Life in the political pressure-cooker: Government CIOs

Life in the political pressure-cooker: Government CIOs

AGIMO’s Glenn Archer, Department of Defence’s Dr Peter Lawrence, Department of Human Services’ Garry Sterrenberg and DEEWR’s Susan Monkley share their experience working in high pressure ICT environments

In November, Defence shifted its systems running 125 core applications from a data centre in Canberra to a new primary data centre in Sydney as part of its data refresh project.

Defence is also reducing computer rooms from 280 to 10, which along with the next-generation desktop project will save the department about $400 million.

“[This] moves us into more of a private cloud, virtualised environment, [which provides] more flexibility and the ability to scale [capacity] up faster than we do today,” Lawrence said.

Much of our technology interfaces directly with the customer base or supports our staff in the front of office and call assisted channels

Garry Sterrenberg, Department of Human Services CIO

Sterrenberg joined Human Services in October 2011, and has been engaged in a large transformation project over the last two years to integrate the former agencies of Centrelink, Medicare, Child Support and Commonwealth Rehabilitation Services into a single department and merged ICT platform.

“The interdependencies and business impacts are managed through tight co-ordination of activities between executive team members,” Sterrenberg says. “The successful implementation has required moving to common business process and other standards across the department.”

Monkley runs through a list of projects at DEEWR, from technology architecture to those directly supporting business across early childhood, schools, education and workplace relations. All projects are about driving business efficiency and continuous improvement, she says.

“Building our business analytics capability, and ensuring we have a good business intelligence platform, are key areas of work, especially in schools and early childhood.”

Another key project is desktop virtualisation, and DEEWR has a proof of concept underway with Citrix utilising the XenMobile platform.

Ultimately my role is about ensuring we work together to achieve business outcomes

Susan Monkley, group manager of technology services at the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations

“XenMobile is, hopefully, our long-term solution for BYOD and corporately supplied devices, but we will see what the proof of concept brings,” Monkley says. “In the meantime, we are transitioning away from BlackBerry devices, and using Good for Enterprise. We will offer a choice between selected Apple and Android devices.

“We are concluding a pilot with Amazon Web Services to host our development and test environments in the cloud. It looks positive and, pending the pilot, we anticipate pursuing cloud hosting more aggressively. We are reviewing the design of our data centres and space requirements, ahead of lease expiry over the next couple of years.”

Cloud computing is one approach Archer believes will not only reduce costs, but also allow more flexible IT delivery. “Cloud is an environment to innovate, to move and deploy new capability quite rapidly, and to look to leverage that enormous number of developers and companies that are providing new tools in the cloud environment,” he says.

He also points to big data as an area of opportunity. “Cloud represents a platform not just to potentially store large data sets, it’s also the ideal environment to run your analytical tools on. You can look to leverage capacity for a short period of time, and use those cloud-based analytical tools co-located with your data.”

One area of concern for Archer is legacy systems. “We have a very large number of very big legacy systems we’ve built up over many years, and we are going to get to a point where maintaining those legacy systems represents an investment that’s just too high or actually can’t be maintained.”

The bigger picture

Whatever the technology challenges, CIOs operating at such a strategic level see business as the greater priority and driver. “The role of CIO at Department of Human Services is definitely not a back office role,” Sterrenberg says.

“Much of our technology interfaces directly with the customer base or supports our department staff in the front of office and call-assisted channels. We are highly digital, supporting almost $500m in payments every working day. Because of the size and diversity of our customer base, it’s essential we provide technology that enables them to interact with us in a way that works for them.”

An example is the Express Plus Smartphone app, Sterrenberg says, which has been used to complete 8 million transactions since being introduced in August 2012. There are also 4 million Centrelink customers registered to use online and phone self-services. These individuals completed more than 74 million transactions last financial year.

For Monkley, business engagement is critical. “Ultimately my role is about ensuring we work together to achieve business outcomes,” she says. “In developing our IT strategy, we were very deliberate about ensuring it had a strong business focus, but did not attempt to replace the DEEWR Strategic Plan, which is where the key business direction needs to come from.

“Being responsible for the development and support of corporate applications, as well as business ones for schools and the workplace, means you have to have a good connection and understanding of the business outcomes to ensure what you are delivering meets those requirements. Importantly, you also need to understand the business well enough to inject information and technology possibilities into the design process that inform policy development, program design and delivery.”

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