Aiming IT At Problems That Matter

Brian Lee-Archer

In a pleasant change from the technology hype we’re used to hearing at government launch events, Gavin Jennings, Special Minister of State, made some refreshingly candid comments on the sorry state of digital delivery of government services in Victoria, Australia. Minister Jennings made his remarks at the Victorian government’s Information Technology Strategy 2016-2020 launch at an AIIA luncheon event in Melbourne, Australia, where I had the pleasure of introducing him. The state of Victoria has a checkered history on large IT projects, and it came as no surprise that the strategy going forward reflects some of the hard learning and experience gained in recent times.

In the age of digital disruption, where agility is king and big IT projects are widely avoided, a valid question to ask is whether Victoria’s strategy is overly conservative, or if it reflects a pragmatic response to difficult and complex times for setting government-wide IT strategies.

The strategy has four priority areas that you would expect to see in an IT strategy in the digital age:

  • Reforming government’s transparent management of its information and data
  • Seizing opportunities from the digital revolution
  • Reforming government’s underlying technology
  • Lifting the capability of government employees to implement IT solutions that are innovative, contemporary, and beneficial

The strategy endorses Gartner’s “pace-layering” approach for service delivery and proposes building adaptable services that minimize long-term disruption to core functions and operations. The government proposes to use this approach, which focuses on small, innovative pilots (innovation layer) and core corporate systems (systems of record), leaving elements like licensing and housing (systems of differentiation) to individual departments.

The four priority areas and the pace-layering approach certainly tick the boxes for being both conservative and pragmatic in terms of content, approach, and focus. However, on closer examination, what sets this IT strategy apart from others is an underlying business theme of social justice – a theme borne out of the tragedy and consequences of family violence as laid out by Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence.

Hidden among the standard IT-related strategy pieces are the following statements:

Potential whole-of-government solutions may also arise in areas where technology plays a role in addressing complex social issues, such as family violence … Government needs to take a stronger approach to sharing its data internally. As an example, the Royal Commission into Family Violence has highlighted that government’s internal use of data needs to be effective and systemic. Creating a multi-agency family-violence safeguarding function and data agency to undertake high-level data integration and analytics is an important first step in putting focus on this need.

This subtle linkage to a significant high-profile business driver raises the likelihood of success for achieving the objectives of the four priority areas within the IT strategy. An all too common factor in big IT project failures is the lack of a clearly defined business problem to solve and/or lack of business involvement and leadership in the project. Through this IT strategy, the Victorian government has laid out business parameters that can drive reform. By committing to adopt all 277 recommendations of the Royal Commission, the government has set a challenge for its internal IT agencies (and the IT industry as a whole) to use technology to support the business agenda addressing this high-profile social justice issue. Through a business and social justice lens, it is not difficult to see where each of the four priority areas will provide support for this agenda, such as the establishment of a data agency and Service Victoria, a digitally powered one-stop shop to government services.

If the government keeps the focus on addressing the social issues associated with family violence, then there is a more than a reasonable chance the IT strategy and the initiatives to support it will be dragged along by the business need, creating public value for Victorians. Politicians will pushed be along by public expectation to meet the social outcomes from the Royal Commission recommendations. This has the potential to drive change faster than might be currently envisioned within the IT strategy. The IT strategy could well be judged as successful, as trust in government IT projects increases as citizens see IT expenditures targeted to address the social issues that matter. Project delivery and change management will continue to be major risk factors; however solving a business problem, rather than a taking a technology-led approach, is one way to keep stakeholders focused and on track. That to me seems like a digital government in action.

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Brian Lee-Archer

About Brian Lee-Archer

Brian Lee-Archer is director of the SAP Institute for Digital Government Global (SIDG). Launched in 2015, SIDG is a global think tank that aims to create value for government by leveraging digital capability to meet the needs of citizens and consumers of government services. In collaboration with government agencies, universities and partner organizations, SIDG facilitates innovation through digital technology for deeper policy insight and improved service delivery.