In the six months since the spectacular exit of Richard Alston as IT and communications minister and his replacement by Daryl Williams QC, much has quietly changed in the way those who hold power in the federal sphere view public sector information technology and particularly outsourcing.
It was never a secret that Alston viewed the promises of ICT sector with substantial suspicion, and for two valid reasons.
Firstly, Alston was perplexed by the uncanny ability of large multinational services corporations to relentlessly plunder moneys from government coffers because of contractual bondage with little incentive to lift performance.
Secondly, the economic dysfunction that accompanied the implosion of the dotcom bubble made him the thankless custodian for so many shattered dreams, promises and junk shares sold to the public, government and media..
Thus, when Alston created the National Office of the Information Economy (NOIE) in 1997, it was indelibly stamped with the mark of a man many in the ICT industry saw as at best technologically conservative, and at worst as hostile to innovation and change.
In reality, few outside the closed corridors of government had any real idea of what NOIE did and it fast became a whipping boy for partisan sections of the media and the opposition.
Compounding this was Alston's predisposition to politically expedient projects to which he gave shelter under NOIE's funding umbrella. This led to accusations that NOIE was merely a convenient slush fund for Alston's many whims. These included an online transaction system for school bus passes in regional Tasmania – which went some way to appease the wants of independent power brokers such as Brian Harradine.
In so much noise, NOIE's real function – to coordinate and facilitate ICT strategy and advice to the government, was easily forgotten. Yet NOIE achieved these in spite of Alston rather than because of him. In the wake of whole of government outsourcing policy, NOIE quietly took a mop and bucket to clean up the mess created by five years of lack of ICT strategic policy.
Williams has been quick to identify this, and the benefits a coordinated (federated) government approach to ICT strategy - that NOIE has been pushing –will bring.
While inherently complex issues befuddled Alston, Williams has seized on the opportunity to be seen to rehabilitate and recreate the government's ICT agenda.
With the creation of the Australian Government Information Management Office (Agimo), the Office of the Information Economy and the imminent appointment of a federal government CIO, NOIE has not so much been abolished as restructured and expanded under different names.
In a sign of things to come, Williams has nominated what will be kept and propelled after the May budget, while trying to lay Alston's many political poltergeists to rest. And all the while keeping himself a comfortable length from wider controversies such as Telstra's ambitions.
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