People First goes from planning to action

People First goes from planning to action

NSW CIO says program is on track and on target with 80 percent buy-in.

Almost a year has passed since a change of guard placed NSW CIO Emmanuel Rodriguez in charge of driving the state government's most ambitious ICT procurement, planning and expenditure program, which aims to slash IT spend by $565 million in the four years to July 2010.

In this time, the NSW Department of Commerce has remained quiet on its People First initiative.

Industry speculation raged over the fate of the program, fuelled by events like the cancellation of government initiatives such as the Transport Card, yet the department kept mum on the progress of People First despite the program's rigid deadlines.

An unerring Rodriguez — who took the helm last November, six months after former NSW CIO Paul Edgecombe resigned — told Computerworld the program has been “sold” to 80 percent of NSW government CIOs, a big improvement since it initially struggled to gain support within guarded departments.

“There was a disconnect between People First and buy-in from agencies — they had their own businesses to run,” Rodriguez said.

“My role is to look at IT across government agencies, get the departments on board and generate efficiencies so savings can be put back into front-line services such as police, health and transport.”

People First is on track to deliver the promised savings, Rodriguez says, which includes collating a short list of preferred providers for IT services and equipment and rationalising government infrastructure over the long term.

NSW high schools, for example, will buy laptops for the federal government's Computers for Schools program from vendors listed on the provider list, which was cut from 11 to four last year.

Health and emergency services can request funding for their electronic document management systems because they adhere to the government's shared services policy.

People First is not the government's first stab at locking down spend across it's $1.2 billion IT budget — the largest of the states and territories. And while it looks great on paper, Rodriguez and his predecessor Edgecombe offered more carrot than stick to get departments on board.

“The agencies feel interested because they can gain value in a time of budget restrictions. I told them I won't be deciding for them,” Rodriguez said.

“I am a strong believer of the 80-20 rule; as long as I have at least 80 percent buy-in, the rest will follow.”

Representatives and CIOs from 19 government departments are part of the CIO executive council, which holds non-compulsory meetings every six weeks to discuss the direction and application of People First.

The agencies — which constitute 95 percent of the state's IT budget — include the Roads and Traffic Authority, Emergency Services and Departments of Climate Change, Housing, Lands, and Commerce.

He said a few small agencies with less to gain from People First than the large departments send representatives to the meetings and “watch from the sidelines”.

Governance of People First was handed to the council executives in February this year, when the initiative’s 17 programs — totalling 66 projects — were culled to just eight in a secret ballot at the board's second meeting. The remaining projects constitute the People First initiative and will result in “major transformation” for the state's IT operations.

The CIO office received more than $58 million from the state coffers to oversee the People First IT projects.

In what Rodriguez describes as a summer dust-clean, projects to buy technology for technology's sake were axed along with those that did not benefit at least half of the participating departments.

“[People First] was very, very complex and no-one could understand it,” he said, adding that CIOs were not always directly involved in creating the now axed projects.

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