Taylor signals greater controls on IT projects to drive digital benefits

By Harley Dennett

September 22, 2016

Federal minister Angus Taylor has flagged a potential takeover of digital and ICT projects management by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Digital Transformation Office, further stripping control from the Department of Finance.

The process is still in very early stages, and wasn’t intended as a critique of Finance, the minister confirmed.

Taylor lamented the inadequacy of central management and financial rigor of the $6 billion the Commonwealth spends on ICT annually.  He saw great promise in the successes of early partnerships between delivery agencies and the DTO, and wanted to “get things moving” faster on the digital transformation agenda.

“There is no central process for managing the $6 billion spent on IT … there is a lack of co-ordination in ICT deliveries across the Commonwealth and we need to urgently address that,” Taylor told the annual FST Gov Australia conference Thursday morning. “Policy responsibility is split across government and we need to address that.”

A new “small but high calibre” program management and co-ordination capability office is expected to be created, notionally inside the DTO but may have members dual-hatting from other areas, to foster an integration approach to ICT delivery.

Taylor wants the central office to focus on establishing succinct business plans, setting economy targets, robust incentive plans, and measuring milestones. It will also, wherever possible, share lessons and capabilities between projects from different parts of government.

“Without a central trust program with real incentives and levers, administered from the centre … we won’t realise the benefits [of digital transformation].”

Delivery of these projects will remain decentralised, the responsibility of the individual agencies and departments.

The Department of Finance, which already lost ownership of digital transformation and data policy to DTO and PM&C, retained IT spend co-ordination in the latest administrative arrangement orders following the election. The minister’s speech left audience members wondering how long that would remain the case.

“We must work to deliver an integrated approach to ICT and digital policy, including a clear governance framework that enables high-risk projects to be identified, tracked and monitored.

“We must build capability within government for small, high calibre teams that will deliver benefits and cost savings in a more systematic way, track delivery and quickly refocusing projects where necessary.

“This is something that has been in the private sector for many years and we need to bring this practice into government.”

‘Not just cost-cutting’

Two DTO interventions — the Medicare newborn enrolment trial and myGov’s new email address login feature — were examples of the kind of benefits that government should be offering, Taylor said.

It also happens that these changes save the government money — lots of money. The myGov portal had 14 million interactions in July, boosted by interest in online tax returns. “That would have cost us $180 million in one month if we had to do that without digital,” Taylor added.

“You may well roll your eyes and say that’s just cutting costs of the public service, I get that a lot.

“It also offers many benefits to users. We should never apologise for wanting to make government more efficient as well as more effective.”

Correction: an earlier version of this story presented the shift from Finance to PM&C/DTO as fait accompli. The process of determining the specific structure of the new ICT controls and ownership is still underway.

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