Queensland releases government technology vision

By Julian Bajkowski

The Queensland Government has set out its grand vision for recasting how the state’s public sector buys and consumes more than $1.6 billion a year in technology services, software and infrastructure, confirming it will dump confirmed the longstanding build-own-operate model in favour of buying technology as a service.

In a set of documents released this week, Queensland Minister for Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts, Ian Walker articulated the long-expected shift that is aimed at shaking off long-term and strategic dependency on top-tier vendors like IBM, Microsoft and SAP in favour of more contestable and smaller chunks of work.

The strategy is initially slated for four years to run from 2013 to 2017.

At its core is a wholesale push to buy technology ‘as-a-service’ in the same way that many corporations, including the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, have changed their procurement model from specifying how proprietary software and infrastructure is built and customised to mandating an outcome.

The move is broadly based on a successful trend by many corporate and government IT customers to buy largely commoditised technologies on an operating expenditure basis as opposed to a capital expenditure basis similar to the way utilities like energy suppliers charge for power on a metered basis.

“New ways need to be found to make government more efficient, flexible and better able to meet the needs of Queenslanders both now and into the future,” Mr Walker said.

“Our aim is to improve the lives of Queenslanders by better service delivery through public service reform. With a clear government vision for the future, there is no doubt that Information and Communications Technology will play a crucial role in enabling new ways of doing business that aligns with community expectations.”

A growing problem with the previous model of heavily capitalised systems purchasing and development was that it became progressively more difficult for agencies to disengage incumbent suppliers who thrived on a fertile combination of ‘maintenance revenue’ to keep legacy systems alive and big ticket prices to deliver upgrades or migrate to newer platforms.

At the same time, many vendors and systems integrators have for years mined a rich seam of work that sprang from the need to make changes to the scope of major IT projects, especially when either policies or requirements changed   often leading to cost blowouts.

The Queensland Government’s most infamous IT disaster remains the Queensland Health Payroll that started out as a $ 6 million project and is now projected to cost $1.2 billion, triggering a special Commission of Inquiry in the process.

Following the delivery of the Commission’s findings, Premier Campbell Newman banned IBM from securing any new work in the state, a broadside that came after the multinational company legally extricated itself from potential liability for damages.

Mr Newman confirmed last week that a number of public servants have subsequently been removed from their jobs over the massive bungle, a move that conspicuously counters the industry axiom that ‘nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.’

Mr Newman and Mr Walker now clearly want to put the bitter experience they inherited from the Beattie and Bligh governments behind them once and for all.

In the new ICT strategy the government has released a dozen ‘key areas’ for reform it believes are essential for the improvement of government service delivery. They are:

•    improving customer experience of government services
•    digital economy
•    information management
•    open data
•    information security and privacy of individuals
•    digital archiving
•    contestability and ICT strategic sourcing
•    ICT as a service
•    ICT innovation
•    significant and at-risk ICT asset stabilisation
•    a capable and competent workforce
•    portfolio, program and project management competency.

To back the vision the Queensland government has also issued and “ICT Action Plan” that sets out timelines, governance and accountability and priorities for what will be undertaken.

The government has also been careful to tip its hat to local industry by talking-up the potential for small to medium sized Queensland and Australian tech businesses to sell into the state’s public sector by reducing barriers to entry and holding larger vendors to local subcontracting arrangements in contracts.

“We’re also streamlining our procurement processes to make it easier for small to medium enterprises (SMEs) to work with government,” Mr Walker said.

“This means that Queensland’s local ICT sector will have an improved capacity to bid for government ICT contracts.”

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