As the Victoria Police’s first full-time CIO since 2009, Wendy Steendam has taken on what is arguably amongst the toughest positions in Australian IT.
The agency’s IT shop has become notorious for all the wrong reasons and has been left lagging behind its interstate counterparts as a result.
Assistant Commissioner Steendam, a career police officer, acknowledges the scale of the job at hand. But she is not intimidated.
Four months into the role, Steendam talked to iTnews about how she plans to get the agency back on track.
How big could the job possibly be?
In 2009, Victorian Ombudsman George Brouwer handed down his findings on a procurement saga that, directly or indirectly, led to the resignation of then-CIO Valda Berzins.
What emerged was a haphazard approach to procurement where documents were sometimes scrawled on a piece of paper, multi-million dollar contracts were lost, and tenders that should have taken in excess of a year to conduct were rushed through within a month – if they went to market at all.
By 2011, Brouwer was back with another self-initiated investigation, this time into the ten worst performing tech initiatives in the state, of which the Victoria Police contributed three.
One of the projects cited was the replacement of LEAP, the Victoria Police’s core operational database. By 2011 the replacement of the then-19 year-old green-screen based system was truly off the rails. The Ombudsman attributed this to a grossly insufficient business case put together in 2006 to match a budget that the Premier had already announced in 2005.
In 2011, in need of $100 million extra funding, the LEAP replacement was put on hold indefinitely. It hasn’t been revived since.
At the same time as Brouwer's damning report, Melbourne QC Jack Rush was examining Victoria Police leadership, with special attention reserved for IT.
He found police officers were filling out as many as 1200 paper forms per day, scanning them and sending them to a central bureau whose exclusive purpose was to re-enter the information into LEAP, because the officers didn't have the option to enter the detail directly.
He also criticised a revolving door of IT leaders and recommended the Victoria Police throw its time and all of its pennies into attracting “a senior executive with the expertise required to deliver major IT projects, as a matter of urgency”.
Enter assistant commissioner Steendam
Steendam represents the Victoria Police’s first real attempt to fulfil this recommendation since the Rush report was tabled in March 2012.
As CIO, she is also the business owner of the force’s Policing Information Process and Practice Reform (PIPP) initiative, which is weighing up a third attempt at replacing LEAP.
Her appointment raises important questions about the skill set required of a successful IT leader. Is it more important to have a legacy of technology leadership, as Rush had recommended, or to have lived out the user requirements?
Steendam, a career police officer with a background in frontline command and the sex crimes unit, fits firmly into the latter category.
“I have 29 years worth of understanding of how our information is used and how it actually functions in an operational context,” she told iTnews.
“People need to understand that PIPP is not an IT program ... first and foremost it's about understanding the business needs and operating requirements of the organisations. IT will then become an enabler."
She pointed out that the Rush recommendation did not specify what the “expertise required” of an IT leader is.
She believes her relative lack of IT expertise is more than covered off in other areas of the organisation, including by former energy sector executive Deborah Smith, whom she has recruited as program director for PIPP.
“Collectively we all work and provide a wealth of experience,” she said.
Steendam has also been trusted with clear authority.. As CIO, she becomes the only assistant commissioner at Victoria Police to have a seat at the executive table otherwise reserved for the chief commissioner, deputy commissioners and their executive director equivalents.
Read on for Steendam's plans for reform ...