NZ govt aims for the ICT Holy Grail

The New Zealand Government has set itself a major task, and one that goes to the heart of every major ICT project.

The New Zealand Government has set itself a major task, and one that goes to the heart of every major ICT project.

"I've actually been shocked at how obsolete many public sector IT systems are, and how big the challenge will be to upgrade and modernise them," NZ Prime Minister John Key said when he announced a new "super ministry" covering Business, Innovation and Employment.

Key plans to change this, with the accelerated implementation of new technology to provide more cost-effective ways for New Zealanders to engage with government.

To help him in his task, Key has appointed one of his trusted lieutenants to achieve his goal — former ICT Minister Steven Joyce, who will head up the new "super ministry" and spearhead much of the technological change. You might recall Joyce delivered many of the government's ICT commitments in its first term, such as getting the ball rolling on the NZ$1.5 billion ultra-fast broadband initiative.

Of course, if there's going to be a technology revamp project, we have to consider what this "acceleration" of ICT projects cost. And can the country afford them?

Joyce told the NZ National Business Review that there won't be a significant increase in the NZ$2 billion a year or so the New Zealand Government spends on ICT a year.

But even if not, it seems that the country cannot afford not to have such change.

The minister talked of the "poor" state of legacy systems he says his National-led government inherited from the former Helen Clark Labour government, something some ICT firms told me they agreed with him upon. Projects had been delayed, Joyce said, and now he and other ministers intend to work more closely with government CIOs than previously to ensure faster project delivery.

Though supportive of the government's moves in its drive for e-government, some in the country's ICT community fear that the government's budget may lead it to look for deals so cheap that the ICT sector would not be able to offer the government good customer service and that there wouldn't be much profit left over to fund future innovation.

I am sure the government will ensure it will get the best deal for the taxpayer and new purchasing panels are just part of its procurement reforms, but it will need to listen to the industry as it plans to implement major change.

I am also sure that John Key and Steven Joyce realise that they have set themselves something of a challenge, that "Holy Grail" of ICT projects everywhere — delivering savings without spending a mountain to do so.

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