New Zealand Update: Digital Government Reform and is Gen-I starting to rise again?

digital governmentI was invited to speak at a Gen-I session this week on my views of Digital Government Reform. Quite brave of them given my views don’t always align with central government’s direction on technology. It was also interesting to see Gen-I in action again, I haven’t spent a whole lot of them since they were roundly napalmed by Telecom, however there are sparks (scuse’ the pun), of life.

There were several speakers led off by Richard Foy, the General Manager, Digital Transformation at the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA). I love his LinkedIn Profile which lists his skills as: “Being really good at making stuff up. And, helping other people to make stuff up. Specialities: Making stuff up.” 

I think that Richard is a visionary, a rare thing in the confines of New Zealand’s oldest, and arguable most bureaucratic department. He must have a tough job.

Richard presented on his vision for Digital Transformation with a particular focus on RealMe (the Government’s flag ship authentication service) and where it is going. He spoke a lot about how the world itself is changing due to the unrelenting march of technology. Things that we can appreciate. I did chortle to myself with a couple of his slides where he described government as King Kong and the citizen as Fay Wray… In the end, of course, King Kong got on with Fay Wray quite well, however the gorilla met its demise eventually.

What we see from people like Richard is a strong will to make a difference. What we see in reality is that for whatever reasons, making a difference is taking a really long time.

I think that central government continues to confuse and present themselves as “left hand right hand” to agencies and the market. We can see that in the following example where we have three differing opinions on Cloud services.

  • The DIA mandates the use of Cloud services via their Common Capability construct. I.e. You are strongly encouraged to consume a specific solution. Now, there is nothing wrong with the solution, but telling someone they have to use it often ends up in some strange business cases at agencies level where the only business driver is “Because the GCIO told me I had to do it.”
  • The DIA recently released a Cloud assurance guidance document that basically says; “The horse has bolted, here are your business obligations, use this list to make sure that any Cloud services you are buying are low risk and high value.” In other words, do as you will. In my opinion, this is the correct approach.
  • The National Cyber Security Centre recently posted a document on managing Cloud risk, you can still find it here though it appears to have been de-linked from the main site. On the face of it, anyone who read this would run screaming from Cloud. It is effectively a “do not go there” statement, in my opinion, and no doubt the GCSB supports it given that their nickname around town is “The Ministry of NO.”

The current reality is that central agencies face a raft of challenges and issues that need to be resolved.

Central government (hello Treasury) need to invest more money not less in ICT for agencies. The move to Cloud computing is not without cost, and while it unlocks new services, their may be an uplift in cost to obtain them. Agencies will also need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on replacing archaic systems in the next decade as they get older and more expensive to maintain. More money is going to be required to be invested.

Cloud is an inevitability and will be required to unlock Digital Transformation. However it is not easy for a large enterprise to transition too. The central government view is very “iron” focussed. In other words, the mandate to consume specific types of technical resource as opposed to business objectives. That doesn’t help, because while IaaS is a good service, it simply won’t do everything that an agency does do today, and their is a mistaken belief that it will.

Just to top it off, Cloud practitioners are still in scarce demand. Finding that resource is difficult.

I think central government has to pull back from the mandating technical solutions and look at the outcomes we want as citizens. Here’s an example, Estonia and their Digital Citizen Programme.

Estonia have managed to implement Digital Transformation over the last few years with some very interesting results:

  • 99% of their population has a unique ID.
  • That, coupled with identify cards, allows for digital signing of anything and everything.
  • 95% or more of their citizens file their tax online.
  • Citizens can access their own data held by over 400 services through a portal.
  • Citizens can see who has accessed their data, from where, and what was viewed. This solves the privacy problem quite neatly.
  • Voting can be electronic.

That is what we should be working towards, not what kind of disc we need to support our infrastructure at a micro level.

Agencies should work with their Cloud providers and partners and get them to do the detailed technical work. That’s what they are good at and they have the skills to build those solutions where agencies may not. Agencies should be giving the Cloud providers and partners business requirements, not dictating technical solutions.

Agencies need to invest in strategy, policy, governance, and leadership for Cloud uptake. Without those things, particularly leadership (sponsorship) a project will eventually just drift onto the ricks.

Cloud will change the way that your ICT organisation works. It’s absolutely inevitable. You’ll need more Service Management; Service Desk, Problem Management, Incident Management, Configuration Management, and other ITIL processes. You’ll need to start the move from creating your own solutions to one of governing to make sure that the solutions being put forward make sense. And so on.

You’ll need to be virtualised, and for legacy systems that aren’t virtual, they’ll need be re-platformed or replaced.

You should create a Cloud “Beach Head” with your provider, a sandbox if you will. The process of getting that setup will drive out a range of issues, risks, and ideas that you can then tackle before moving very large or critical workloads into the Cloud.

It’s evolution not revolution. Don’t attempt to move everything over in one fell swoop. You’ll most likely fail. Consider a rolling deployment over months to manage the change.

Now how about that Gen-I…

I saw a few familiar faces from the past and a whole lot of new ones. Talking to the new ones, and the customers, it seems that Gen-I may have turned a corner. They are enthusiastic, positive, and I know from other sources in the market they are starting to win business again.

They are also battered. Telecom took the napalm approach to restructuring and burned out entire teams and units. It is certainly at the extreme end of the spectrum. While that creates a level playing field it means that the time to get moving again is longer. I think they will be quite a different company in a year.

I am sworn to secrecy however can hint that their are new services coming that are going to be interesting. I.e. Keep an eye on Gen-I and Revera, both (technically one and the same these days) are working well together and have a good road map.

Gen-I’s ace in the hole really is Telecom. When you own the end point, the services, and the telecommunications infrastructure you are in a powerful position. Telecommunications infrastructure is king as the future approaches.

They are a very different looking and talking group. Now all they need is a name change.



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