Public sector ICT falling behind, AIIA tells Canberra

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Australia’s public sector urgently needs to start leading by example when it comes to implementing innovative technology that improves service delivery, cuts costs and boosts productivity, the nation’s peak technology industry group has cautioned.

That’s the frank and fearless assessment for politicians and public servants provided by the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) as the key representative group for tech suppliers confronts the prospect of another round of policy and procurement changes set to roll under the next Budget.

Speaking to Government News following the release of the AIIA’s latest big picture policy statement, AIIA chief executive Suzanne Campbell is urging all levels of government to embrace the opportunity of using new and recent technology innovations as a key way to make real efficiency gains and put services on par with those now often taken for granted in the private sector like online transactions and smart, personalised, data-driven services.

“The first thing that government needs to do is lead by example and build confidence in managing this disruptive and transformational technology driven change process,” Ms Campbell said.

“That means end-to-end change in key processes … to take advantage of the opportunities that are available.

A key challenge for IT suppliers now selling into government is that many services and delivery models have not evolved or automated at the same pace of the private sector creating what some vendors privately refer to as a two-speed market.

Having watched Labor’s vision for a digital economy based on smart services powered by a NBN based on fibre-to-the-home rise and crash in just six turbulent years, the AIIA is now trying to get policymakers to embrace measures that will create a sustainable indigenous IT industry.

The key document in the AIIA’s push is its SmartICT 2014 platform that strongly argues real economic risks will emerge if steps are not taken to keep Australia’s industry – both IT and at large –with international competitors.

A key theme in the argument is that having a vibrant and sustainable local tech industry capable of creating and exporting products is a key differentiator in chase for productivity, efficiency and growth.

Ms Campbell said that evidence from British think tank Policy Exchange had estimated that technology enhancements to the public sector there could yield as much as an 8 per cent saving in the cost of government operations through efficiency gains.

That scale of saving is certain to appeal to both Treasurer Joe Hockey, Finance Minister Matthias Cormann and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull as they look for ways to strip out costs in the public sector without creating a spike in unemployment.

“We have a whole lot of data that says Australia is well behind global benchmarks in its use and adoption in the government sector of ICT, so [it’s] a rich opportunity,” Ms Campbell said.

Communications Minister Turnbull has already spelled out a strong expectation for as many government services as possible to be delivered online as quickly and practicably as possible to bring the public sector up to speed, with an acute emphasis on mobile delivery and cloud computing.

However a major challenge that remains for the federal government is how to get spur agencies and departments into modernisation without repeating the mistakes of Howard era whole-of-government outsourcing that resulted in a huge loss of corporate knowledge and increased costs.

Labor’s subsequent attempt to put whole of government technology procurement on a more efficient footing through the Gershon review also proved underwhelming after it essentially missed the two key emerging global technology trends of the proliferation of mobile computing and the rise of cloud computing.

Now the AIIA is urging the government to widen its traditional focus on infrastructure, especially telecommunications, to the effect of transformational technologies that include much more affordable and powerful use of data analytics.

“Despite the acute and often critical attention on developing a national ubiquitous high speed broadband capability, there are few signs that Australia is ‘ready’ to leverage that investment,” the AIIA’s document says.

“In the absence of a statement that clearly sets out the national objectives of a ubiquitous high speed broadband capability (jobs creation, industry development, growth target, infrastructure investment etc), AIIA concern is that the focus will remain, as it currently is, on infrastructure at the expense of the much more important opportunity for transformation and growth.”

The document also specifically calls out with what it calls a “lack of digital leadership by government” which it argues sends “inconsistent and contradictory messages to industry.”

“The risk for government of the current pace of change is that Australia’s economic performance continues to decline with a further negative and longer term impact for Australia’s deficit – more debt for longer and with less prospect of regaining ground lost to more advanced nations.”

“The investment [government] is encouraging business to make in leveraging the broadband infrastructure it is building is not mirrored in its own actions. As a result confidence in both the financial investment and the capability being developed is undermined, reinforcing the concerns and scepticism of business and the hesitancy they have to transform sooner rather than later.”

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