Jennings: forget the ‘cringe’ and keep it in house

By David Donaldson

Tuesday April 5, 2016

Gavin Jennings
Gavin Jennings

The Victorian government wants to undo the “cringe factor” around government delivering its own projects, Special Minister of State Gavin Jennings has declared.

With commentators including former Prime Minister and Cabinet head Terry Moran and The Australian Financial Review‘s Laura Tingle questioning whether widespread outsourcing has been worthwhile, moving away from outsourcing by default and building up skillsets are key strategies in strengthening Victoria’s public sector, Jennings argues.

And in an effort to tackle a specialist skills shortage within government, the state is considering whether to offer those with needed technical skills higher rates of pay than allowed under current banding rules.

Admitting Victoria has been “a bit lethargic” in moving to digital, Jennings told The Mandarin that previous problems with Victorian government IT projects have created a “cringe factor” and “apprehension” about the capacity of the state to run its own projects.

While the previous government’s answer to this was to give preference to outsourcing, he says, he would rather build in-house ability.

“We inherited a bit of a cringe culture about that in the public service …”

“We inherited a bit of a cringe culture about that in the public service, where the default was ‘well we’re never going to have that capability in house so we may as well go outside the public service’ as a default setting. We’re interested in reversing that,” he said.

It’s not to say the government won’t work with external parties, “but we certainly want to be more confident in the knowledge base centrally and within agencies about that in the future so we’ll be able to make wiser decisions about how much of it has to go outside and who to go to”, Jennings argues.

Last year the Andrews government cancelled the previous government’s plans to outsource the state’s shared IT services provider CenITex. Allowing IT services to be largely outsourced carries the risk the government could lose strategic control over projects, as well as further undermining the public sector’s ability to be a competent purchaser of services, Jennings says.

“We stopped that process so we could bring it in house and develop our working knowledge to be able to make more mature decisions about hardware and software maintenance regimes in the future,” he said.

Building capacity in house

Having done “a lot of work” on capacity building, the government plans “in the next month or so” to sign off on a new strategy “to deal with a variety of those aspects of the work”.

Part of the solution will be skilling up existing employees, including managers. “They don’t have to become technicians, they don’t have to become specialists, but they have to have a greater appreciation of what our current capability is and what options there may be available to them,” Jennings told The Mandarin.

“They have to have skill development within organisations to lift the general capability across the workforce … We have to make sure we have a working culture that values that skill base and develops it over time.”

To boost the innovation ability of the public service the government has also reached an agreement with Code for Australia to place programmers in departments and agencies. The hope is that getting policy and technology experts in the same room will lead to low-cost interventions on problems facing the public service.

Jennings says the government is working on responding to the problems highlighted in the Royal Commission into Family Violence, including the challenge of improving information sharing between agencies while still respecting legitimate privacy concerns.

The government may need to develop new legislation to address the functioning of the information sharing regime, Jennings notes.

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