The People's CIO Looks for Next Challenge

The People's CIO Looks for Next Challenge

Paul Edgecumbe has announced his resignation from his role as the NSW government’s CIO

The man who saved NSW taxpayers $80 million in IT spend last year is looking for his next career challenge.

Paul Edgecumbe recently announced his resignation from his role as the NSW government's CIO and will finish up on Friday, May 25.

Edgecumbe said the time was right for him to move on and was leaving on friendly terms.

"I have been in government for four years, and two and a half years as CIO for the Whole of the Government. I have done what I said I would do two and a half years ago when I got interviewed for this job and I have done it very successfully, I believe," he said. "I delivered exactly what I said I would do and it is just time for me to just move on. There is nothing sinister in all of this."

He said he was now looking beyond government and had some specific preferences in mind.

"I think either very complex, large organisations that require sophisticated ICT strategies and implementation programs. Or working for software companies in a more general management role, I suppose."

As CIO, he presided over the People First strategy, a plan that has set the strategic framework for a coordinated government-wide approach to ICT planning, expenditure and allocation of ICT resources.

People First is about to enter its next phase. According to Edgecumbe, the real legacy of the People First strategy will be the unified approach by all of the agencies to make it succeed and to achieve its outcomes.

"And these are not motherhood statements - they are actually deliverables that are actually implementable. And I think that is an important thing in any strategy. There is not much point in having one if you can't actually implement it.

"I think a lot of organisations and governments can often make the mistake of having lofty motherhood statements without the underlying projects to actually do it. Or the governance or the how-to," he said.

The culture of government

Edgecumbe said working for such a large employer has been appealing.

"I have been heavily exposed to scale - very large scale technologies, very large scale ICT expenditure, which has always been interesting."

He said being exposed to the government is an interesting thing in its own right.

"Interesting from the point of view that they have very interesting probity and legislation and procurement rules and so forth; very strict governance structures. And the bureaucracy itself - learning that and finding your way through it was an interesting challenge, especially in the early days. You can see why it is there but sometimes you have to not go with the flow, but find ways to accelerate it... it has been an extraordinarily positive experience".

The People First strategy ultimately aims to cut the state's backend operational expenditure by $565 million over four years.

Edgecumbe said he was happy at how this has been tracking.

"We have done a lot from when I did People First a year ago, particularly in the procurement space where I have got savings of about $80 million a year now. We have made changes to procurement processes and policy. Cut a lot of red tape off the process as it relates to industry. But have done a lot of ICT projects as well."

Edgecumbe said he would also be true to his promise made to industry — that People First would be reviewed annually for currency against government priorities.

He said the next version of People First will do two things: "One, it reflects the support of those strategies moving forward in terms of the ICT delivery component. And secondly it has taken the original People First that I released and created and defined about 60-plus projects which are the actual implementation arm of the strategy, if you like. They're defined and active."

Some of these projects are underway while the others will wait until the beginning of the financial year in July, he said.

Fundamentally flawed

Gartner managing vice president, John Kost, the man who once described the NSW Government CIO position as being an acronym for "Career Is Over", was not surprised by Edgecumbe's premature departure and blamed the role's convoluted procurement reporting as its chief problem.

"My issue was always with the structure of the position when it was created by the NSW Government," he said. "It's pretty unusual to have a government CIO report to a purchasing director who in turn reports to the head of the Department of Commerce. That's not particularly effective positioning if you want to get a fair amount done, especially at the enterprise level."

Kost warned that for the strategy to succeed, the government would have to address what he saw as a disconnect between the ambition of the programs and the governance to get them done.

"The programs by and large are the right thing to do, but there doesn't seem to be the right ownership for some of the individual programs. And certainly the ability to execute them across the whole of government is not going to be easily done, if at all, with the governance model currently in place"

For the NSW CIO position to succeed, Kost still believes that the role needs to undergo a fundamental restructuring.

"The position was put where it is because they [NSW Government] were trying to prevent some of the apparent failures of past projects by putting it into procurement," he said. "That's all well and good if you want to prevent bad things from happening but the People First project isn't about that, it's about making stuff happen. So the NSW Government needs to really consider if the CIO position is better placed under Treasury were it will have more impetus in the budget process of the state."

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