Exodus of talent follows DTA's restructure

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Exodus of talent follows DTA's restructure

Digital delivery gurus depart en masse.

The Digital Transformation Agency has lost as many as 35 of the star performers it recruited to its digital delivery teams as a result of the government’s drastic restructure of the agency late last year.

Among the staff losses is Jordan Hatch, the digital ‘boy wonder’ recruited from the UK alongside former CEO Paul Shetler in 2015.

Hatch made headlines for being hired by the UK’s equivalent of the DTA at just 17 years of age to work on the beta version of gov.uk - an initiative that was mimicked by the Australian government before being dumped early this year thanks to pushback from other agencies.

Hatch left the DTA shortly after Shetler in January this year, according to his LinkedIn profile. He did not return request for comment by the time of publication.

Shetler famously departed the agency after ‘fundamentally disagreeing’ on the DTA’s philosophy and approach with digital minister Angus Taylor, claiming the government lacked the will to truly digitally transform the public service.

But Hatch and Shetler are just two of dozens of digital gurus to have handed in their resignation following last year’s changes, which saw the DTA shifted from a digital delivery body to policy lead and agency IT auditor.

The exodus included up to 35 developers, UX designers, researchers, technology and cloud leads, and information architects, among others, iTnews can reveal.

All have left at various intervals since the October 2016 machinery-of-government changes.

The DTA’s new remit of strategy and policy for whole-of-government IT, tech procurement, digital service delivery, shared IT services, and IT expenditure meant a significantly reduced focus on the delivery function it had originally been established to provide.

Many of the agency’s staff didn’t buy the internal messaging from management that delivery would continue to be a component of the DTA’s operations, and opted to quit rather than wait around to be let go.

Former DTA staff told iTnews they saw the writing on the wall when a handful of colleagues on projects like the gov.au build walked out the door after the work dried up.

"It was obvious GovCMS/Drupal had won out; 6months+ of work on gov.au was effectively wasted, and that the DTA was going to absorb many procurement and project management staff who would continue to do their previous work at the DTA," one former staffer, who requested anonymity, told iTnews.

"This put delivery further into question, especially since the communication, financing, and support from [management] had been poor over months for multiple delivery teams and products.

"By the end of the year and into January it became clear the [migrated] Finance staff were doing their own work, while the remaining delivery teams continued on their products, at least from the perspective of working within the delivery units. There wasn’t much cross-over between the two.

"[It] got to a point where I was fighting more to do the work I was hired to do than actually doing said work."

Their fears appeared confirmed in February when interim DTA boss Nerida O’Loughlin told a senate estimates committee she didn’t the see DTA being a disruptor as it had been prior to the October changes. The government has since hired former banking executive Gavin Slater to the CEO role.

While the exodus hasn’t impacted the DTA’s overall staff numbers - the addition of 80 workers from the IT division within Finance has actually boosted headcount to 200, compared to the 71 FTEs the DTA had this time last year - it has dramatically reshaped the skill set within the organisation.

The agency is now primarily filled with those skilled in back-office technology, IT procurement, IT policy, and IT program management.

The changes have also left many questioning what the future is for an agency looking increasingly similar to the former Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO), which also once held the position of central government body for IT, but similarly fell victim to machinery-of-government changes.

"If the agency wants to avoid continuing as the next AGIMO it needs to foster delivery subject matter expertise capability internally, which it will now find more difficult to do as its goodwill and respect has diminished within the private sector having burned so many contractors," the former staffer said.

"It also needs to find more amicable ways to liaise and work with other departments, where it’s burned far too many bridges .... [and] take the digital service standard seriously and actually apply it internally."

The DTA told iTnews that delivery would continue to be a major part of its program of work.

The agency was allocated $33.6 million over three years in the federal government's modernisation fund to deliver whole-of-government digital services.

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