​Australian government to review its AU$6.2b annual IT spend

In the wake of technology-related blunders experienced by Centrelink, the Australian Taxation Office, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the federal government has announced a review into all major IT projects.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The federal government has announced it will be reviewing all significant IT contracts in search of greater transparency and oversight over its AU$6.2 billion annual technology spend.

It is expected the review will include all non-corporate Commonwealth entities and all active projects over AU$10 million in value, or those that engage a large number of Australians, the government said.

The review will be performed by a new investment management office that sits within the government's newly formed Digital Transformation Agency (DTA), with the DTA to report to the government by mid-2017 on the costs, benefits, risks, and status of technology-related initiatives.

"We need to make sure we're delivering what the public needs, we're avoiding duplication, and we have the right processes in place to minimise disruption to public services," Assistant Minister for Digital Transformation Angus Taylor said in a statement.

"The DTA will ensure we're investing in the right technology projects, we can track their implementation, and know they will deliver on the public policy benefits they promise.

"This is more than a review, it's ongoing oversight, and it will provide unprecedented visibility and centralised management of IT projects."

When touching on the initiative in November, interim CEO of the DTA Nerida O'Loughlin explained that her team would assume the responsibility of the IT policy and procurement functions of the Australian government, which were previously managed by the Department of Finance.

At the time, O'Loughlin said a new project the DTA was undertaking was the creation of a whole-of-government program management office, which was slated to include overseeing all significant IT and digital investments.

The Digital Transformation Office (DTO) was established early 2015 to unify government agencies and services online. The Australian governor-general then signed an executive order to change the name of the 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.

The government-initiated review comes amid calls from the federal opposition and the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) to halt a technology-driven project Centrelink currently has in place that has seen some letters demanding money repayment sent in error to welfare recipients.

The error rate in the automated debt recovery system has been labelled as unfathomably high by Shetler, who said it would be enough to send a commercial enterprise out of business.

Last week, the Senate passed a motion to initiate an inquiry into the Centrelink system the Department of Human Services implemented in July in a bid to improve the nation's Budget by AU$2.1 billion over the next four years.

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) also kicked off its own third-party review, after a hardware failure announced on December 12, 2016 was still affecting its online systems in early February.

PwC will conduct the review into the long-running incident that initially occurred when hardware supplied by Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) led to the ATO's worst unplanned system outage in recent memory.

In what was labelled as a confluence of failure, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) faced its own review last year, after the 2016 Census ran anything but smoothly.

On August 9, the ABS experienced a series of denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, suffered a hardware router failure, and baulked at a false positive report of data being exfiltrated, which resulted in the Census website being shut down and citizens unable to complete their online submissions.

The ABS said in its submission to the Census Inquiry by the Senate Standing Committee on Economics in September that technology giant IBM failed to adequately address the risk posed to the Census systems it was under contract to provide, and that IBM should have been able to handle the DDoS attack.

In December 2015, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull unveiled Australia's National Innovation and Science Agenda, which for a cost of AU$1.1 billion includes the government leading as an exemplar.

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