By Julian Bajkowski
The odds of a major policy shake-up in central technology strategy for federal agencies have shortened dramatically after the long-anticipated resignation of whole-of-government chief information officer Ann Steward.
The revelation of Ms Steward’s departure from both the Department of Finance’s Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) and the Australian Public Service comes just a week after Communications Minister Stephen Conroy revealed that the future of government technology policy had been put on the Cabinet table under a forthcoming ‘Digital White Paper’.
Ms Steward has indicated she will depart by the end of 2012.
The vacation of her position clears the decks for a consolidation of disparate policy and administrative functions that have made it difficult for Canberra to deliver service delivery and productivity gains now occurring in the wider community and the private sector.
While a delivery date is yet to be set for the delivery of the government’s new technology manifesto — a thinkpiece that both subsumed the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s delayed Cyber White Paper and then broadened its focus to include benefits from the National Broadband Network — the policy will have to be finalised well ahead of an election.
A clear option for the government is to return the role of wider government technology strategy setting to Senator Conroy’s Communications, Broadband and Digital Economy portfolio where it sat prior to the abolition of the National Office of the Information Economy under the Howard government in 2004.
A key constraint to AGIMO’s effectiveness has been its location within the Finance portfolio where it has been structurally incapable of instituting higher-level policy reform while being required to prosecute unpopular cost-cutting mandates.
At the same time AGIMO’s reputation was not helped by the hiring of UK cost cutting guru Sir Peter Gershon whose initial review did not factor-in disruptive technology industry shifts like cloud and mobile computing.
A key part of Senator Conroy’s takeover of the Digital White Paper includes the creation of a national cloud computing strategy that has been sanctioned by Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
While Canberra may be struggling with cloud computing, local governments are quickly adopting the strategy as a way to preserve infrastructure and data.
In Queensland local governments have invested in their own cloud services following severe flooding.
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