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All Together Now

All Together Now

The MAC attacks collaboration issues for better service delivery.

Two extreme options are open to a government central agency administering information and communications technology policy: dictate everything — the hardware, the software, the standards and the services to be put online — or let the myriad agencies run riot, doing as they please.

Neither extreme option is acceptable but finding the right middle ground is not easy. How devolved should we be? Which decisions should be left entirely up to individual agencies and which should be decided centrally or collectively? These questions are being tackled by two new committees established by the Management Advisory Committee (MAC), the pre-eminent forum of chief executives of Commonwealth agencies.

In establishing the committees the MAC endorsed a new ICT governance and investment framework for the Australian Public Service. It is essential to get this framework right. Government plays an important part in laying the foundation for participation in the information economy. The Australian government has embraced information and communications technology, resulting in improvements in service delivery and productivity across many areas of its activities.

More than 46 per cent of individuals and 57 per cent of businesses make use of Australian e-government services. Demand is expected to grow by 30 per cent a year, according to a recent review of e-government conducted by DMR Consulting for the National Office for the Information Economy (NOIE).

Progress has been achieved by promoting competition and investing heavily in innovation and R&D. The government has operated in a relatively devolved environment characterised by autonomy and flexibility with clear accountability for agency outcomes and performance. But agencies are increasingly working together to achieve cost-effective business-driven technology solutions for citizens, businesses and the government itself.

New opportunities exist for integrating services across agencies, and sharing information with each other and the business community. Achieving this is both complex and expensive. Agencies need to address a range of challenging issues, of which electronic security is one of the most important.

To achieve these objectives and to optimise Commonwealth ICT investment required a more robust framework. The MAC therefore decided to establish a high-level Information Management Strategy Committee (IMSC) supported by a Chief Information Officer Committee (CIOC).

The new ICT governance and investment framework was outlined in a MAC report released in October 2002, entitled Australian Government Use of Information and Communications Technology: A New Governance and Investment Framework (available at www.apsc.gov.au/mac/technology.htm).

The objective of the new framework is to facilitate a “big picture” approach to ICT issues and promote closer collaboration between agencies on standards, investment, security, privacy, shared infrastructure and the reuse of intellectual property. Agencies will continue to be responsible for their own ICT arrangements, including budgets.

The IMSC comprises a small group of very senior officials (Secretary/CEO level), and is chaired by the Secretary of the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Helen Williams. It oversees the work of the CIOC, which I chair. The CIOC membership is drawn from the major ICT user agencies, but it does not have a narrowly technical focus. It includes managers drawn from the business areas of agencies, as well as ICT managers, but regardless of the area from which members come there is a general recognition that the role of technology is to support business objectives, not determine them. NOIE provides secretariat support to both committees and some of the working groups.

The IMSC and CIOC held their first meetings in November 2002, and are meeting at regular intervals throughout 2003. Both committees have identified “zones of collaboration” between Commonwealth agencies, where joint effort will pay dividends. The immediate priorities of the IMSC are to:

  • promote a culture of information security across agencies
  • enhance agencies’ use of secure networks
  • scope the future role of authentication in government
  • develop consistent identity management frameworks
  • share learnings to improve ICT sourcing.

Shared commitment, collaboration and agreed standards between agencies are the keys to successfully achieving e-government. This means collaboration among agencies on how information and services are presented, how business systems are developed and deployed, and how elements of e-government are planned and managed.

Collaboration between agencies is already resulting in a targeted, collaborative approach to ICT investment issues. Further work is under way to explore opportunities for shared ICT architecture, including developing an Interoperability Framework for the Commonwealth government, sharing ICT sourcing experiences, identifying implementation issues to deliver online authentication for government, and examining improved arrangements for the secure exchange of data between agencies.

A spin-off from the work program is getting key chief information officers together in the one room. One of the most important functions the CIOC will perform is to allow chief information officers of key agencies to share their perspectives on the business of government in an informal way and discuss priority issues, for instance, appropriate models for sourcing their ICT requirements. Chief information officers have expressed strong support for this role of the committee.

One of the challenges for the CIOC will be to involve the other Commonwealth agencies in its processes. The CIOC will encourage agencies generally to stay abreast of its activities and inject their perspective into its discussions. Other agencies will be invited to participate in the CIOC’s working groups, and a regular series of updates on the CIOC’s activities, including newsletters and seminars, is planned.

Through these committees and working groups, closer collaboration will be promoted between agencies for the next phase of ICT implementation, which will involve the delivery of more integrated and interactive information and services. This will build on the frameworks, architectures, standards and approaches identified above.

Outcomes for citizens, businesses and government itself are driving this new era of e-government. Technology will not determine the service. Rather, better information management and improved business processes will be the means used to tailor the delivery of government services to meet the needs and demands of citizens.

John Rimmer is the CEO of NOIE

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More about Commonwealth GovernmentDepartment of CommunicationsDMR ConsultingNational Office for the Information EconomyNOIE

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