Qld govt IT outsourcing good for industry: Walker

Queensland IT minister Ian Walker has refused to say how many jobs will go as part of the government's shift to outsourcing IT services, but has said that it will boost the private IT sector in Queensland.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Queensland IT minister Ian Walker has refused to rule out that many of the 5,000 government IT jobs to be outsourced as part of its IT strategy will not be shipped overseas to cheaper suppliers.

The new IT strategy, released earlier this month, sees the Queensland government move away from building, owning, and maintaining IT infrastructure, and instead adopting an IT-as-a-service model. The strategy came as the result of a major audit undertaken by former federal treasurer Peter Costello of the Queensland government, which found that the cost to maintain and fix the government's IT systems would amount to AU$4.7 billion.

Part of the strategy may potentially see the government sell off its shared services provider CITEC in two years.

In a Budget Estimates hearing on Tuesday (PDF), the Department of Information Technology's deputy director-general Andrew Spina said that there have already been 430 jobs identified to go in the next financial year from the Chief Technology Office. The number of jobs to go at CITEC has not been finalised yet, pending the government's decision on whether to divest CITEC.

Despite the decision to outsource potentially affecting the jobs of many of the IT public sector workers in Queensland, Walker told the hearing that the government's shift from owning the infrastructure to cloud services is actually a good thing for IT professionals in the sunshine state, with more jobs in the private sector.

"I think my main message is that this is good news for people in the IT game. The government is not going to shut up shop and stop using IT," he said. There will be a lot of IT jobs to provide a lot of services that will be used by government."

Labor MP Tim Mulherin asked the department and Walker whether, in light of Telstra outsourcing 170 jobs from its cloud computing division to India, they could guarantee that the outsourced IT jobs would be kept within Australia. Queensland's acting chief information officer Andrew Garner said that the decision on where the services are provided will be decided during procurement.

"That question will obviously come up during the procurement process. The government will identify its priorities and its objectives under the procurement process, and that is how that will be judged," he said.

Garner said that the government will be encouraging local businesses to "work with themselves, to team and also to work with the globals to provide solutions that we need here in Queensland".

Walker said he is seeking to ensure value for money for the Queensland taxpayer.

"I will keep the health of the small to medium local industry — in fact, all of local industry, as some of our industry is bigger than small to medium — paramount in my decision," he said. "Beyond that, the decision I have to make is that Queenslanders get the best value for money for their IT and the best service with that."

He said local businesses will have the advantage of being "just down the road", as well as being "nimble and innovative".

"There is no need to have a siege mentality about the services that small to mediums will supply to us. I think they will be significant," he said.

The new IT strategy will see the requirement, with all high-risk and big IT investments needing the endorsement of a new council of directors-general, with milestone reviews to ensure that the projects are on track. The directors-general would then report to the IT minister through Cabinet.

But in the evidence in the hearing, it is unclear who the accountability for all Queensland government IT projects would ultimately lie with. Walker said that the higher-risk projects would fall under the responsibility of his department, but the definition of a "higher-risk project" has not yet been set.

"At the moment, we have only set that in that phrase, but we do intend to clarify that in the implementation plan, and we are presently working on what those parameters will be," he said.

When there is a dispute between the agency wishing to undertake an IT project and the Department of IT, Walker said that the agency could escalate the matter to the IT minister. However, he said that the norm would be for the projects to need the approval of the Department of IT.

Walker said there is deliberate flexibility built into the new accountability system to ensure that the Department of IT doesn't become a centralised agency directing other government departments on their IT projects.

"The problem is that one department cannot know the needs of all other departments, and it would be unwise, I believe, for us to become such a centralised and directive agency that other departments would not have the right to assess their own business needs properly," he said.

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