DTA a rose by any other name

James Riley
Editorial Director

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his McKinsey-trained mate Angus Taylor want to bring order and alacrity to the ever fraught world of government IT projects as the game shifts more into the cloud.

While the wrangling to bring about the transformation through the Digital Transformation Office and new-age tech project management had been underway some time before the embarrassing ABS meltdown on Census night, that sorry event will have concentrated the attention of both politicians and mandarins to needle sharpness.

Malcolm Turnbull, supposedly the most technologically switched-on PM we have ever had, would have a very low tolerance for anymore IT stuff ups, especially disasters as public and humiliating as on Census night.

Finance Department: Bidding farewell to its tech procurement responsibilities. Bye-bye.

Without digital discipline, there may be a whole bunch of Census night’s brewing in the big digital transformation regime currently underway across the length and breadth of the Federal Government’s $5.6 billion-a-year IT operations.

We all know where governments of any stripe want to go with their IT. They want the same thing most startups already enjoy, which is being able to mix and match cloud-based services and be free of all the headaches that go with setting-up and maintaining complex IT infrastructure.

But while it’s simple and logical for a five person startup to wing along on Xero, DropBox, Google Analytics and the choice of hundreds of other groovy cloud apps, it’s a very different matter for even a small federal agency.

There’s all sorts of regulatory, procurement and political hoops to jump through, as well as the all-encompassing mantra for public service: which is don’t stuff up, especially not in public view.

It is going to be a longish journey to get to the cloud –based digital goal, and you don’t want everyone across the Federal agency IT labyrinth going off half cocked.

So there’s a stick in the form of arming the rebranded Digital Transformation Agency (‘transforming’ the DTO into the DTA … Oh how the Yes Minister scriptwriters would have loved that one!) with procurement power lifted out of the Finance department.

As Mr Taylor outlined last month, the DTA scores a small, ‘high-calibre team’ to run a new program management office and drive the government’s digital agenda in a more co-ordinated way.

Also watching and chiming in when necessary is a new advisory board with public and private sector expertise chaired by the nation’s most powerful public servant, the Secretary of the Department Prime Minister and Cabinet, Martin Parkinson.

In other words, no more disruptive chaos thanks. But let’s keep things moving along.

The DTA team will get to run a ruler over agency progress in rolling out their digitisation plans and also have a hand in making sure there’s some added benefits from collaboration and sharing to get scale.

As Mr Taylor said last month: “The key is really line of sight. If you are constantly looking for these high benefit to cost ratios in your projects, then the investments are paid back very quickly.”

“As long as you’ve got a lot of those high-benefit to cost projects [ongoing], then you can really get a lot done.”

The carrots come in a new version of the old Gershon Report inspired scheme where agencies were able to keep 50 per cent of the savings wrought from ICT efficiencies.

That got scuppered by the Gillard government when the GFC knocked the stuffing out of the budget, but now makes a worthwhile return. After all, there’s got to be some sugar for creating and enduring all that digitisation change.

“The notion that you can drive a major whole-of-government agenda by just telling people what to do and expecting them to do it without providing incentives is clearly wrong,” said Mr Taylor back in September.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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