"Female IT executive", those three words have sparked many an interesting conversation--and bad puns--in Singapore over the past month. More importantly, though not necessarily more interestingly, they redirected much attention to government IT procurements and system checks.
If you were out of town or living under a rock, here's a quick catchup: two top-ranking government officials in the clean, green garden-city were suspended from their duties following allegations they had canoodled with a female IT executive. Well, actually, their romps involved more than just canoodling--if you get the drift--and the misconduct had serious implications because the female executive was from an IT company that supplied products and services to local government offices.
Now that the frenzied speculation over the identity of the female IT executive has died down, it's time to look at the real issues behind the scandal. Despite the stringent guidelines in place for government IT procurements, are there still loopholes? Do these policies need a relook?
In the various animated conversations I've had with industry contacts regarding the matter, those who've had experience working in the public sector noted that with the rigorous checks and balance already in place, it would be difficult for any one government official--including top-ranking Hugh Hefner wannabes--to exert direct influence over which supplier wins a tender.
They said it was unlikely the female IT executive would have succeeded in securing contracts even if her offers of, erm, extreme pleasure were accepted. In other words, her efforts would have yielded no fruit.
If they're right, then Singapore's IT deployment processes and policies are adequately rigorous and not susceptible even to human weaknesses. But that doesn't necessarily mean things will stay that way, particularly as the industry evolves and companies adopt new ways of consuming technology.
In a report released Thursday, market analyst Steve Hodgkinson said cloud services will underscore the need for a "major rethink of whole-of-government" ICT strategy.
Ovum's Asia-Pacific research director for IT research and advisory services, Hodgkinson explained that governments have adopted singular, overarching ICT strategies as a way to drive consolidation, rationalization and standardization of ICT resources.
"National, jurisdictional and legislative boundaries are reinforced by devolved organizations and management regimes to cut and dice the government world into pigeonholes. Each agency is a pigeon... We can't change this organizational reality, but it is wasteful for each agency to have its own dedicated, duplicative, and sub-scale ICT infrastructure and applications," the Ovum analyst explained.
However, he noted that pushing this whole-of-government model takes effort and has seen mixed success. "The pigeons, at the end of the day, prefer the comfort of their own pigeonholes. Agency autonomy tends to win out in the end."
Hodgkinson said governments across all jurisdictions continue to struggle with the implementation of whole-of-government ICT strategies. The aim to cut costs and promote system integration is seldom fully achieved in practice, and disappointment with the ability to realize and sustain the promised benefits of such ICT strategies is becoming a common theme, he added.
The answer may very well come in the form of cloud computing, which he said will allow government agencies to gain ICT cost savings and innovation without the risks that come from mandated whole-of-government procurement and shared-services arrangements. "Cloud services enable agencies to make individual choices and still access the economies of scale and innovation of large mature shared services arrangements."
He noted, though, that the value of cloud to government will be maximized when agencies are directly empowered to choose and deploy services within "light touch" risk-management guidelines.
But while this empowerment enables the various government bodies to adopt ICT services that best meet their unique requirements, it could also potentially open up more avenues for more government officials to fall prey to the lure of...female IT executives.
A centralized government IT procurement process reduces the number of parties involved in the decision-making process, allowing compliance to be better managed and mitigating the risk of missteps.
Does that mean government agencies shouldn't be given access to cloud services? No. Checks and balances can still be implemented to adapt to this delivery model. For example, a central IT procurement committee can be tasked to select a group of cloud vendors pre-approved to provide services to the various government agencies. This can help reduce the risk of fraud and corruption.
Ultimately, the fundamentals remain the same. Rigorous guidelines must be implemented, and enforced, and officials that stray from them must be promptly punished.