New Zealand Government ICT: The Future according to the GCIO

iprimage22This article is going to look at two elements of the government’s ICT future plans; the first being the Common Capabilities and the second being the Government ICT Strategy. Both in my opinion, don’t go nearly far enough and represent a very narrow focus that could be widened to bring some real change not only to Government, but also to the New Zealand ICT industry in general.

As we’ve seen, Common Capabilities form the basis of the Government push, via the Government Chief Information Officer (GCIO), to get agencies to better use ICT. In most cases, it is cost driven, and the services vary significantly from each other. When you line up the services available against a large agency, the Common Capabilities simply don’t cater for all ICT services that are required. In fact, in most cases I see, the Common Capabilities can fulfill between 2.5% and 5% of an agency’s overall ICT needs.

Remember there are only eleven Common Capabilities currently available with two to follow. In some respects, the Common Capabilities certainly feel like hype. There are common misconceptions in Government agencies that all of the services are mandated and that the services will be able to supply them with everything they need. Both are not true. The services themselves are non-standard in their setup, with differing contracts, suppliers, and rules of engagement. So, given this, what is the plan for moving these forward? As far as the Common Capabilities are concerned, my source is a briefing that was held last December called “Transforming government ICT.” The Government’s vision for the future is this:

“By 2017, New Zealand’s public services will be radically transformed for the benefit of all New Zealanders – and ICT is a key underpinning and enabling tool that will make this possible.”
On the face of it, the vision is thin, and at its worst, problematic. The problem in my opinion is that agencies are being led into ICT solutions by the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), via the GCIO office, rather than allowing themselves to be driven by the agencies needs themselves, which then determine what ICT is required to support their future.
This is an old style of ICT whereby the ICT organisation inside of a company tells the company what ICT it is going to get rather than listens to where the company is going, and adapts accordingly. I see Common Capabilities consistently being pushed for their own sake as opposed to being fit to business problems. So we need to turn that around. Otherwise we are building things in the hope that they will get utilised to bow to what we think is political pressure.
The conundrum then is this: How do you get agencies to buy into Common Capability if you can’t mandate these ICT services? In other words, what other ways are there to move toward a shared services model without a big stick?
Now, my apologies at this point, this article is going to come across as overly critical to some readers, it’s not intended to be, it’s intended to spark some debate about what we are doing, how we could do it better, and how the GCIO role could be broadened to support an entire ICT industry. Because if we don’t collectively have that debate, then the Common Capabilities could not only be a wasted investment, they could hold us back.
Let’s look at why DIA say we need Common Capabilities.
These are all admirable goals, however in practice, they don’t work that well. My experience is that the cost is higher, certainly once you include the transition costs of moving your service from what you do today across to a Common Capability. In addition, your operational costs will increase to manage that service. Resources aren’t always pooled, this drives up cost further, different solutions require different vendors, require different infrastructure, different management, different support, and different connectivity. All of that drives up cost. IF the Common Capability is provided by a single provider, then purchasing is streamlined (but the service may be potentially anti-competitive or more expensive than the market), however if there are multiple providers then it is not because the agency has to evaluate every provider and the reason for that is that most services are non-standard (the last point).
This picture then is a classic definition of “hype”, in my opinion.
When you look at the presentation from December there is little more to where this is going. So we have to go and look at the wider ICT strategy for Government to get some more context on what is going to happen.
Late last year Cabinet signed off on the “Government ICT Strategy and Action Plan to 2017”. When you cut through the preamble and get down to page 35, you discover the Action Plan.
I’m going to break here for a second. If we go back twelve months ago there was a previously published strategy. The thing that I liked about that was that it laid down Common Capability services for the future, with agreed timeframes, and the net effect was that agencies could plan around what was coming, and when.
This Action Plan doesn’t do that. The folk at DIA are very, very good. I’ve noted this before. They have a depth of experience, skill, and intelligence that any large global ICT organisation would envy. We have key members of that team who are seconded too, and travel globally, giving advice on government ICT at the highest level. I think that they are being quashed through the deep quasi-political framework they live in.
So when I say that this plan is somewhat lack lustre, I am not criticising that team. As we will see, the plan has been watered down, possibly through an armada of policy analysts, legal experts, and contract professionals to what we have published today. It reads like a vision statement rather than an on the ground, pragmatic, plan, to transform ICT. Perhaps that’s harsh, at best, its a series of goals.
Let me give you a handful of examples.
One of the action plan points is to:  “Drive uptake of Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) to achieve 100% of departments’ IT infrastructure moving into an IaaS data centre by 2015, excluding those where current contractual arrangements make it impractical to complete the transition by that time.”
As we have seen, IaaS can’t support the majority of back-end ICT infrastructure for agencies because of the diversity of services that they require. Further, this supports the view that IaaS can “manage everything.” As an example, IaaS has absolutely no provision for mainframes, the old, monolithic (and still very economic) massive computers that drive several large agencies.
So to punt for a 2015 “100% of department’s IT infrastructure” by 2015 is completely unrealistic, in fact, its impossible.
Here’s another: “Deliver Office Productivity as-a-Service, targeting 70,000 users by 2017.”
So, this is basically a Microsoft 365 view of the world whereby we buy office products, including email, from Microsoft in the Cloud, based out of New Zealand.
Again, this is unrealistic. First, Desktop as a Service (DaaS) trumps this, because DaaS allows you to buy the whole desktop experience. Not just office and email. So there is little point in investing in it. Second, as good as the DaaS service is, its a stop gap, as Ben Kepes, a highly-respected international Cloud Consultant based in New Zealand points out. Because out on the edge, the concept of the desktop is dead. So agencies will jump to DaaS, bypassing Office Productivity, and soon after, a new view of end user computing will take over.
Now here is an example in the action plan that is valid, has massive potential, and is where we should have started: “Establish a virtual Information and Technology Leadership Academy to build business leadership of ICT at all levels.”
Hallelujah. Leadership in ICT and the training of ICT staff in agencies is paramount. Without that, you can forget every other initiative. Simply put, unless an agency understands ICT, there is no point in building anything. ICT is a trade, no different from a plumber, electrician, or builder. A plumber doesn’t tell you how to build your house, a builder is not an architect, and an electrician should never design your kitchen. We need to train our business leaders in ICT so that they can lead the future, not the other way around.
Here’s the last one I want to look at: “Increase GCIO resourcing and implement greater agency account management at a portfolio level.”
This is the top of the iceberg. In the next article I want to look at what other governments are doing, some with great success, to drive ICT in government.
It’s my opinion that the GCIO needs not only a massive amount of resource, but that they need to look out to the entire ICT industry, should be their own agency (The Ministry of Information Technology and Communications), and rather than taking on a mandated product focus they should be the place where all ICT can go for expert advice.
The GCIO could be so much more rather then being constrained by the current environment, controls, policy analysts, accounts, commercial managers, and consultants.
We have the opportunity this year to make our voice heard and we should do so. It’s too easy to focus on cost savings when we have an industry that could rival dairy, oil, and manufacturing.

DIA need to eat their own cooking

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