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Capital changes

Executive ICT posts in government are being disestablished or merged. What is driving this unprecedented shift in New Zealand public sector ICT?

User-friendly technology and difficult economic times have combined to help change the CIO landscape in New Zealand government departments and agencies. Recently, Inland Revenue disestablished the role of CIO and created two IT divisions, one to focus on day-to-day business and the other on future IT requirements and strategy.

There was no room for the CIO, Ross Hughson, with both divisions reporting to deputy commissioner Tim Occleshaw, himself a former CIO at the Ministry of Social Development.

Hughson has since taken a job as principal ICT advisor at the State Services Commission, which 18 months ago got rid of the CIO role. The then incumbent, Warwick Wright, has moved to Aviation Security Service.

In March, David Spaziani finished up as CIO at the Department of Internal Affairs. He is replaced by Stephen Crombie, general manager Government Technology Services.

At the Ministry of Health, Alan Hesketh recently resigned as deputy director general health information directorate. The new National Health Board is driving ICT for the ministry and for the district health boards. It has a mandate to reduce duplication of common back-office systems.

Other large government departments, such as Economic Development and Labour, have CIOs in an acting role only.

Now, with the government planning to merge several departments, other CIO roles are certain to go.

The term chief information officer became popular in the US in the 1990s. Many IT managers in New Zealand picked it up as a new title, but not all of them performed the full functions of a CIO.

A former CIO at a large government department, who didn’t wish to be named, says very few CIOs in government have sat at the strategic leadership table. “Perhaps three or four,” he says, of the numbers. “Most are tier three managers.”

Moving up?

Peter Macaulay, principal, end user practice at research company IDC, says more strategic decisions are being made within business units without reference to IT.

“That can lead to issues of failure to adopt an organisation’s strategic direction,” he says.

In the commercial arena, those business unit decisions are often made because technology has become much more user friendly. The unit will find it easy to use something like Salesforce.com.

Macaulay thinks there are around 80 “real” CIOs in New Zealand, those who deserve the title.

He sees a move to the chief operating officer title taking place. “Frequently, they are former CIOs. They’re moving into broader strategic roles.

“Bizarrely, the new Auckland Supercity plans to move IT under a chief financial officer. Finance and ICT are becoming more and more like chalk and cheese,” he says.

Stephen Crombie is general manager of Government Technology Services, which last year took over the ICT operational functions of the State Services Commission. GTS received $24 million in the last Budget to fund the development, deployment and operation of technology services in the State sector.

“The title of CIO is normally given to the person in the broader leadership team, who is a specialist in translating business strategy into business capability change, then delivering the required information and technology systems,” says Crombie.

“Government departments make independent decisions about the responsibilities and placement of the CIO role in their organisation. Like the private sector, the role and function of the CIO varies, depending on the type of business they are in, size of organisation and also the degree of change. In some cases, such as DIA, the role is split up in a number of functions and the head of the group sits at the executive team level.”

He says that in the public sector there is increasing recognition of the critical role ICT has in delivery of frontline services and the reduction of costs.

“Responding to this, we are looking at ways in which the requirements of agencies can be met by doing things well in one place. This includes areas like networking, commodity software licensing, purchasing of desktops and laptops, authentication and identify management. We call these Common ICT Capabilities.

“Government Technology Services provides many of these today, and other agencies will also become ‘centres of expertise’ in specific common ICT areas.

“This is not meant to replace the role of the agency CIO in any way, more to support and enable them to focus on areas that are specific to their agency. This also should not be confused with shared services, which is predominately associated with many different organisations sharing a complete ICT delivery organisation.

“Shared services thinking [which includes ICT delivery] is being developed in the Better Administration and Support Services (BASS) programme led out of Treasury.

“The first stage of this work [expected to be completed mid-year] is for participating agencies to get a view of their performance relative to peers in New Zealand and agencies in other jurisdictions. This will form a basis of fact from which future decisions can be taken on whether increasing shared servicves will improve services to New Zealanders and lower costs. So there have been no further decisions apart from those already announced for the health sector.

“Keeping all of this together are mechanisms for co-ordinating ICT work across government. This includes the Ministers’ Committee on Government ICT, chief executive groups and various cross-government work programmes.”

Crombie says that the leadership for ICT policy and strategy is with the State Service Commission (SSC). “Government Technology Services works closely with SSC and other agencies, such as Treasury and the Ministry of Economic Development, to ensure that what we deliver or intend to deliver, meets what agencies need and is aligned to Government policy.

“We have a very active CIO Forum where the CIOs of the largest agencies work jointly on issues that cross the State sector.”

Rationalise and prioritise

Warwick Wright was CIO at the SSC for four years before joining Aviation Security Service 18 months ago.

“The public sector is under pressure to rationalise,” he says. “There is a lot of pressure to share services, but many government agencies can’t measure outcomes in financial terms. There is more opportunity in the commercial sector, where investment in ICT can be seen to lead to more sales.

“The SSC doesn’t deliver any end product to the public, so it is hard to measure. When the squeeze comes on, then it is easiest to cut costs.”

Wright says with shared services there is a major difficulty in addressing decision making.

“Every IT shop has been given more to do than they have available resources, so you end up having to prioritise. Within the shared services model, agencies are still autonomous, so prioritisation becomes very difficult. It is harder still without having commercial outcomes.”

He says the trend of devolving ICT will continue. Increasingly, more non-IT people are being given IT roles. “Where the CIO role is disestablished, someone above picks it up. More business people these days have some IT knowledge.

“The plans for the new Auckland Supercity really amaze me. It needs someone who is fully dedicated to that role.

“It comes back to prioritisation to get clarity.”

Wright says that within government quite a few organisations are in the throes of restructuring. “With regards to CIOs, they’re asking ‘Do we need this dedicated role?’”

Another government CIO who didn’t want to be named says change is being driven by “more for less”.

“Departments are being asked to look at how they manage change. For example, should there be shared services or sector clusters.

“The concepts are being discussed, but there is no solution. The strategy has to take into account future services. The model here is for the private sector to perform that role rather than to have a central hub.”

He says Treasury and the Ministry of Economic Development are studying 80 back-office functions. They’re auditing the big 12 government departments and are expected to report within the next three to six months.

“The public sector back office has never seen such a level of change.

“There is a lot more collaboration, but no one has jumped into shared services because there is no model.”

In parallel with the likely move to shared services, the government has begun issuing procurement tenders where panels of suppliers will be established to deliver hardware such as multi-functional devices and PCs.

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Tags david spazianichange managementross hughsonIDCgovernment CIOCIO roleMurray WillsanalystRedundancy

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