ICT industry experts and analysts have labelled the Federal Government's 2011/12 "responsible" budget as a good start for IT investment that needs to be followed up with further initiatives in the digital economy.
(Credit: Josh Taylor/ZDNet Australia)
"There are some good smaller commitments in this budget that focus on citizen engagement and building community confidence; however, we need to deliver much more," Australian Information Industry Association CEO Ian Birks said.
"The 'tell us once' whole-of-government contact initiative through the Department of Finance, Attorney-General's program to deliver regional legal assistance via video link, and the extension of the Broadband for Seniors initiative, are all good ways to create a national approach to technology that will avoid the pitfalls of developing separate programs in isolation," he added.
Birks said that the AIIA expected more ICT investment to appear in the Digital Economy Strategy to be released by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy later this month.
Claims of doom and gloom for public sector workers prior to the budget announcements were greatly exaggerated, according to Ovum public sector research director Kevin Noonan.
"The reality of the situation is that it is nowhere as difficult a situation as we thought. I've been through the staffing projections and even though we have the efficiency dividend, it's not reflected in staffing numbers for next year."
IT Contract and Recruitment Association chief executive Julie Mills said that the money invested by the government for workplace training to address the skills shortage was good, but needed to be targeted correctly to ensure that mature-age workers are attracted back, and that employers are given incentives to train.
"It's fine to put money there, [but] what I want to see is how they're actually going to target that, because there's been projects in this space before, but I don't know that the money has been well-used."
Mills said that she expected employment growth in the nation's capital for ICT workers as a result of some of the projects announced yesterday by the government.
"The specific IT projects that have been funded in this budget seem to me to be pointing to a growth of ICT employment in Canberra, and exponentially that will lead to a greater engagement with the IT recruitment sector," she said.
Noonan said that the funds in the budget to consolidate ICT for Medicare, Centrelink and the Child Support Agency in the Department of Human Services showed that the government had taken a different view to driving efficiencies, one that was was no longer focused on "straight cuts and belt-tightening".
"Some of the stuff like 'tell us once' and the information goes across all agencies about consolidating the web presence and the phone presence. They will clearly create efficiencies about working smarter and not just simple belt-tightening."
In February, the Australian Financial Review reported that Human Services' deputy director of ICT Services John Wadeson was considering retiring; however, given the scale of the consolidation project, Gartner government research analyst Steve Bittinger said that Wadeson was likely under pressure from the department to stay on.
"As the size and complexity of major projects goes up, the risk goes up, too. These DHS projects are among the largest in the Commonwealth government. The situation is further complicated by the number of simultaneous activities going on at once. If [Wadeson's] retirement does happen, it raises the question of who will lead these significant and risky ICT efforts at DHS?"
Australian Computer Society president Anthony Wong was pleased with the attention paid to skilled migration in the Budget.
"There is a welcome focus on skills in this year's budget, including the announcement of an additional 16,000 skilled migrants to help alleviate regional Australia's ongoing skills issues. While skilled migration is encouraging to many businesses and communities, appropriate standards of practice should be applied to co-regulation between industry, the ICT profession and government," Wong said in a statement, warning that the government should work to improve ICT education in Australia to address the skills shortage in the long term.
"Given ICT's growing significance to the economy with the roll-out of the NBN, attention needs to be paid to skills shortages within the ICT sector," Wong said. "We welcome ongoing dialogue with the government in this area to assist with relevant skills matching."
However, AIIA's Birks said that a rural skilled migrants boost would have little impact on the technology sector in the short- to medium-term, with ICT skills in high demand in urban centres.
The government also earmarked $14.4 million over the next five years in the Budget for the creation of a new e-mental health portal to help people suffering from mental illness to find and access medical services, as well as provide online training and support to GPs and clinicians. This funding was met with, and approval by, global technology giant CSC.
"Continued funding of this magnitude is a major step towards empowering Australian consumers and the health system towards achieving a healthier population and a sustainable health system," CSC national director of health services Lisa Pettigrew said.
"In a tough budget year, it is heartening to see the government's commitment to e-health is unwavering. The e-health reality created by this government in last year's budget will ensure that the modernising of Australia's health system will be underway by 1 July 2012."
The government's announcement of $61.4 million in funding for investment in smart roads infrastructure looks to be aimed directly at IBM, according to Gartner analyst Kristian Steenstrup, especially given Big Blue's work in Queensland to improve the state's roadways.
"It's an extremely IBM-friendly phraseology. It almost comes across as a done deal, based on the phrasing of it," Steenstrup told ZDNet Australia. "Maybe it was unintended, and the word 'smart' is not copyrighted by anybody yet ... but it seems like a remarkably IBM-friendly statement to make.
"IBM are the people who have been making the most noise and doing the most activity about it, so all credit to them."
Steenstrup said that, as it is difficult for private companies to find a profit in making roads more efficient, it made sense for the government to be investing in such a program. However, he warned that the government may face difficulties when integrating IT systems into the operational systems used in managing roads.
"Where the rubber hits the road is where you start integrating these systems and they are not plug-compatible. It's never been done before."