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Chasing Challenges

Chasing Challenges

The Victorian government's first CIO, Patrick Hannan, is already working hard to drive the state's ICT policy and strategy, and lay the foundation for more shared services.

The man the Australian Defence Force appointed as its inaugural CIO, Patrick Hannan, clearly has a thirst for the filling of "greenfield" positions. Over the past five years Hannan was involved in the transformation of Defence's use of IT&T, establishing a unified service delivery model and an enterprise technical architecture, developing a strategic planning framework for the development and management of the information environment and helping to generate substantial annual recurrent savings.

Inevitably however, with each greenfield position comes progress; eventually a CIO has to flip the switch from set-up to consolidation, and with the agenda maturing, either develop new skills (lest progress stall) or else move on. For Hannan, five years of joyless commuting between Sydney and Canberra simply served to make that decision a little easier to take.

So like any self-respecting CIO living for the new, Hannan last year found himself casting around for another post and, continuing his love affair with public service, eventually opted to move to Melbourne and take up the post as the Victorian government's first CIO.

"I was sick of commuting, and I had been [in Defence] in the role as it evolved for five years, and the agenda had got to a stage where I felt it needed some different skill sets to those I had," Hannan says. "[Defence] was in less a 'create' mode than a 'consolidate' mode - I mean it had gone very much from being a greenfield site to actually having got the shared services arrangements well and truly embedded and accepted at the physical infrastructure layer. We were dealing in the information management and interoperability arena and there had been a certain maturing that required different skills.

"CIOs do shift around a lot, and I think that's a good and positive thing for senior executives," Hannan says. "Not too quickly - I've seen people shift around every couple of years. Sometimes that's necessary, but my general sense is that somewhere between four and five years is a good sort of time to be in any particular role. I think it's good to move on and accept new challenges."

And so move on he did. Hannan's groundbreaking appointment six months ago as the first CIO for any state or territory has set him up to capitalize on his experience in strategic planning and aligning ICT with business goals to transform Victorian government use of IT, the way he did at Defence. The Victorian Office of the CIO was set up to drive the implementation of Victoria's e-government vision - Putting People at the Centre - from within the Department of Premier and Cabinet, located at 1 Treasury Place, Melbourne, Victoria.

With $33.3 million in funding up his sleeve, Hannan is already working hard to drive the Victorian government's ICT policy and strategy, enhance the way it uses networks and new technology to provide better services to Victorians, increase efficiencies by consolidating the Victorian government's ICT infrastructure and lay the foundation for more shared services.

He is charged with developing an "enterprise approach" focusing on: strategic planning for the use of ICT across government, using ICT innovations to transform service delivery ensuring the government's ICT spending is aligned with government's priorities, reducing costs and improving integration of services by standardizing ICT systems and practices, and setting standards and providing authoritative advice on ICT to government.

He says in his first six months he has already achieved "quite a bit".

"The strategy that the government adopted that resulted in the establishment of the Office of the CIO included a number of specific standardization initiatives, and we have commenced detailed work upon a number of them," he says.

"They range from a coordinated whole-of-government approach to document record management, which we're trying to get to a point of decision (getting close), to shared applications hosting infrastructure which we're getting close to a point of decision on, and a project to establish a whole-of-government shared data centre which was recently approved."

In addition the Office of the CIO has initiated a project in relation to enhanced data recovery arrangements and worked on a number of innovative programs exploring ways to connect traditionally siloed channels to achieve interoperability between departments as they deal with a single customer.

"We have also done a fairly significant analysis of what is going on, what is planned to happen and what is happening in individual departments to try to find congruence," Hannan says. "We have at the moment a draft strategy for the next few years out with departments for review. Feedback on that to date is that it has been reasonably well received. It's been a fair effort over the past four months to actually get the data on which we can get a holistic view of what is actually going on, to look at where adjustments could be made to extant plans and strategies in departments to get more coherence, enhanced coordination between the departments and find some opportunities for economies and enhanced services."

Hannan says there has been encouraging work between departments around redevelopment or establishment of HR capabilities and the Office of the CIO is just establishing a coordinated approach to that. And in cases where some of the larger departments have substantial investments in the applications layer, the Office of the CIO is looking to reach agreement between departments on a common functional specification, common data standards and common business processes in the hope of being able to aggregate demand and offer shared services.

The Office has also been busy developing governance mechanisms - setting up the various levels of coordination at the political, policy and departmental level.

"We've also established coordination arrangements across the state in relation to radio frequency spectrum management, and are participating in a new forum, which is a national coordinating committee on government radio communications."

Appealing Prospect

Long active in graduate recruiting, Hannan is in the habit of telling junior staff that if they cannot find fascinating work within public administration, they are not trying.

"The nature of government work is that you're dealing in some extraordinarily diverse and complex issues, so it is worthwhile work, and if you can't find interesting work in public administration, then you'd have trouble finding it anywhere," he says.

"I guess it's also got to do with what motivates you. And certainly given the intellectual challenges that public administration offers, given the diversity of experience you can get, it is I think a worthwhile profession from a professional point of view. And I've always felt that good public administration is a good thing to do."

It is that love of intellectual challenge that so strongly attracted him to the Victorian post. Hannan says while the role of the State CIO has continued to evolve during his first six months in the position, he is working to a strong policy agenda agreed on through a process undergone by departmental secretaries and ministers over the period preceding the announcement.

That agenda illustrates just how thorough an understanding a number of Victoria's senior ministers have of the transformative potential of ICT as an enabler for reform of business process and its capacity to deliver enhanced and streamlined services to a constituency, he says, as well as the "incredible impediments" that threaten to get in the way, which underwrote creation of the new position. Multimedia Victoria and the Victorian government have both done a remarkable job over a number of years in advancing e-government, Hannan says, but there remains significant work to do.

