, especially when the hired cooks might not give up their recipe books.
“While contractors can be a huge help to teams, it’s a challenge to transfer their skills to permanent staff,” Poole observed.
The challenge of attracting people to Canberra, as opposed to other hipster digital hubs like Surry Hills, also appears to rate a mention with “specialists that people need being hard to find.”
“Whether data, developers or designers, it’s not easy to attract people from better paying jobs in bigger cities. Once in place, a lack of understanding of their skills and limited career path, limits how long we can keep them,” Poole noted.
On the positive side of the ledger Poole said there was strong appetite to learn what really works.
“People want to hear about progress and success, and have those stories land in your inboxes just as quickly as the failures which usually get the attention.
“People want to celebrate people doing the hard work to make it simple, crave community and collaboration, and draw inspiration from thought leaders and champions of change.”