IT: Govt's cost-cutting bitch

The government needs to stop looking at IT as a necessary evil or the place to remove costs when the Treasurer comes calling.

The government needs to stop looking at IT as a necessary evil or the place to remove costs when the Treasurer comes calling.

The Pappas report on Defence released this week had a line that caught my eye. "Facilities and other operating costs have a diverse set of drivers that range from construction costs, which have increased above underlying inflation, to computer service costs, which have grown below underlying inflation."

I think that we have an 'IT equals cheaper' mentality in Australia that often hampers our ability to see all of its opportunities.

Of course, construction was simply allowed to grow, while IT service costs are simply expected to shrink, I thought to myself.

It started cogs turning in my brain. When do government IT costs get to grow really? When something's so broke that money has to be thrown at it, or if someone thinks that there are savings to be made — for instance in shared services. Looking at specific examples: Tcard was begun because Sydney's payment system is stone age — and of course because everyone's doing it (see former post "Just like lemmings"), while Defence certainly seems to be spending its $940 million on IT more to save than for extra functionality it will reap.

I think that we have an "IT equals cheaper" mentality in Australia that often hampers our ability to see all of its opportunities. The only examples I can think of that go against that trend are the Government 2.0 Taskforce and the National Broadband Network. Generally, IT is the first place to cut and the last place to spend.

Think about the stimulus that Rudd so lovingly doled out to save the Australian economy. Why, oh why, do we need so many school halls? Why not, as IBM pointed out a while ago, use more of the money to add in technical capability? Smart infrastructure, not dumb.

Or, to go in a completely different direction, why not add lots more money to the government's Innovation Investment Fund? $20 million at a time (from a total of $200 million) is doled out to form new venture capital funds which invest in start-ups. Industry puts in funds like for like. Yesterday, a new one called Yuuwa was formed in Western Australia which, with industry funding, would have $40 million to spend on life sciences and information technology start-ups.

Imagine if we had spent even $1 billion of the $42 billion in stimulus money on new capital for start-ups. An Australian Silicon Valley could have suddenly blossomed, almost overnight. And the money would be fostering the future knowledge economy, not the construction industry.

IT isn't just good for a cost-cutting quickie. It's worth spending on — long-term marriage material with the possibility of very lucrative offspring.

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