Alexander to lead new DTA unit

James Riley
Editorial Director

Respected former Treasury CIO Peter Alexander is to be appointed to lead the Digital Transformation Agency’s powerful new whole-of-government ICT program management office, based in Canberra.

The appointment returns the Commonwealth’s ICT centre of gravity, together with its touchstone digital transformation agenda, back to the nation’s capital.

Mr Alexander, who is a whole-of-government ICT veteran with lengthy stints within the former Australian Government Information Management Office and the Department of Finance, was appointed as chief operating officer at the Digital Transformation Officer just weeks before it was restructured into the new, more powerful DTA.

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The appointment also completes the acquisition of the Commonwealth’s disruptive digital strategy by its mainstream ICT governing forces.

If the government’s Plan A had been to allow a band of disruptive internal disruptors to shape the roll-out of digital service delivery, its Plan B is to bring these changes back into the mainstream of government ICT power bases.

Interim DTA chief executive Nerida O’Loughlin told a conference in Canberra this week that the big lesson of the original Digital Transformation Office model was that separating digital strategy and delivery from mainstream ICT was “a false divide.”

The creation of the new DTA, which brings together digital strategy and delivery with whole-of-government ICT policy and strategy, oversight and program management, aims to bridge that false divide, and overcome the delivery problems of the DTO model.

“What the Government wants is a capability that is able to look at both ICT and digital, from end-to-end,” Ms O’Loughlin told the GovInnovate conference on Monday.

“The Government also recognises the benefits that come from new ways of thinking that the DTO has embodied. But it wants that thinking properly tied to strategy, delivery, investment and procurement.”

Ms O’Loughlin also outlined some of the DTA’s thinking on the creation of a whole-of-government Digital Transformation Roadmap, which had been a government election commitment in the July federal election, which is to be followed by each agency having their own agency-specific roadmaps.

The DTA is expected to unveil its whole-of-government plan once it has received Cabinet approval later this month, or in early December. The agencies would then begin setting out agency-specific plans early next year, once they are approved by Mr Alexander’s DTA program management office.

The roadmap would serve as the high-level strategic direction for everything the Commonwealth is doing in both the ICT and digital spaces, and would incorporate strategies such as data, cyber, ICT investment, platforms, and the like, Ms O’Loughlin said.

“It will give government, the public service and the public with a cohesive view of digital transformation activities across the Commonwealth, for the very first time,” she said.

The announcement of whole-of-government roadmap will bring to a conclusion the tortured process that was started by the DTO to cajole and convince departments and agencies to submit their on digital strategies for approval.

In hindsight, that process was probably doomed from the start. The original DTO model lacked the powerful levers that have now been built into the DTA – most notably through its inclusion of procurement oversight for ICT – to compel agencies to get on with the job. The work of the program management office is designed to change that.

The DTA program management office looks to build on Assistant Minister Angus Taylor’s push for less disruption, and more co-operation and collaboration.

“I am keen to make sure that we build a PMO based on a cooperative approach to the development of reporting and governance frameworks with key agencies,” Ms O’Loughlin said.

“In that regard, we will be picking the brains of those agencies about reporting processes to make sure we are not re-inventing the wheel and the DTA adds value in the process.”

“I believe we also need to build a PMO that acknowledges that project owners are ultimately accountable for the projects [they] lead.

“We will also be looking at our own capability to make sure that we have the required technical, analytical and commercial capability needed to operate an expert PMO that can help agencies succeed.”

While cooperation and collaboration are the new orders of the day, it is far from clear whether the DTA will eschew the overly secretive practices of the DTO, which has struggled to effectively communicate either its purpose or its progress.

Ms O’Loughlin also revealed for the first time a Digital Platforms Taskforce has been in place since July to develop clear thinking on how government can deliver platform to deliver common services across different agencies. The digital marketplace is an example.

Meanwhile, no word yet on the machinery of government changes that will change the structure of government ICT, and the ultimate shape of the DTA.

While parts of the Procurement and ICT strategy function will move from Finance to the DTA, it is not clear how many public service staff will be affected, or where they will be based.

Nor is it yet clear what the future of the original Digital Transformation Office’s Sydney-based headquarters will be, or where the DTA’s new chief digital officer Paul Shetler will be based.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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