Dramatically reducing the number of backend systems to allow agencies to deliver better services to citizens is the key focus of the NSW government's new ICT strategy announced in Sydney today.
After announcing the formation of a CIO executive council early last year, NSW CIO Paul Edgecumbe has been working with the individual agency CIOs on a plan to streamline backend operational expenditure by $565 million over four years.
To achieve this, backend applications like messaging and payroll will be consolidated and shared among the agencies freeing them up to enhance their unique, customer-facing IT requirements.
Edgecumbe described the strategy as unique among the "many other" government ICT strategies in that it is centred on people, community services, business, and is not about interoperabiliy, open source, or data centres.
"It's about services to the community," he said. "EBay is creating an expectation the government has to live up to, which may be e-learning, telemedicine, or electronic health records."
NSW's core agency systems were put in "many years ago" and require replacement and "a lot of money". The primary strategy is to replace those systems while staying within existing spending levels.
"This strategy is active already as all [agency] procurement and ICT strategies will be measured and aligned with the NSW strategy," Edgecumbe said, adding that it's not a series of "motherhood" statements.
There are now some 90 people working on the implementation of this plan, and there is also a working group providing the business requirements to the technology planners.
"To implement e-government in a coordinated way across agencies is about consolidating common IT systems to make e-government simpler to attract savings that are reinvested into government services," he said. "We are looking at consolidation of hardware and delivery technologies like e-mail and content management for two reasons - it allows agencies to support customer service priorities and allows to the government to achieve savings that are redirected to frontline services."
Edgecumbe said it is possible to do this now, because the Internet, and because broadband has become cheaper, which allows the public to interact more with the government online. It also allows "equal access" regardless of a person's location.
"We have to do it because we cannot do multi-agency serving without the amalgamation of backend technologies; technology today is more scalable than it has been so we don't need multiple services between agencies," he said.
NSW is one of the most siloed state governments in Australia with an estimated 370 Web sites, 70 e-mail systems, and as many as 50 payroll systems. Consolidation will involve gradually "modernizing" older systems and integrating them between agencies. The intended result is fewer individual systems from a number of suppliers.
"There is always a project somewhere involving backend systems so we will use existing expenditure to do consolidation."
"Industry will know what our priorities are and have a single point of contact for NSW government ICT," Edgecumbe said. "The procurement strategy will allow industry to get access to our $1 billion per year faster and one would hope we get a better result."
The backoffice integration and standard operating environment development are being led by NSW Police, and the security requirements are being led by the government chief information office.
Edgecumbe anticipates once telecommunications convergence is completed, customer interaction will be easier and a new electronic response management system will allow people to communicate with the government regardless of which agency they deal with and the services they require. For example, someone calling the RTA could have a question answered about enrolling a child in school.
"Some 70 percent of ICT spending is on backend systems and we need to change that ratio," he said. "There will be more self-service, but it will still be available over the counter or if you write a letter."
Edgecumbe said one outcome of the CIO council is the agreement of a single specification for the 100,000 PCs purchased across the state every year. Agencies have also agreed on a common look and feel for their Web sites.
"I've been surprised at the agency CIO response," he said. "They have attended working groups, and are changing their four-year strategies and have been extraordinarily supportive. They have no connection to e-mail and payroll systems and world rather work on front-end service systems. The collaboration has been exceptional and professional."
Edgecumbe also hinted at opening more opportunities for local IT suppliers.
"Backend technology has traditionally been provided by multinational companies, but the front-end niche products have to be highly modified, those are generally found here," he said.
"Where a solution doesn't exist we hope to generate open source [solutions] around this. Instead of buying boxes we will spend more on buying people [and] a small company could communicate with the whole of government instead of all the agencies."
That said, Edgecumbe conceded there will be a reduction in ICT personnel and contracts to the tune of about $20 million a year over four years.
NSW Commerce Minister John Della Bosca said the plan has a vision of four years and beyond and is labelled "People First", because it is about more money and more resources and greater focus on frontline services.
"There will be better linkage between community support and less emphasis on spending money on e-mail and payroll systems," Della Bosca said. "People are using the Internet for online services, and People First will ensure government departments operate in new environment."