The Australian Public Service Better Practice Guide to Big Data © Commonwealth of Australia 2014 gives some good advice on big data management (more of that later),  but is the Government  following its own advice?

Last year, the Government Chief Information Officer’s role was to focus on whole of government ICT policy, while the Chief Technology Officer’s role was to focus on whole of government service delivery. However, the CIO left early this year and in May it was announced that the role would not be replaced.

The creation of those two roles in December 2012 had been seen as a major step forward. To quote

the CTO, “ this moves technology and IT issues from something that you bolt on at the back of a policy, but rather sticks it at the front where policy is formulated.”, see Kickstart 2013

On the 4th of February 2013, the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) was restructured to become two Divisions within the Department of Finance and Deregulation: Technology and Procurement Division (run by the CTO) and the Australian Government CIO.

The split had been reported in December 2012, receiving a positive media response. “Christmas has come early for the federal government technology office, with not one, but two new bosses, appointed this week”, reported Lia Timson in a Sydney Morning Herald ITPro article, see Government sees double in tech leadership. .

The early retirement of the previous CIO had provided the opportunity for the restructure, which aligned the agency with the Williams Review into the operational activities and structure of the AGIMO.  The Williams Review recommended a refocused Governance and Policy Branch to provide whole-of-government policy advice and leadership in the areas of:

  • consideration of strategic and innovative policy;
  • analysis of emerging trends;
  • identification and investigation of opportunities for cross-government approaches; and
  • building a coordinated view of capabilities and facilities across Australian Government agencies.

(see Review of the Operational Activities and Structure of AGIMO )

Fast forward to May 2014. In the opening Speech to the May 2014 CeBIT eGovernment conference, Chris Dale, Assistant Secretary of the Government Network Services Branch from the Department of Finance, announced that the Australian Government CIO role would not be replaced.  The whole of government ICT policy will be overseen by Rosemary Deininger, First Assistant Secretary of the newly created Efficiency, Assurance and Digital Government Cluster.  The role of John Sheridan as Australian Government Chief Technology Officer in charge of the Technology and Procurement Division continues to provide whole of government ICT services and infrastructure, and he retains the role of Australian Government Procurement Coordinator.  The responsibility for the implementation plan for The Coalition’s eGovernment and Digital Economy Policy pre-election commitment belongs to two Ministers, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Communications, with each department taking the lead coordination role for different initiatives.  There will be no additional monies for agencies to implement the pre-election commitment.

See  CeBIT speech eGovernment Conference 2014 – Opening Speech. .

Delimiter commented on the announcement:

…”isn’t it a terrible time to be a government technologist, with the new Coalition Government removing the public service’s chief IT champion (its whole of government CIO) and mandating a raft of new eGovernment initiatives, but without allocating any additional funding to see them enacted? It all sounds like more of the same factors that have previously resulted in chronic underinvestment in IT in Australia’s government departments over the past decade.

For further reading, see Whole of Govt CIO role abolished.

However, despite lack of clarity and the lack of funding, there is still progress from which we can all benefit. The Australian Public Service Better Practice Guide (BPG) is the joint work of the Data Analytics Centre of Excellence (chaired by the Australian Taxation Office) and the Big Data Working Group (chaired by the Department of Finance.) It gives an overview of big data and big data analytics and explores how this is different from current practice. The BPG is being supplemented by further guides and also provides links to further resources, such as the Whole of Government Data Analytics Centre of Excellence (DACoE) which shares information, and develops tools and platforms that make better use of data analytics.

The BPG itself gives a useful overview of how big data and big data analytics differ from current practice.  In the new paradigm, data is messy rather than clean, and can have complex coupling relationships.  Data analysis occurs as the data is captured; there is no delay to clean it.  Undefined data structures invite exploration for the generation of insights and the discovery of relationships previously unknown.

The BPG outlines some types of activities where big data is advantageous.  These include where there is a need to make rapid, high volume, informed decisions, where a broader variety of data sources is likely to reveal greater insights into business problems, and where unstructured data features.  It gives a case study of the Patient Admissions Prediction Tool, used in 31 hospitals across Queensland.  The forecasting provided by the tool assists with hospital bed management, staff resourcing and scheduling of elective surgery.  It is estimated that PAPT software has the potential to save $23 million a year in improved service efficiency for the health system if implemented in hospitals across Australia.

The BPG also gives factors in establishing business requirements to develop a big data capability. These include consideration of strategic objectives, business processes, project management, current and future data availability, maturity of available technology and capability, availability of skilled personnel and  the likelihood of accruing benefits during its development.  Developing a capability for the new paradigm requires significant commitment of resources and accompanying shifts in processes, culture and skills.  The BPG states: “the transformative power of big data insights, the changing technology, community attitudes, privacy and security considerations demand close governance of big data programs, this should include both internal and community engagement.”

See Australian Public Service Better Practice Guide to Big Data © Commonwealth of Australia 2014.

The BPG is a deliverable from the The Australian Public Service Big Data Strategy, which identifies the “practical business opportunities that big data analysis presents including the optimisation of operations, the delivery of better, more informed decision making tools, the management and mitigation of financial and other risks, and the development of new business models all of which will lead to an increase in productivity and innovation.”

However, seizing those opportunities does require funding and skills. For the Australian Public Service Big Data Strategy, it is not clear where those will come from.

See  Australian Public Service Big Data Strategy, © Commonwealth of Australia 2013.

The BPG also includes some useful advice on potential big data management project pitfalls, but that is a topic for a later article.


Anne Verney

Anne has over 30 years experience in the ICT industry. She started her career in software development working for Canadian Pacific.  Since moving to Australia, she has primarily consulted in infrastructure technology.  She has provided services for numerous commercial and government clients, such as CBA, Sydney Water, Promina, IBM, BMC Software, Woolworths, Esso, and CSC.  She has an interest in promoting quality in ICT engineering and operational areas.  Her work contributed to gaining ISO 9000 accreditation for CSC Australia.  She recently provided technology architecture design governance for the billion dollar Commonwealth Bank Core Banking Modernisation Programme.


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