Victoria’s Centre for IT Excellence, or CenITex as it is most commonly known, has been hailed as a shared services success story despite the mixed history of shared services within Australian government.
Supporting about 36,800 desktops across 10 of the 11 state government departments and two major agencies, CenITex touts a vision to be the supplier of ‘one ICT service for the whole of Victorian Government (WoVG)’. It’s a vision that includes a secure desktop for all customers, a trusted network, a common directory or login, a WoVG hosting environment and ICT service centre and helpdesk.
And in July, following a successful few years as general manager of the ACT shared services provider, InTACT, and an 18 month stint as CIO of the Victorian Police, Michael Vanderheide jumped back in the shared services driving seat as CenITex chief executive officer.
Vanderheide admits InTACT was going through a somewhat rough time when he took on the management role and he immediately set about gaining back the trust of the organisation’s customer base.
“Over two or three years we turned it into something that was working effectively and really gaining the trust of its customer group and the government of the day, to the extent that we were able to move up the stack from infrastructure services to also offering application services,” he said.
InTACT became the whole-of-government IT services provider for all ACT IT services and, although its scale is much smaller than that of CenITex, Vanderheide said it was not dissimilar in its degree of complexity. InTACT’s recovery involved several factors, some of which CenITex is beginning to encompass in its operations. Among the most prominent include strengthened governance, price transparency and the resulting clarity around costs.
“We undertook some external benchmarking,” Vanderheide said.
“We were able to demonstrate, in a relatively independent way, how the costs were being allocated and whether we were delivering cost effective services. That gradually worked to build the confidence of the customer group.
“There were also some fairly significant investments in the standardisation of IT across government which tended to stabilise the environment and provide a platform that allowed us to build that trust.”
He said the success of InTACT came down to several common systems that were already in place across government agencies including a common payroll system and a common finance system which provided a good foundation for the introduction of a shared services outfit.
“We have seen failures in some other jurisdictions around Australia and it’s often not shared services that are causing the grief — it’s actually major systems changes that are being done at the same time,” Vanderheide said.
“[When you try] to implement a whole-of-government payroll system while implementing shared services, for example, it looks like shared services is failing when really it’s a complex system that’s gone off the rails.
“The other mistake I’ve seen in some shared services implementations is moving up the line far too quickly — when we talk about shared services we talk in terms of transactional, tactical and strategic services and the place to start, obviously, is at the transactional end or the commodity type services. That’s what we see CenITex doing.”
Once the organisation has the trust of its customer base it can move towards more tactical services and applications. Vanderheide said he would not dismantle CenITex to start fresh when he takes the reins, but instead will spend quality time talking to customers, staff and the board to gain a sense of the issues.
There will be various challenges that come hand-in-hand with shared services, however, including driving the consistency of infrastructure for agencies that have disparate technical environments.
“There’ll be cultural challenges which are typical of a shared services implementation; when you’re bringing staff from different departments and different agencies together they bring different cultures, different work practices,” he said.
Planning, time, communication and clarity around expectations will be critical, he said. And a lot of listening.
“One of the things I’ll be endeavouring to emphasise is that we will have an extremely strong customer focus, but we’re also colleagues with our customers, so we are part of Victorian Government.
“CenITex will not be operating an agenda that is separate from its customers’ needs. We’re all in this together with a view of delivering the best possible IT services to enable the Victorian Government agencies to support the Victorian community.”
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