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IT Experts Know Best

IT Experts Know Best

It must be so tempting to say: "I told you so."

Five years after the widely leaked Cabinet-in-Confidence submissions from agencies warning the government against its radical whole-of-government approach to outsourcing, and with contracts up for renewal or newly renewed, agency IT heads can feel vindicated.

The government's slash-and-burn approach to cost cutting was introduced against promises of $1 billion savings that were always going to be illusory. Since then, of course, a stream of audits have shown the managers who warned the one-size-fits-all approach was mechanistic, backward looking and just plain antithetic to their best interests, knew just what they were talking about.

The audits have found plenty to complain about, from the Humphry report that found significant flaws in the program's management and thus recommended responsibility for implementation be returned to individual agency heads, to the earlier damning report by the Auditor General which found that the government's IT program was substantially behind schedule, procedurally flawed and almost three times over budget.

Of course both then Finance Minister John Fahey and ASX head Richard Humphry claimed the government was forced to impose its whole-of-government approach on uncooperative agency heads because they were wilfully stymieing the government's initiative to outsource. Pity then no one in the government is prepared to concede today that, in the event, those agency heads knew precisely what they were on about.

Indeed a speech delivered by Parliamentary Secretary Peter Slipper in March seems to suggest that in denying the obvious, the government may be in danger of falling into the same traps all over again. "The benefits of outsourcing are significant," Slipper told the Canberra Business Council's Fifth Outsourcing Roundtable in March, without ever admitting how widely discredited the government's earlier approaches had been.

"Although implementation risks must be managed, the government has accepted the recommendations of the Humphry Review, including that responsibility for the implementation of IT outsourcing policy should rest with agency chief executives," Slipper said. All well and good, but he then went on to add: "Although implementation arrangements have changed, IT outsourcing remains government policy."

Any CIO in private industry told to outsource or else would likely quickly walk out the door. Smart CIOs know there is a time and a place for outsourcing, but that sometimes, IT is better done internally. Some CIOs have even moved to take IT back from outsourcers in their companies' best interests.

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," wrote George Santayana in 1905. Perhaps it's time for the government to draw on the messages of its past, to leave not only implementation of outsourcing, but the decision whether to outsource at all, to those who know what they are doing.

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