Our April Newsletter included an article, No Punches Pulled In UK Consultants GDS Brawl, which looked at the UK Government Digital Service (GDS). Now it seems we will be having our own GDS brawl when Paul Shetler from the UK’s GDS  becomes CEO of our Digital Transformation Office (DTO).

A 2 July 2015 article in The Mandarin,Tom Burton: Shetler’s challenge in the court of the mandarins suggests that “Malcolm Turnbull’s new star recruit for his $250 million digital transformation play, UK tech bureaucrat, Paul Shetler, will have some interesting challenges when he arrives from London in a few weeks.”

The Mandarin article looks at the reasons previous eGovernment initiatives stalled and at current restrictions, including a link to a 10th June article by David Donaldson , OAIC weakened as commissioner side-steps into NSW role, which notes “it is hard to see how the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, already undermined by the Abbott government’s funding cuts and uncertainty around its continued existence, will not encounter further difficulties in delivering its statutory requirements to fulfill its freedom of information, privacy and information functions.”

On the “interesting challenges” now  facing the DTO,  Tom Burton discusses federal resistance to the UK GDS approach, which uses the huge gov.uk portal. Tom notes that New South Wales has a similar portal, Service NSW, and also that ” There has been some movement around a single entry and authentication system — MyGov — and there is a just-redesigned mini-portal, called australia.gov.au. He also notes that the Department of Finance “through its oversight of the $6 billion annual ICT spend, will continue to be a powerful player”

The article acknowledges the contribution of John Sheridan,CTO for the Australian government, “who has driven the open source govCMS project, the development of australia.gov.au and also has a remit around procurement efficiencies. Shared service centres are slowly emerging, but no one has the authority to think about the design of the system as a whole.”

The GDS approach aims to avoid past problems where “Managed as traditional waterfall projects, the big ICT projects have too often ended over priced, over scoped and hopelessly over time.” However, Tom warns that “there is definitely a risk the quite traditional agency level CIO’s will find many reasons not to play ball. “ Apart from resistance to centralizing, he identifies a range of other challenges  including procurement problems, the need for a strategic view  and a chief architect, security issues, DTO location issues and last but not least, the leadership politics.

Crikey  also published a 2 July 2015 version of Tom’s article,  Turnbull summons digital wizard to reform a tech-lame govt , which attracted some interesting comments. Dr Dagg picks up on Tom’s view that “Managed as traditional waterfall projects, the big ICT projects have too often ended over priced, over scoped and hopelessly over time”, with the comment: “I think you’d be shocked at how many aren’t really managed. There are lots of meetings but no actual management. This works in favour of the multi-nationals. And I think you mean underscoped. They’re not scoped properly, undergo way too many changes and that’s why the costs blow out.” In a longer comment, rachel612 shares some thoughts on why Canberra is the wrong location for gov.au, if the office was in Canberra it would fail. Talent in the digital space will live in Sydney or Melbourne” and on the “open source” question, “FWIW, .NET is a perfectly fine dev platform, and Adobe makes some good analytics software. But so does the open source community – and open source is much, much cheaper.”

We wrote about the eGovernment issue in our November 2014 article, What went wrong with the eGovernment and Digital Economy Policy?, where the federal government was being accused of “dragging its feet on the implementation of a raft of digital economy and e-government initiatives”. Maybe the DTO will be the answer. The challenges are huge but at least the DTO will not be dragging its feet.