New Zealand Government ICT: New models, new ideas

standoutThe last few articles have looked at the current state and strategy for government ICT. While it has a foundation that can potentially be built on and an ideology that makes sense (sharing), it remains inconsistent, fractured, possibly anticompetitive, potentially risky, costly, and really only covers a very small spectrum of ICT services that agencies can use.

Meanwhile, the ICT Industry in New Zealand is showing growth without any effective support from Government, whose only policy in this space is to roll out UFB. With some focus, the ICT Industry could grow significantly not only supporting onshore government agencies but also significantly increasing the export market for our ICT services.

The current Government Chief Information Officer (GCIO) function is managed from within the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), a necessarily archaic and bureaucratic organisation given its core role. This presents two problems, the first is that the nature of ICT wars against that bureaucratic model as the rate of change and innovation is constantly accelerating. The second is that the GCIO office has to share resource with DIA where it would be better served as its own department.

The way that Common Capabilities are constructed means that they are price focussed, contract focussed, and lack an ICT view. Worse, they tend to be created as product competitors in the open market. Because the market moves faster, and the Government mandates the use of shared services, over time the functionality of the services decreases in relation while the cost and risk increase. Agencies become trapped in the past with ever increasing costs, simply to fulfill a political pressure of working together.

So what to do.

At a Government level there needs to be work on ICT policies. National’s is thin to say the least and when we look at other parties (with the exception of Labour and the Greens) they are non-existent. We’ll be keeping an eye on their development over the coming few months toward the election, and its fair to say that what is publicly available now dates back to the last time we chose government.

At the top of the policy list should be the creation of a Ministry of ICT (or similar) that is managed by the GCIO. This recognises the importance of ICT not only to the Government, but also the country as a whole. It separates the GCIO from the influence of any other department, and places it on an equal footing. It allows for resource to be dedicated to the advancement of ICT while reducing the risk of that resource being cannibalised into other areas.

That Ministry of ICT then should enact the policies of the Government of the day. Those policies need to be more widely balanced with a total view of the ICT potential as opposed to a narrow focus simply on a handful of services. Policy should include:

A large focus must be placed on infrastructure. UFB is part, but not all, of the answer. Government must consider how infrastructure penetration can be increased, along with speed, and the dumping of data caps. Infrastructure should be considered to be as important as the national roads of significance. In addition, the problems with international bandwidth and connections need to be removed. Investment in both areas not only protects us from becoming a congested, global backwater, it also opens up the ICT Industry to export higher volumes.

The Common Capability “model” must be revisited. While some of the services make sense others do not. If the mandating of such services is dropped, then it allows a government agency to at least make an informed choice on function, cost, risk, and investment worth against all services in the market. This is common sense. To mandate a service that costs more, is higher risk, has worse function, and represents a poor investment is madness. Therefore, the mandate should be dropped. Further, the GCIO should ask agencies what they really think. I think they would be surprised.

In place of the mandate the GCIO should be providing advice to agencies on ICT. How can they safely consume Cloud? What services make sense to be shared and how can they facilitate and fund those initiatives? What standards should be in place for security? Advice on how large ICT programmes and projects can be managed. What market trends are coming? What overseas agencies and governments are doing that works? Effectively, they become the professional consulting service for agencies when it comes to ICT.

The GCIO should consider a broker role, on top of the advice role, which has worked with great success in the United Kingdom under their “G-Cloud” initiative. The G-Cloud has an onboarding process whereby ICT companies that want to work with government are vetted and registered before being able to sell their wares on a Cloud Store. Agencies can then directly buy a multitude of services via that portal. In the United States, they have a similar, though not as mature process, known as “FedRamp.”

This creates a level playing field for all ICT companies who want to do business with the government as opposed to current point solution model we have today. As an aside, the G-Cloud model has seen more and more business going to local ICT companies, as opposed to multinationals. This continues to trend upwards.

Policy must allow New Zealand ICT companies easier access to government work, through a single framework (such as G-Cloud), at reduced cost. The process of responding to government tenders today is complex, costly, inconsistent, and it can be argued that it can deliberately lock out local ICT companies. This must change. ICT in New Zealand is a dynamic, quality, rising service and there is no reason that it cannot service government.

We need to look to the rest of the world to understand government ICT models that work, and those that don’t. Then, we need to take the ones that do, and implement them. The G-Cloud and FedRamp models are good frameworks that not only allow ICT companies better access to opportunities but also set down business drivers as the reason for ICT change, and not the reverse. We have to stop creating products and solutions then mandating them and start thinking about why we need them in first place.

There must be more emphasis placed on ICT education. The current level of investment is low, slow, and old. We lack ICT workers, however we are not prepared to invest in education at any level including in-house training. Model’s like Enspiral’s Dev Academy need to become more common place and be supported by government.

Government needs to facilitate collaboration with ICT companies and startups at a national, and local, level. The best startups coming today have put aside the old competitive models and started to build themselves into hubs of multiple companies. Information and ideas are powering those hubs and the results are paying off.

It is up to government to support ICT, whether public or private, not to attempt to control it through heavy regulation or subsidies. Right now, there is not enough being done to support the industry and agencies. These are just a few ideas that could form a model that produces dividends. The current structures are sometimes counterproductive with the mandating of shared services high risk. We need to move past that.

This means that government must also loosen the purse strings and set this up properly. It will take money to build and operate. Finally, they should consult widely with all overseas success stories, agencies, industry groups, all ICT companies, and all New Zealanders in a completely transparent manner so that we get a Ministry of ICT that can help progress us, rather than a bureaucratic department that is doomed to be left behind.

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