Aiming ICT at problems that matter
I had the pleasure of introducing Gavin Jennings, Special Minister of State, to launch the Victorian Government’s ICT Strategy 2016-2020 at an
AIIA luncheon event in Melbourne. Minister Jennings’ candid comments on the sorry state of digital delivery of government services in Victoria were a pleasant change from the technology hype often heard at these types of launch events. The state of Victoria has a chequered history in terms of large ICT projects and it came as no surprise that the strategy going forward reflects some of the hard learnings and experiences of recent times.
In the age of digital disruption where agility is king and big ICT projects are widely avoided, a valid question to ask is whether the strategy is overly conservative or if it reflects a pragmatic response to difficult and complex times for setting government wide ICT strategies?
The strategy has four priority areas that you would expect to see in an ICT strategy in the digital age:
• Reforming government’s transparent management of its information and data,
• Seizing opportunities from the digital revolution,
• Reforming government’s underlying technology, and
• Lifting up the capability of government employees to implement ICT solutions that are innovative, contemporary and beneficial.
The strategy endorses Gartner’s ‘pace-layering’ approach for service delivery and proposes building adaptable services that minimise long-term disruption to core functions and operations. The government proposes to use this approach, which focuses on small, innovative pilots (‘innovation layer’) and core corporate systems (‘systems of record’), leaving elements like licensing and housing (‘systems of differentiation’) to individual departments.
The four priority areas and the pace-layering approach certainly tick the boxes for being both conservative and pragmatic in terms of content, approach and focus. However, on closer examination, what sets this ICT strategy apart from others is an underlying business theme of social justice – a theme borne out of the tragedy and consequences of family violence as laid out by the Royal Commission.
Hidden amongst the standard ICT related strategy pieces are the following statements:
Potential whole of government solutions may also arise in areas where technology plays a role in addressing complex social issues, such as family violence … Government needs to take a stronger approach to sharing its data internally. As an example, the Royal Commission into Family Violence has highlighted that government’s internal use of data needs to be effective and systemic. Creating a multi-agency family violence safeguarding function and data agency to undertake high-level data integration and analytics is an important first step in putting focus on this need.
This subtle linkage to a significant high profile business driver raises the likelihood of success for achieving the objectives of the four priority areas within the ICT strategy. An all too common factor in big ICT project failures is the lack of a clearly defined business problem to solve and/or lack of business involvement and leadership in the project. Through this ICT strategy, the Victorian Government has laid out business parameters which can drive reform. By committing to adopt all 277 recommendations of the Royal Commission, the Government has set a challenge for its internal ICT agencies and the ICT industry as a whole to use technology to support the business agenda addressing this high profile social justice issue. Through a business and social justice lens, it is not difficult to see where each of the four priority areas will provide support for this agenda such as the establishment of a data agency and Service Victoria.
If the Government keeps the focus on addressing the social issues associated with family violence then there is a more than a reasonable chance the ICT strategy and the initiatives to support it will be dragged along by the business need, creating public value for Victorians. Politicians will pushed be along by public expectation to meet the social outcomes from the Royal Commission recommendations. This has the potential to drive change faster than might be currently envisioned within the ICT strategy. The ICT strategy could well be judged as successful as trust in government ICT projects increases as citizens see ICT expenditure targeted to address the social issues that matter. Project delivery and change management will continue to be major risk factors however solving a business problem rather than a taking a technology led approach is one way to keep stakeholders focused and on track. That to me seems like a digital government in action.