"In Victoria they've created strong departments with wide responsibilities, and there is enough to be done within those departments to keep most [departmental] secretaries thoroughly engaged," he says. "And what they've seen was a need to have someone working with those departments and those stovepipes to identify how to take the next steps to make the barriers between the departments more permeable."

In casting around for ways to address the issues, the Victorian government found little in the operations of US state government CIOs to emulate. In contrast to our parliamentary system, in the US most state CIOs report to a governor with executive authority, have full budget authority and an ability to execute a strategy based on controlling all the levers. Similarities between the Australian and Canadian system do provide some parallels, Hannan says, but the real issue for the Victorian government is to find ways to achieve strong governance and coordination to drive convergence of activities in a federated, as opposed to a centralized arrangement.

"I have always been a strong proponent of the fact that 'Stalinist centralism' will not work - that there is a legitimate balance between the requirements for efficiency, effectiveness and economy, and the genuine requirement of departments to meet their quite different business outcomes and their quite different service delivery responsibilities," Hannan says. "For example the product around roads that VicRoads is responsible for delivering is fundamentally different to that of the Secretary for Human Services across housing, child protection and the health sector. So the issue is to find the balance and find the common ground, and find the shared goal and purpose. And if you can do that, then you've got an agenda which is generally a shared agenda."

In fact Hannan says he would not have even contemplated taking up the post had not the Victorian government, in developing its corporate ICT infrastructure strategy, thoroughly considered the logic, justification and the imperatives for such action. That they did so was enough to convince him there would be a willingness to accept the implied approaches, provided those approaches were developed in conjunction with departments and that they were practicable and provided genuine benefit rather than being based on "theology".

He says since the day he started that position has been vindicated, with a strong and growing network emerging, and relations with secretaries and others in departments proving highly positive.

"I guess in assessing any newcomer, the first thing they want to make sure of is I'm not some idiot from central government who's going to be here to 'help them' - we've all seen them in the past. So one of the things we've been pushing hardest, and I think is the core to success in the future, is getting a shared planning process. If we can collaboratively plan, and understand and have transparency around what each department is doing, and understand the imperatives, and have a willingness to adjust each department strategic planning framework, then we can make progress.

"If we're coming out with bright ideas that don't make any sense to individual departments at the time, then we're going to be an irrelevance."

Hannan says departments have made clear their willingness to embrace those solutions that make sense, even where those solutions can only be implemented at the expense of an individual department, as long as it is demonstrable that the whole of the Victorian public system is better off as a consequence.

That has eased the way to some substantial changes. For instance Hannan's Office of the CIO has just completed a licensing agreement that is fundamentally different from any licensing agreement previously made within Victoria. In the past most of those licensing agreements have largely involved establishing and negotiating whole-of-government contracts as a panel arrangement, as such an approach is well aligned to the funding and business models in the state. The latest agreement, completed with IBM, ensures that for certain types of software an agency within the Victorian government will own a set of licences to be operated as a library on behalf of all players within Victoria. That has led to very low implementation and capital acquisition costs.

Over the Horizon

For the longer term Hannan insists the position is very much a strategy role, which requires him to build a framework having regard to government policy and the delivery requirements of individual departments. Only if his Office of the CIO and the individual departments can collectively plan, with ownership and associated activities remaining with departments and with each department understanding what the others are doing, will he be successful.

"If we operate as an externality to the departments' planning, or undertake initiatives on the basis of theology without any view to practicality and digestibility in terms of both skills available in departments and the departments' operational imperatives, then we'll be a failure. So it is very much a strategic planning role, and a role around looking at it from 10,000 feet and saying we think we can see the opportunities and working with the departments to draw their attention to those opportunities."

Hannan is at pains to distinguish between the role of his Office of the CIO, which is fundamentally engaged in microeconomic reform of the efficiency and effectiveness of the operations of the Victorian public sector, and that of Multimedia Victoria, the Victorian government's key technology agency, which deals with macroeconomic policy relating to such matters as industry development within the state and addressing the "digital divide". He says the delineation was agreed with Multimedia Victoria executive director Randall Straw, with whom he has developed a close working relationship.

He also works closely with the state's first chief technology officer, Tony Aitkenhead, whose appointment was announced at the same time as his.

"I have the policy planning and strategy role, and when I get initiatives to the point at which I get agreement to proceed, sign on and the business case and resourcing sorted out, then I effectively pass projects seamlessly across to the CTO's office for implementation," Hannan says.

"One of the problems is that if you have both implementation and strategy, implementation is so much more fun than strategy," he says. "So the intent is for me to be responsible for individual initiatives only to the point at which they are ready to execute. At that point [Aitkenhead] becomes the execution agency for whole-of-government. That's not dissimilar to the way many organizations have it, which is a delineation between the policy and strategy, standard setting and architectures role, which is my role, and the role of execution and operation."

While Hannan is convinced having a state CIO will make a significant difference to the Victorian government, he says he will leave it to others to decide whether, ultimately, he has made a difference.

"Monday will be the six-month anniversary in the job," Hannan told CIO magazine in late July. "My criteria for success will be that I will have delivered on the specific initiatives or some of the specific initiatives that were identified as potentially available in establishing the office - things like the data centres and so forth. That we have a shared planning arrangement between departments, and have some strategic decision-making across departments that is instructive, collaborative and results in an agenda. That we have an architectural framework. That we have shared understanding and appropriate level of granularity of what each department is doing - a highly consultative and coordinated arrangement. That we have some more holistic purchasing arrangements that go beyond the panels to funding models for purchasing in aggregate.

"And all this of course with the purpose of having enhanced information management, and some greater connectivity around those functions - the staff functions of government that really could be shared."

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