Historically, whole-of-government IT approaches have had limited success in delivering consistent outcomes. Recent successes have shown that consolidation is possible when projects are sensibly selected and managed.
Governments need to be pragmatic in delivering standardized service outcomes
Governments in all jurisdictions have undergone a number of waves of IT consolidation in an effort to realize more efficient and effective citizen service delivery. Although there is obvious benefit in standardizing IT service functions across multiple departments, agencies, and even jurisdictions, this has been difficult to achieve: many initiatives have failed to meet expectations as they try to encapsulate complex and highly variable business problems. In the Australian government, this difficulty has been compounded by the perception that many of the programs – such as the outsourcing drive of the early 2000s and the Gershon cost reductions in 2010 – are agendas driven by philosophy and politics rather than desires for practical outcomes.
However, a number of recent success stories are encouraging the perception in the Commonwealth government that common, shared business systems can be successfully implemented. Worthy of note are the govCMS project, the cloud-based web publishing service managed by the Department of Finance, and the Parliamentary Workflow System (PWS), delivered by the Shared Services Centre (SSC) established after the last federal election.
Although the two solutions differ in their delivery, with govCMS delivered by a commercial provider (Acquia) within the Amazon cloud and PWS provided directly by the government SSC, there are similarities in approach that are contributing to their success. These include a constrained, consistent, and well-understood business process and the adoption of a technical platform that had become a de facto standard used by multiple agencies independently of the projects (SharePoint for PWS and Drupal for govCMS). This increased the comfort with and understanding of the technology within the client agencies and ensured a ready source of expertise within government and its service providers.
Although it could be argued that Parliamentary Workflow is a core function of the government as a whole, it is not a differentiating function for a specific agency. The same can be said of web publishing, and in both cases, tight control over process scope has resulted in a clear value proposition for client agencies looking to reduce their administrative and compliance burden.
The recent release of the Department of Social Services (DSS) websites, early adopters of the govCMS platform and prominent in providing a citizen-facing web-presence, is strong confirmation that the govCMS ecosystem is viable and usable. Delivery through commercial cloud providers aligns with Ovum’s long-held view of the importance of government moving to a cloud-first development strategy.In the case of PWS, the use of a standardized workflow solution will pay further dividends in avoided costs with the next round of machinery of government changes, significantly reducing the administrative overhead traditionally associated with such reorganizations.
The next challenge for government is to translate the lessons learned from implementing these two pragmatic outcomes to the more complex and variable business process consolidations on the horizon, including financial management, human resources, and grant administration.
“Cloud services first: a next-generation shared services policy for government,” IT007-000695 (April 2013)
“Australia reinvigorates IT policy to embrace “cloud first” digital leadership,” IT0007-000781 (October 2014)
Al Blake, Principal Analyst, Public Sector