“The policy is so good; the execution is so poor. There is a sense of disappointment.”

The above quote is from  a September 30, 2014 SMH IT Pro interview, with AIIA chief executive Suzanne Campbell in which she accuses the federal government of “dragging its feet on the implementation of a raft of digital economy and e-government initiatives… Detailed in the Coalition’s policy for e-government and the digital economy of August 2013, the initiatives had not been enacted, more than a year on.” The  IT Pro report also quoted other sources who supported this view, including a comment by Alan Hansell, an analyst at Intelligent Business Research Services, who said the government’s focus has been on pulling in its belt, rather than big-picture programs, since coming to office. “The recent downsizing in all Commonwealth agencies has put initiatives such as implementing the digital economy on the back burner”.

This may have rung a bell with readers of our August 2014 Newsletter, where  Anne Verney’s article  Big Data – Mixed Messages from Government noted that the Government’s vacant CIO role would not be replaced and that “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”

What were the eGovernment and Digital Economy initiatives and what went wrong? The Coalition’s eGovernment and Digital Economy Policy, issued in August 2013, included a Plan for achieving the following objectives: Convenient Services Anytime Anywhere; Infrastructure for a Digital, Networked Economy; Government 2.0 and Big Data; Smarter ICT Investment; and Reboot Whole-Of-Government ICT Leadership.

The eGovernment and Digital Economy Policy and Plan were based on a close working relationship between

The Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO),the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) and  the Department of Finance and Deregulation (DoFD).  At that point AGIMO had been restructured to become two Divisions within the DoFD: the Technology and Procurement Division (run by the CTO) and the Australian Government CIO.  This had been seen as a major step forward. The eGovernment and Digital Economy Policy noted that “AGIMO’s capabilities will be increased if it also serves as the support agency for an Australian Government ICT Advisory Board.

A Coalition government will:

1.Focus AGIMO on its role as the Government’s key ICT policy advisor and SIGB’s secretariat

2. Create an Australian Government ICT Advisory Board, to provide the Government, SIGB and AGIMO with access to senior private sector ICT expertise.

3. Consider proposals for the ICT Advisory Board to provide an independent external chairman drawn from the private sector to SIGB, and for how to most effectively leverage the ICT Advisory Board’s expertise in SIGB.”

In her Big Data – Mixed Messages from Government article, Anne noted progress on The Australian Public Service Better Practice Guide to Big Data © Commonwealth of Australia 2014  (the BPG), which is a deliverable from Australian Public Service Big Data Strategy, © Commonwealth of Australia 2013. The Strategy 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, Anne’s  conclusion was that  “ 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.”

Recent Government initiatives

To be fair, recent Government initiatives provide some visibility of potential cost savings. One such initiative was the Treasury Capability Review conducted by the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) as part of the APSC reviews to assess capability in key agencies and to identify opportunities to raise the institutional capability of the service as a whole. The fieldwork for the review was undertaken between 17 June and 23 August 2013. The Summary Report noted that there was a need for Treasury to turn its mind to alternative means to deal with the demands on it, to sustain its pre-eminent role in providing policy advice. The review team identified four areas of priority for Treasury to consider in determining its way forward. The department’s response noted that progress was already being made in those areas.

Another initiative was the Government’s Cloud Policy update and issue in October 2014 by the Departments of Finance and Communications as the Australian Government Cloud Computing Policy — Smarter ICT Investment, Version 3.0 © Commonwealth of Australia 2014.  The Cloud Policy requires that agencies now must adopt cloud where it is fit for purpose, provides adequate protection of data and delivers value for money.  The Australian Government procures approximately $6 billion of ICT services annually and the Cloud Policy notes that the Departments of Finance and Communications are committed to leading by example, demonstrating the benefits of investing in and using cloud services.

Can Australia learn from NIST’s 3 Year Plan?

While those initiatives show that progress is being made, we are not seeing the Whole-Of-Government approach needed to meet the eGovernment and Digital Economy Policy objectives. The Government’s Cloud Policy notes that the Australian Government has adopted the US Government’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Definition of Cloud Computing. Maybe now is the time to borrow a bit more from NIST.

In our October Issue, we looked at the new NIST Three – Year Programmatic Plan, FY2014-2016 in the article ICT Metrics: NIST’s New Measurement Science Plan. The NIST 3 Year Plan includes development of frameworks, standards, guidelines, metrics and tools for Accelerating Advanced Technology Adoption and the article noted that “Of particular interest to ICT management, staff and business stakeholders is Section 3.2 Optimizing Capabilities for Long-Term Trends, which includes 3.2.3 Big Data and 3.2.4 Systems Engineering.”

It looks like Australia might benefit from adopting some of the NIST Three – Year Programmatic Plan, FY2014-2016 new measurement science capability.