WA pledges AU$17m for high-tech sector

With its net debt to top AU$43 billion by 2020, WA is focusing on providing additional funding for the 'high-tech sector', implementing its GovNext IT program across government, and adding coding to the school curriculum.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The Western Australian government has announced that it will be providing almost AU$17 million in funding for new businesses across the technology sector, as well as AU$19 million to improve the science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) capabilities of the state's classrooms.

"To support new and emerging businesses in the high-tech sector, we have allocated AU$16.7 million to establish a New Industries Fund, including AU$4.5 million to drive innovation in the regions," WA Treasurer and Minister for Finance, Energy, and Aboriginal Affairs Ben Wyatt said during his Budget speech on Thursday afternoon.

The AU$19 million for updating classrooms will involve AU$17 million to "convert targeted primary school classrooms into science labs" -- with AU$3 million to be spent on Newton Moore Senior High School's STEM centre -- and AU$2 million to skill teachers in coding, Wyatt explained, as part of the new Science and Coding: Introduce a Coding Program in Western Australian Curriculum program.

"The number of teachers with expertise in teaching STEM and languages remains a challenge to meet current and future needs. Continuing strategies for public schools include training and developing teachers, and engagement with universities on teacher education," the Budget papers explained.

The government also noted the establishment of a STEM advisory panel chaired by the state's chief scientist. The panel will be made up of industry experts, educators, and researchers, the Budget said, who will develop a STEM strategy for the state.

"The strategy will map Western Australia's STEM workforce, highlighting strengths and gaps in skills and expertise, and identify STEM growth industries," it said.

The Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (GCIO) used the Budget to provide an update on the state's AU$3 billion GovNext IT project, which is predicted to save the state between AU$60 million and AU$80 million in IT infrastructure expenditure annually in future.

"Plans are under way to ensure the successful transition to GovNext ICT services during 2017-18. This transition will result in changes to the mix of service provisions and will see much of the department's computer applications transferring to the GovCloud," the papers said.

"Effective use of best practice information and communications technology in the public sector will involve agencies moving to GovNext and purchasing ICT infrastructure services on demand under the whole-of-government procurement arrangement."

The GCIO is also continuing to establish the myWA Digital Services Program in order to "enhance the delivery of government online services and reduce the number of agency websites", although it noted that legislative constraints limiting data sharing may impact this.

WA Police, meanwhile, will be given a rolling program of AU$10 million per annum -- AU$7 million for capital investment and AU$3 million for capital expenditure -- to replace its ageing IT infrastructure.

WA Police's areas of priority include refreshing technology and systems to enable "improved cybersecurity", radio network upgrades, and the modernisation of facilities and assets.

"A significant challenge for Western Australia Police is ensuring that its extensive assets and infrastructure keep pace with the delivery of an agile, efficient, and innovative policing service," the government explained.

Also noting cybersecurity as an area of concern, the Department of Premier and Cabinet said it would continue providing advice to the state's premier.

"With an increasing national focus on counter-terrorism, cybersecurity, and emergency management, the department will continue to provide advice to the premier on state security and emergency management matters, and coordinate the state's involvement in the national counter-terrorism and emergency management arrangements," it said.

The state's Lotteries Commission is similarly focused on cybersecurity, with AU$3.3 million set aside in the Budget for "a significant upgrade of security measures to respond to increasing cyber activity".

The Lotteries Commission is also getting AU$5.3 million in 2017-18 to replace its technology and develop an online system; AU$3 million for its software and gaming systems; and AU$2.7 million for operating system upgrades and supporting environments.

The Justice Department, meanwhile, will be given AU$3.7 million for its IT projects, while Planning, Lands, and Heritage has been allocated AU$1.6 million in 2017-18 to digitise state land records under its AU$2.5 million digitisation program.

"The digitisation of the open and active operational files will reduce process timeframes on determinations and land actions, streamline business processes, ensure business continuity, enable integration with the Integrated Workflow Management System (iWMS), and address risks associated with the reliance on paper-based files," it said.

The iWMS implementation -- which promotes a cloud-based environment and provides online tools -- will continue over the next year for Planning, Lands and Heritage, with a budget of AU$3.2 million.

The Insurance Commission of Western Australia has been allocated AU$19.7 million in funding for its Asset Investment Program, which involves new IT hardware replacing network and server infrastructure, desktop workstations, storage, IT security, enhanced disaster recovery capability, and imaging and workflow facilities.

The Insurance Commission will also gain new application development software, performance monitoring applications, core insurance system enhancements, and "general desktop applications".

According to the Budget, WA Health will also "reprioritise" AU$13.7 million of its recurrent expenditure towards IT improvements in the rollout of its Patient Administration System.

"This system will provide a standardised platform for patient administration within WA Health's hospitals and will replace a heavily outdated administration system, safeguarding hospital business continuity and lowering operating costs by removing the duplication of support services," the Budget papers explained.

AU$14.6 million will also go towards Fiona Stanley Hospital's critical IT and infrastructure upgrades.

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development also noted AU$18.4 million for 2017-18 in grants and subsidies for the regional telecommunications project, and AU$15.1 million for the state's agriculture telecommunications infrastructure improvement fund.

GCIO CTO Andrew Cann said in May that Western Australia would be changing the way state government IT infrastructure has operated for years, instead incorporating a pure consumption-based system.

"We don't want to own any IT infrastructure at all, that's our goal," Cann said at the time.

"We want to decommission our datacentres and server rooms. We've got 50 datacentres and 200 server rooms within government organisations right now. The rest of the world got rid of that years ago.

"We don't want to transition government to do this; we want to transform government. We want to leapfrog what everyone else has done."

The WA government signed NEC, Datacom, and Atos to provide its IT infrastructure for five years under the GovNext project, while it uses NextDC, Pier DC, and Metronode for collocation; Atos, Kinetic IT, and Empired for core network services; and Vocus Communications, TPG, Telstra, and Optus for telecommunications.

Last year's state Budget had a net debt of AU$20.6 billion; this year, WA said it would reach AU$43.8 billion by June 30, 2020, and then "begin reducing".

"We have no money; we're in big trouble because the mining boom is over," Cann said in May.

"Treasury has no capital to give to organisations at the moment who are heavily dependent on infrastructure."

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