Qld digital projects; budget blowout

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James Riley

The Queensland government has defended its spending on tech projects after the Opposition accused it of being a “digital disaster zone” with $450 million in cost blowouts.

Queensland Liberal National Party leader Deb Frecklington pointed to the state government’s Digital Projects Dashboard to identify the “massive blowouts”, and announced plans to establish a government “IT enforcer” if the opposition wins next year’s election.

The Opposition said that costs for the 150 digital projects had gone $447 million over the original allocations, with Queensland Health contributing to more than half of this.

“It is a disgrace that Labor’s IT projects are now almost half-a-billion dollars over budget,” Ms Frecklington said.

“Ten years after the health payroll disaster, Labor hasn’t learned a thing. The Palaszczuk Labor government is a digital disaster zone.”

“This waste doesn’t happen in the private sector and it won’t happen under an LNP government. We will build a firewall that ensures IT projects stay on track and in the black.”

But the State government has defended the money spent on IT projects, saying that many of those listed were launched under the previous LNP government, and that policies changes had contributed to increased costs.

The Digital Projects Dashboard displays current government IT projects, their status, original budget and updated budget. Of the 150 projects on the dashboard, 136 are listed as on track, 10 as closely monitored and four with action required.

According to the Opposition, Queensland Health’s various digital projects had increased by $291.5 million from their original budgets, with the Integrated Electronic Medical Record originally allocated $86 million but now having an approved expenditure of $268.5 million.

Smaller projects also contributed to the figures identified by the LNP, such as the Sunshine Coast University Hospital Stage 2 ICT expansion, which has gone $1.1 million over its original budget.

Other departments were also singled out by Ms Frecklington, including Housing and Public Works, which has seen its digital projects blow out by $67.5 million, and Child Safety, Youth and Women, which has seen costs soar by $33.7 million.

But Queensland minister for digital technology Mick de Brenni said there’s much more to these figures than the Opposition has said.

“For those reviewing the information on the Digital Projects Dashboard, it is important to consider all the information about a project on the dashboard as it has been carefully designed to provide context,” Mr de Brenni told Parliament.

“The life a project may include many stages that affect estimated expenditure and timeframes. The project scope may change over time due to, for example, a policy change.”

The Future of Property and Tenancy Systems project was one that contributed to the Department of Housing and Public Works’ $67.5 million increase in digital projects’ costs. The project was originally allocated $56.3 million, but has now cost $92.1 million, with $121.6 million now approved.

But Mr de Brenni said this is due to the government no longer privatising social housing after the 2015 election, with the project then needing to change to meet new business needs and public asset retention.

“ICT projects are managed to ensure the product meets business needs and to take account of policy and agency developments as the project progresses and is managed in terms of costs,” he said.

“Project commencement allocation reflects the initial scope of a project, but projects tend to progress from a minimum viable product. The project commencement allocation assumes an unchanged policy environment and does not account for scope changes reflecting policy changes during the project’s life.

“Projects can run over several years, with dependencies between multiple tranches of work. Funding may be allocated to a project in two or more financial years, leading to changes in the reported approved budget, not scope changes.”

Under the LNP’s new plans, state government departments would be handed mandatory guidelines for designing and implementing IT projects, and would be “held responsible for every dollar they spend”.

Digital projects would also have to undergo regular “health-checks”, while the Queensland Chief Information Officer would act as the “IT enforcer”, investigating project overspend, identifying what went wrong and ensuring the mistakes aren’t repeated.

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