Q&A: Acting Queensland CIO, Alan Chapman

Alan Chapman, acting CIO for the Queensland government talks to ZDNet.com.au about what makes his job unique, technologies on the way and the biggest threat to his organisation.

Alan Chapman, acting CIO for the Queensland government, talks to ZDNet.com.au about what makes his job unique, technologies on the way and the biggest threat to his organisation.

Queensland government acting CIO Alan Chapman
Credit: Queensland government.

Chapman stepped into the top technology job within the Queensland government when former CIO, Peter Grant, went on secondment to Queensland Health in July last year, and has continued to hold it after Grant's resignation last December.

He will be the acting CIO until the position is permanently filled, with a spokesperson for the government saying that if Chapman "put in for it he would be very seriously considered".

In his years in the industry, Chapman has experienced "all aspects of ICT from the inside including software development, IT operations, architecture, design, procurement, and strategy".

ZDNet.com.au: What do you see as the major difference between a corporate CIO and a government CIO?
Chapman: There is a sharp difference in corporate governance. Particularly in terms of public accountability and scrutiny by way of the Australian media and parliamentary questions. Such scrutiny for a government CIO can be a challenge but also an opportunity to excel above expectations.

In addition, most state jurisdictions like Queensland have historically operated as a set of distinct departments. The Queensland public service has shifted its focus to viewing government as a single enterprise where decisions are often made on a whole-of-government portfolio basis. This requires a CIO role that takes a whole-of-government view and coordinates all agencies towards achieving an aligned set of investments. As a result, achieving real collaboration between CIOs is a key part of the Queensland government CIO's job -- not just a networking opportunity.

What technologies really excite you and are candidates for investment over the next year?
The business of the government is service delivery to the public. This has always been a challenge and is becoming more of a challenge with the ageing population and the population growth in Queensland. The technologies that are fundamental to achieving excellent service delivery in this context are customer relationship management and the adoption of service-oriented architectures. But technologies are not the answer. No technology can be the silver bullet for government. The technologies are only effective in conjunction with real business reform and that reform needs to be taking place now.

Over the next year or so Queensland government agencies are investing in collaborative technologies, content management, application integration, customer relationship management, and business intelligence. Other areas that are being invested in across government include the intelligent transport systems areas (e.g. number plate recognition for tolling and enforcement, smartcards for not only public transport, but also laying the foundation for smartcard based driver's licences).

Technically, some of the upcoming issues include the massive growth in storage requirements and the ability to locate and retrieve information. These are not unique to government, but I see some interesting storage and searching technologies that may help us address parts of the problem while we make changes to our business practices to really address the root causes.

How much do you plan to spend? Is that more or less than last year? How much of that budget is spent on security?
The Queensland government is a large and complex business which depends heavily on information and information technology to function. Currently the Queensland government spends close to AU$1 billion on ICT of which about 50 percent relates to core infrastructure technologies and operations, the balance is split roughly between application related operations and annual ICT project activity.

While spending is increasing slightly, the Queensland government continues to benefit from the ICT market containing more commodity products as well as cost containment through consolidation and shared services style initiatives.

Like many other government and non government organisations, Queensland has begun a period of core infrastructure renewal and consolidation. The renewal and consolidation agenda will deliver a refreshed platform for government service delivery along with significant improvements in robustness, redundancy, business continuity, disaster recovery and compliance, while maintaining the same cost base. There is also the future potential for greater integration of systems, reduced duplication and increased reuse across departments.

Security spending is a key element of the overall budgets, with security software, for example antivirus and firewalls alone representing over three percent of our annual technology operations spending or just over AU$13 million per annum.

As with many organisations, the government's fleet of desktops as well as costs associated with maintaining our voice and data networks represent two of the most significant costs. In the area of applications, the highest level of spending is in areas directly related to government service delivery with around AU$200 million per annum used to maintain our core customer service applications.

What would you class as the biggest IT threat to your organisation? Why?
Skills, skills and skills. The changing nature of the workforce driven from an ageing public service and a general skills shortage in ICT is a serious threat to the government's ability to continue to deliver on its ICT needs. We are taking a multi-faceted approach to this threat including attracting, recruiting, developing and retaining internal staff. We are also building strong relationships with the ICT industry and the academic sector. Addressing this problem is a key role of the Queensland government CIO.

What percentage of your technology is open source? Any plans to adopt more?

Open source is being used in some areas, mainly in the server, application server and application development environment areas -- such as JBoss and Eclipse. Linux is only present in low numbers -- less than one percent of the server fleet uses Linux today. I wouldn't rule out an increase open source adoption but this would be an organic growth rather than a policy position at this time.

What is your stance on social networking/Web2.0 technologies in the organisation?
Queensland government has explored social networking and Web 2.0 technologies in a recent Online Youth Engagement Project that investigated the use of YouTube, MySpace and Second Life. There is no doubt that these technologies are having a huge impact on the way we live our lives and communicate. I believe that there is scope for governments to use these technologies internally to great effect. There is also potential for them to be used in the context of e-democracy to establish stronger communication and engagement between the government and population.

What makes you successful as a CIO?
Any CIO's success depends on great communication skills and relationship building ability but this has to be underpinned by experience and a big picture perspective. My career has given me the opportunity to experience all aspects of ICT from the inside including software development, IT operations, architecture, design, procurement, and strategy. That combined with my ability to take a broad perspective, generalise and see patterns and their implications allows me to be a successful CIO.

However my ability to be successful as a CIO depends heavily on the people we have who do all the hard work to make direction into reality. I take a strong strategic interest in the type of skilled women and men we are able to attract into the Queensland government and what we can do to make their working lives fulfilling and rewarding.

If you could have any CIO job, which one would it be?
I would enjoy being the CIO for a moderately-sized software technology start-up. I think the challenge combined with the raw energy and enthusiasm would make for an exciting job.