Vic budget loosens state purse for IT projects

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Vic budget loosens state purse for IT projects

Spending to dwarf that of ICT strategy.

Victoria's emergency services, water utilities and transport agencies have emerged from this year's state budget with money for IT projects.

An analysis of the budget papers by iTnews shows a number of IT projects have been granted forward funding, though few were mentioned in treasurer Michael O'Brien's speech to parliament.

The funds, mostly for capital expenditure on IT and telecommunications systems, eclipsed the $19 million over four years set aside for implementation of the state's ICT strategy, released earlier this year.

State Technology Minister Gordon Rich-Phillips said the $19 million would be put towards "key actions ... [and] initiatives to improve industry engagement and outcomes in ICT procurement, as well as improving management of ICT projects."

Winners from the budget include:

  • Port of Melbourne - $17.6 million for IT "upgrades and development projects".
  • VicTrack - $1.7 million for a unified communications platform for V/Line, Metro Trains and Yarra Trams.
  • Public Transport Victoria: $4.5 million to pilot "high capacity signalling technology" in a bid to allow trains to run more frequently, and $43.9 million for a digital radio communications system for regional trains.
  • Wannon Water - $1.3 million for "servers and data storage".
  • North East Region Water Corporation - $1.3 million for an asset management system.
  • Metropolitan Fire and Emergency Services Board - $4.5 million for "update/replacement" of hardware and software.
  • Department of Justice - $6.5 million to upgrade court IT infrastructure.
  • City West Water - $5.7 million for hardware underpinning a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system at operations in West Werribee.

Melbourne Water appeared to be a big winner, with about $157 million worth of IT spending approved, mostly tagged as being for the "renewal" of various systems. A fraction was allocated to FY2013-14.

The utility had some more specific line items, including $4 million for "cloud and virtualisation", $2 million for "mobility", $8.9 million for "security, resilience and disaster recovery" and $1.3 million for a "water treatment control system optimisation" project.

Apportioning IT

Some funding allocations in the budget included scope for IT investment, though they were not completely IT-focused.

The State allocated $15 million to reform "the collection and enforcement of legal debt in Victoria".

"A new model for the collection of fines and legal debt will be implemented to improve collection rates across a number of types of debt, increase enforcement capacity and sanctions and introduce more payment options," budget papers state.

"Funding for ICT improvements is also provided subject to proving the scope and deliverability of the work."

The Government also flagged the establishment of a "crime statistics agency ... to receive crime data from Victoria Police and independently publish crime statistics to assist law enforcement policy and improve public access to this data."

It also committed to an initiative to foster collaboration between agencies and small businesses that might result in products that could be commercialised and potentially exported to public sector agencies globally.

CapEx breakout

The budget shed light on the financial progress of several large-scale technology programs underway in the state.

City West Water's ongoing transformation using an Oracle stack, which runs under the codename 'Project Arrow', will have gone through $43.6 million of a budgeted $104 million for CapEx by the end of June 2013. About $24 million is allocated to it in 2013-14.

Meanwhile, Victoria's myki public transport ticketing system is $453 million into a total CapEx budget of $606 million. About $102 million is allocated for 2013-14.

The budget papers state that the total estimated investment in the project is down on previous years "as some costs have been reclassified as operating in nature".

Repeat projects

It is difficult to get a completely accurate gauge of how much new IT spending has been approved for some agencies and public corporations.

Several show large swathes of "new projects" with footnotes explaining that owing to changes to reporting methods or project names since last year — or to consolidation of some projects into "other projects" — a number of previously funded projects are this year relisted as being "new".

Some projects listed as new in the budget papers also have origins stretching back several years.

According to budget papers, the state's Police force secured $10.4 million to finance the first stage of a major long-term ICT reform project that is ultimately designed to "free up resources for frontline policing, rather than tying up police with administrative paperwork."

"Victoria Police is undertaking the Police Information Process and Practice reform program with a long‑term view to reform its information management systems and processes," the budget papers state.

"Stage 1 of the program ... will address immediate issues to maintain the performance of core Victoria Police information systems and commence the planning for longer‑term reform [to ICT systems and processes]."

However, the Force's 2011-12 annual report lists a "phase one" for the project as having been in train for some time, and it was unclear at the time of writing how the "phase" and "stage" ones differed.

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