​Government to address 'waterfall' methodology with new DTA remit

The newly reshaped Digital Transformation Agency will be addressing existing 'waterfall' approaches to IT delivery amid the collapse of its high-cost whole-of-government service delivery platform.

The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) will be looking at the structure of existing Australian government technology projects, as DTA interim CEO Nerida O'Loughlin revealed an old-school, "waterfall" approach is still in place within government departments.

O'Loughlin told the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee on Tuesday her newly reshaped agency is "very keen" to determine if there is a more "agile" way to deliver multi-million dollar, 10-year government projects.

"Is that the best way to deliver these projects? Are we not better to chunk it down, put smaller parcels out to market, prototype, test -- very much aligned with the agile methodologies that we use in the DTA," she told the committee.

"So that's what we're focusing on with the departments how can they best deliver their projects and providing advice to them from our point of view about how we think they're best delivered."

O'Loughlin's comments followed a probe by deputy opposition whip in the Senate and committee chair Jenny McAllister, who was concerned that plans to update government services would suffer the same fate as the now binned whole-of-government gov.au project that kicked off under the remit of the Digital Transformation Office (DTO).

The DTO was established early 2015 to unify government agencies and services online, with its inaugural task being gov.au. The agency then had a change the name from DTO to DTA in October.

The DTO was overseen by Paul Shetler, who was the office's CEO before moving to the DTA in the capacity of chief digital officer. Shetler handed in his resignation within a month of moving into the role.

O'Loughlin told the committee on Tuesday that under Shetler's lead, the DTO took on gov.au following support gained while the concept was in alpha form in December 2015. However, once the project moved into beta form, government departments and agencies wanted the project pulled back as they had expected a focus on transactions rather than information.

"Through the beta process we found there wasn't a strong enthusiasm from departments for a single website," she explained.

"Agencies were very keen to focus their investments and time and energy on improving transactional websites rather than just information websites -- departments and agencies had already done transformation work themselves."

Highlighting that the DTA now takes on a more advisory role to government than its predecessor, McAllister said the gov.au project was a fairly significant example of a coordination process that went wrong, in that resources and money were invested only to have the project terminated.

"We are continuing to work on how we can drive making government websites significantly easier to use, simpler, cheaper, and less of them," O'Loughlin said in response. "What we found with gov.au is that there was a lot of transformation work being done within departments and departments and agencies felt that there wasn't a need for a single website."

O'Loughlin highlighted during Senate Estimates earlier this month that the DTA and DTO have "quite different" roles, which includes her agency evolving from a government startup and not "disrupting" government agencies as much as the former office.

"We're currently looking at things like a channel strategy about how people access services through different channels," she added on Tuesday. "The DTA is not running every ICT project across government."

In February, the government announced a review of all significant IT contracts that will be undertaken by the DTA in search of greater transparency and oversight over its AU$6.2 billion annual technology spend.

O'Loughlin told the committee Tuesday that the DTA has already gone out to all non corporate Commonwealth entities and asked for detail on all of their major projects over AU$10 million, which includes information on current status, risk profiles, costs, and timing.

"We're already looking at the significant bids coming forward in the ICT process but from a technical point of view, not a budget assurance point of view, and that's where we cooperate with the Department of Finance," she explained, adding the DTA is concerned in particular with the intended approach to market and what technologies departments are seeking in hope of determining what "value add" the DTA can provide.

"The review that we're undertaking will provide us with feedback on what role agencies, particularly smaller ones, would like us to play," she added.

The interim CEO also touched on the development of a secure cloud strategy that is underway under the remit of a separate steering committee comprising the heads of government departments, including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Human Services Minister Alan Tudge, who is currently facing scrutiny over the Centrelink '"robodebt" debarcle in a separate Senate inquiry.

"Recently the prime minister's advisor on cyber security came to a meeting to talk about secure cloud and we've been charged with developing a secure cloud strategy and we will do that in cooperation and consultation with those [steering committee] members," O'Loughlin explained.

She also touched on a project the DTA is currently undertaking around a whole-of-government approach to identity management, which would see a centralised platform that handles citizen information.

"There are many departments that need an identity solution with people accessing securely and privately their information getting into government services. So instead of each department developing a different identity solution, the DTA will now take that," she said.

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