GCIO Updates ICT Sector on Strategy: Deliver an “Amazon Style” Experience for Citizens

Colin-MacDonald-SQColin MacDonald promises to deliver an “Amazon Style” experience to New Zealand citizens in his latest speech to a recent CIO Forum. Further, he claims that $70m of annualised savings have been reached with the services that have been put in place and once again highlights RealMe and the online Passport service as successes.

CIO Online Full Article

As time ticks by I am increasingly convinced that the DIA’s ICT Strategy and Services need a new approach and injection of ideas. While the end goal is to provide a much more seamless and easy system for the citizen, the focus is still heavily on ageing infrastructure solutions and led by an army of procurement people as opposed to what we need, which is more, younger, innovators, who understand the new world.

MacDonald said the NZ government has already laid the foundations to achieve this goal. There is a new catalogue of common infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) capabilities, which have already delivered $70 million in annualised savings, MacDonald said.

The NZ government is also developing a ‘telecommunications-as-a-service’ offering for agencies, he said.

As we’ve mentioned before, the name IaaS is not entirely correct. The IaaS service provided via DIA is largely the same model as Capacity on Demand that we saw in the 00’s and still does not meet the standards that define Cloud IaaS.

Further, we see agencies now jumping over that service directly to either platform or software. IaaS was a good stepping stone three years ago and now the movement is to abandon that server and storage environment, due to cost and complexity, and move straight to PaaS or SaaS.

And despite the fact that IaaS is a mandated, which is simply silly, it won’t work for everyone because of integration constraints or sheer cost.

The DIA must get away from these products, some of which are years old, and stop mandating that agencies use it. I dare say that while $70m may have been saved (we don’t know how that is derived) the cost of agencies investigating what was meant to be a way of getting out of an RFP is equally high over that period, if not more. That cost is not tracked.

While I am beating up on IaaS a wee bit my points are that this is now an older technology, plateauing (globally), and with very few new features, still not meeting Cloud standards. So can we just stop pushing this as the answer to life, the universe, and everything, and actually get real and get on with rejoining the 21st Century.

RealMe, while a good first prototype, is a difficult creature and in a paper last year DIA discounted it as a authentication mechanism. Right or wrong, that paper pointed out that it was not the answer to Identity Management for government. So why is it still being touted?

It has been some eighteen months since any new services really came out of DIA and the Office Productivity as a Service has been the latest, with a very limited set of services that no one appears to be much interest in. Watch this space though, as I hear that the approach may be changing in that area and it might deliver something of high value.

“We have the challenges of a fast paced technological environment, high levels of citizen digital propensity, varying levels of connectivity (rural and urban broadband) as well as some legislation that was written prior to the digital age.”

The GCIO is absolutely right, now he needs to turn DIA to dealing with those problems, or getting some influence over them, as they will continue to dog the rollout of new services. It is worth noting that the National Party is one of the only political parties that has no ICT policy. That can’t be easy to work with.

“Our generation does not have all the answers, but the younger generation has grown up with this technology. These are our digital natives, developing solutions in ways we can’t imagine.”

As one of the older generation I agree entirely with this statement and I think it is time to disrupt the GCIO office and DIA associated practices with younger “digital natives” who do things differently and get some amazing results.

Gov.Hack, which is where the GCIO seems to have got some of his ideas (event driven digital citizen support), proved that you don’t need two years to build and deliver a service (here’s looking at you TaaS) but you can build the prototypes over a weekend.

If a bunch of young (and not so young) digital natives can produce working prototypes, on a volunteer basis, over a weekend, why do we need the hundreds of GCIO and other Common Capability staff that are scattered around Wellington?

The idea of sharing ICT services and making data open to the country is an excellent one. The way that we are carrying it out, in my opinion, is sub-optimal. Government should not be designing its own solutions and then forcing agencies to use them by waving a big stick (and it is a big stick, I’ve seen it in action).

Government should be facilitating the best, the brightest, in a new model while using the wise-heads and repositories of excellence to supplement and support them. DIA has some world renowed experts in different areas, I am being deadly serious, they are asked for advice globally, why can’t we pair them with that digital native to create something innovative and special?

We also need to use our local ICT companies and people. They live here. This continued default of going work to massive overseas ICT companies to enable “plausible brand deniability” is going to hurt over time. They don’t bring innovation and the cost a fortune.

All over the world governments have tried to get this right and generally failed, with one exception. Estonia.

Estonia has the highest rate of digital citizens on the planet with almost all services easily digitally accessible. What is curious is why it worked there, and not in other places.

The answer is digital native. The average age of the Estonian parliament is very young compared to our own. Somewhere around half. The digital natives got into parliament and they get it.

We need to change our approach if we want to deliver the same. I would challenge the GCIO to spend some time with this country’s digital natives and less time with us old hacks.

PS Some of you will be grimacing at the use of “Amazon Style” experience. I agree. The speech writer made a mistake there. We are talking about a company that has a very poor employee track record, pours cash into killing off its competitors, and doesn’t pay its fair share of tax, anywhere, in my personal opinion.


  1. Ian, yes, ‘best and brightest’ to produce, with guidance and support by ‘wise-heads’, seems like a sound strategy. Also local supply, where a more pervasive model would enable the true cost of overseas purchases to be understood, accounting for indirect loses and gains e.g. the likely impact of increased on-shore know-how and the corollary. Though we should certainly be making better use of ‘digital natives’, this should be part of a wider strategy to cultivate digital excellence, including making better use of those global experts that you mention.

    In that regard I believe that we did ourselves a huge disservice by ditching what was effectively the government’s ICT R&D division at SSC. Although it had many flaws, including being too politically constrained in its thinking, disbanding that group threw a lot of expertise out with the bathwater. Personally I would like to see a government digital research facility created, which would attract the best and brightest, also working closely with local industry and universities. From there we would need a better way of moving ideas from conception to production than was previously the case, also avoiding mandating new approaches until they had been proven. Pity this wouldn’t fit the current, cost cutting modus operandi.

  2. I agree with getting the balance right, innovation and desire to improve, over rigidness added over cost and touted/pushed/crammed down wisdom.
    We also have to remember for whom the solutions are meant to work for, and what their problems are. I believe that is utterly lost in the majority of these short-sighted discussions.

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