10 new realities driving government ICT

10 new realities driving government ICT

The government ICT landscape is evolving rapidly as budgets tighten, traditional approaches to ICT management are found wanting and technology innovation creates new options.

Many have the view that the fashion of ICT management swings back and forth between centralisation and decentralisation every decade or so like a pendulum — with the baby going out with the bathwater at each apogee. Whole-of-government vs. agency-by-agency ICT strategies have this feel about them, with the pendulum currently on the centralisation ascendant. Economic imperatives are bringing a renewed focus on whole-of-government sharing and the traditional battlegrounds of consolidation, standardisation and rationalisation of ICT environments and applications across agencies. What confidence should we have that this cycle will be any more sustainable than previous swings of the pendulum?

1. The status quo in government ICT has become unsustainable

The brutal facts are that government ICT has become unsustainable on an agency-by-agency basis. When you consider the maturity and sophistication of their ICT environments over the past decade the best you can say for most agencies is that they are trapped in a game of Snakes and Ladders. Executive confidence in the ability of ICT to drive policy and service delivery innovation and productivity improvements is fragile … with occasional progress up ladders undermined by more frequent descents down the snakes of project and operational failures and growing legacy complexity. If this is the best we have managed to achieve during a decade of relative economic buoyancy what hope is there as agency budgets tighten?

2. A new world of internet-age computing

Cloud services have emerged as a total rethink of the logic of ICT provision — demonstrating a series of characteristics which comprise what Ovum refers to as the ‘cloud services innovation edge’: operational scale; focused R&D & skills; multi-tenancy; business continuity; iterative evolution; SOA & open APIs; social & mobile; Internet-age security; user self-service; usage-based charging and vendor ecosystems. Individually these characteristics are innovative. Collectively they are game changers.

3. A new world of apps

Applications have evolved from large monolithic packages provided by strategic vendors to services and apps of all sizes provided by a diverse ecosystem of providers. This ecosystem now ranges across useful apps on smartphones through to major enterprise solutions such as SAP HANA One available by-the-hour as-a-service on the AWS marketplace. Published application programming interfaces (APIs) have transformed the app landscape by enabling the formation of interoperable app ecosystems.

4. A new world of devices and behaviours

Mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets have now overtaken desktops and laptops as the preferred devices for a wide range of use cases. Anytime, anywhere, computing has become the default. The rapid pace of evolution of mobile and cloud services solutions is creating new user behaviours — good enough now trumps perfect tomorrow.

5. A new world of data

The physical world is now virtually fully mirrored, in real time, by an information shadow. The question is, “can you see it?” Advanced techniques for data analytics, visualisation and presentation are making the information shadow visible via augmented reality and mobile apps that deliver real time and contextually relevant information. Users no longer need to search for information — when they need it the information arrives.

6. Greener grass lies beyond the fence

As the solutions environment enabled by mobile devices, cloud services and social media innovations in the consumer realm becomes more sophisticated it challenges the ICT department’s monopoly over the provision of ICT solutions to the enterprise. Employees are also consumers, and they are starting to discover that the grass is greener beyond the constraining fence of the enterprise firewall. This is leading to the rise of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) and choose-your-own-application behaviours.

7. Cloudy is as cloudy does

One of the defining differences of mature and proven cloud services is that they ‘do what they say on the label’. The have a defined service catalogue, are independently audited for quality and security, and transparently report their service performance. This is a stark contrast to the “trust us, it will all work out fine in the end” approach which typifies the traditional approach to enterprise ICT projects. Cloud services are already operating at scale and their functionality and trustworthiness can be verified prior to committing to their use.

8. Cloud services are next-generation shared services

Traditional approaches to capturing economies of scale have involved crunching existing assets, people and processes together to create consolidated or shared services. This strategy has turned out to be difficult, costly and risky in government because the component technologies were never designed to be shared and the ‘socialist’ organisation dynamics created by internal closed-economy shared services are inherently unsustainable. Cloud services, in contrast, are state-of-the-art capitalist economy shared services. They were designed from the get-go to be efficient, scalable, multi-tenant services supporting a diverse range of customers with standardised yet configurable services. The customers of cloud services are choosing them because they are better, faster, less costly and less risky — not because they are compelled to by whole-of-government strategy.

9. Agile thinking leverages to innovate

Waterfall project management methodologies were appropriate in a time when business requirements were relatively static and long projects were needed to deliver large customised applications. The new generation of technologies, however, is fast moving — and so are the policy and service delivery needs of agencies. The fact that waterfall projects fail by taking too long and being too inflexible has led to the rise of more agile, iterative, approaches. The traditional ‘inside-out’ approach to requirements (specify requirements then build) is being superseded by a more agile ‘external-in’ approach (agree outcomes, shop then buy) which is enabling more pragmatic trade-offs between business needs and solution possibilities. The agile approach focuses on being pragmatic about needs and leveraging pre-existing solutions to optimise what can be achieved within the project budget.

10. It takes two to tango: Agile thinking + cloud services = innovation and productivity

The combined effect of these new realities is that agile thinking is necessary to take advantage of the innovation and productivity opportunities of the new generation of technologies — it takes two to tango. The baggage of traditional whole-of-government shared services strategies and ICT management thinking is a material barrier to the opportunities created by new technologies which require new mindsets, new techniques and new approaches

Seeing, however, is believing. The best way to appreciate the new mindsets required is to gain hands-on experience of more agile approaches which leverage the new generation of technologies and cloud services delivery models.

Back to the pendulum. We may also discover that cloud services provide a way to break the periodic cycle of centralisation and decentralisation — baby out with bathwater. Cloud services are sustainable shared services that exist outside the whimsical organisational and governance reversals of government. Public cloud services, in particular, exist in a competitive economy larger than the government ICT market, and to some degree insulated from it. This may make them resilient and sustainable enough to protect government agencies from themselves. Come what may, cloud services providers will just carry on delivering their services while agencies ride the pendulum back and forth.

Dr Steve Hodgkinson ( is a research director IT, Asia Pacific, for Ovum.

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