Government technology spending hit its lowest point in 2012-13 since the data collection process began, dropping below $5 billion for the first time, according to the latest IT spending figures out of the Department of Finance.
The department's annual ICT benchmarking report collates data provided by agencies on their ICT costs, staff and infrastructure to assess the whole-of-government ICT environment.
Finance was handed the data for its latest report - which covers 2012/13 - by agencies around eight months ago, and spent the time since conducting "limited validation" checks on the information.
It finally issued the document last month with the caveat that the process of compiling the expenditure - particularly the time it takes - is under investigation.
The report reveals that in the last full financial year of the Labor government, agency expenditure dropped by $661 million, while the whole of government IT workforce dropped by around 500 full-time equivalents.
The $4.9 billion spent on technology by the federal government in 2012-13 was 10.5 percent lower that the spend in 2007-08 in real terms.
The decrease in expenditure follows a number of initiatives introduced by the now-defunct Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) aimed at cutting IT costs, many of which were suggested by Sir Peter Gershon’s 2008 review of the Government’s use of technology.
These included competitive procurement schemes aimed at driving down commodity prices, data centre consolidations, internet gateway sharing and a push to minimise agencies’ reliance on high-priced contract labour.
The proportion of IT spending directed at different areas of IT, such as hardware, software and telecommunications carriage, remained largely stable. IT operating expenditure dropped as a proportion of agency outlay, likely related to growth in use of cloud computing services.
Less staff, but more FTEs
The latest figures also show that the split between internal and external labour in the public sector skewed dramatically towards full-time public servants in 2012-13.
Of the 13,400 IT workers across the Government, 16.5 percent were classified as ‘external’, down from a four-year average of 21.2 percent.
This means that the public service’s internal technology workforce actually grew on an FTE basis despite the overall drop in staff numbers from 13,900 the year before.
The drop in external staff didn't result in lower costs, however - the proportion of IT spend going towards paying for this temporary workforce barely moved, from 14 percent of total ICT expenditure down to 13 percent.
At 13,400 FTEs, the 2012-13 IT workforce was still 1000 FTE roles larger than it was in 2008-09.
Since winning government in September 2013, the Coalition has started and finished its own audit of the Commonwealth’s IT spend. The subsequent report is still being considered by government and is yet to be made public.