Will NSW deliver on its ICT plan?

The NSW State Government last week handed down an ambitious plan to fix the state's IT — but will it actually deliver on the strategy, or is it just a booklet of glossy, hollow promises?
Written by Luke Hopewell, Contributor

commentary The NSW State Government last week handed down an ambitious plan to fix the state's IT — but will it actually deliver on the strategy, or is it just a booklet of glossy, hollow promises?

There's no denying that the strategy is bold. It's 55 pages long, and it targets five service areas with 17 major initiatives, consisting of 85 different objectives. It was developed in conjunction with the state's IT industry, and, according to ICT Minister Greg Pearce, it's "designed to take NSW out of the dark ages and into the 21st century".

Under the new plan, the government will be more open with its data sets, more communicative with its citizens and more inclusive of small businesses that are looking to tender and looking for a more attractive place to work.

The plan has the support of the deputy premier, and staff from the previous government's Chief Information Office also contributed to its formulation.

The government brought in William Murphy, the executive director of ICT policy for the Department of Finance and Services, to be the architect of the strategy, consolidating ideas into one cohesive document. He was brought on-board at the same time that the NSW Government was appointing industry representatives to its ICT strategy boards, and he got to work immediately on the job of developing the strategy.

Murphy's plan wasn't to develop an ICT vision that just addressed technology; it was to give better services to the people and use technology to deliver them. That's an important point in this ICT strategy: it's not about the blinking lights, spinning drives and fluffy clouds; it's first and foremost about serving people.

Murphy started to take meetings all over town.

"I went around to the directors-general and other senior business leaders and CIOs about what we needed to do to achieve the government's objectives of using IT for better service delivery for citizens and getting better value for our investment in IT. Once we'd identified the directors'-general capabilities that they wanted the government to demonstrate through IT, we got the five service areas."

With the service areas identified, Murphy sent IT executives, public servants and advisory panel members away into working groups to workshop individual sections of the strategies. He particularly wanted people who knew how to deliver a service-focused government through IT.

"[We got] people who'd been working in social media, mobile platforms, online service delivery and other things, and brought them together to ask the basic question: 'if we're going to do better at these capabilities so that we can deliver better services ... what are the things we need to do now?'"

Murphy said he was impressed at the keen answers he received.

"My experience of dealing with CIOs on this across government is a real willingness to look at new business models, and new ways of doing these things. At the end of the day, a theme that comes through in the strategy is that what we want to do is enable the IT shops in government to focus on the citizen experience and deliver citizen services, not to be focused [so much] on the back-end infrastructure," he said.

The government continued to consult with industry and the community, and the release of a draft framework for comment even saw non-IT businesses submit their transformation experiences for the government to learn from. Finally, after 13 months, the strategy was finished, and handed down to the community with much fanfare.

The government now faces the much tougher challenge of delivering.

An important part of developing project goals is developing them as timed, measurable and achievable milestones.

The strategy outlines a set of loose delivery dates between now and 2015, and no firm delivery date has been set down as a final goalpost for the government. Murphy says that the strategy isn't about exact timelines, as it will evolve with technology and the need for better state services.

"You'll notice the strategy doesn't map out a five- or 10-year road map. It really says, 'we need to do better at these things, and the things we're going to do now are set out throughout the strategy'.

"Embodied in this approach is the knowledge that the IT landscape is continually evolving. If you'd put a five-year strategy together five years ago, you wouldn't have contemplated smartphones, Facebook, Twitter; things that have transformed the way we do business today," Murphy said.

Sure, no timeline means that the unit can adapt to changing technologies, but it also means that it can quietly dump the strategy in a drawer and not be called out for it come election time. It's hard to call something a broken promise when there was no firm delivery date to start with.

It's at this point that the inner cynic starts to kick in. We've seen government projects much less ambitious than this one fall by the wayside. Yet, Murphy moved to assure the naysayers that there will be annual accountability for the delivery of the strategy.

"The plan here is that every year, we'll get together with government, with the industry and with ministers, and talk about where we've got to, what we've achieved and what we've learned, and identify the emerging opportunities, what we should be focusing on in our next tranche of action," he said.

The first strategy review in 12 months' time will give us a better indication of whether the government can deliver these new services. For the sake of the state, let's hope that the lack of a concrete timeframe doesn't allow the project to end up in the policy graveyard.

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