Plans announced last week by the federal government to review its annual $6 billion spend on ICT marks a significant turning point for Australia's public sector, according to Steve Hodgkinson, public sector research director for analyst firm, Ovum.
The former deputy CIO for the Victorian government described the whole-of-government review as highly symbolic, adding that Canberra's ICT vendors and CIOs will now be under no illusions that this government means business when it comes to managing ICT.
Hodgkinson was responding to an announcement last week by Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner of an ICT review aimed at identifying ways to maximise the benefits of technology to drive greater efficiencies and better services.
The review will also examine the way in which agencies manage ICT investments, including maintenance, intra-agency links, development and staffing.
Tanner said the Australian Government has approximately $10 billion in ICT assets and spends around $6 billion per annum on ICT encompassing procurement, maintenance, development and staff costs.
"Under the Howard Government this spending was completely uncoordinated leading to serious inefficiencies and cost blowouts," he said.
"There are clear opportunities for efficiency gains in information and communication technology. But we also want to use this review to ensure Australians can access convenient and high quality government services."
Tanner has appointed Sir Peter Gershon, the architect of a major spending review undertaken by the UK government in 2004.
Gershon's review identified cash and funding redeployment savings of 21.5 billion pounds and triggered a major rethink of ICT management and procurement in the UK.
"Strewth!! What a difference a change of government makes ... hold on to your hat," Hodgkinson said in the wake of Tanner's announcement.
"Tanner has been on the front-foot about the evils of Howard's decentralized approach to ICT since he came to office, and Gershon has just the right kind of medicine he requires."
Hodgkinson said federal government CIO, Ann Steward, and her team at the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO), have been "clapping with one hand' to try and push an agenda that received only scant support from the Howard Government."
"How times have changed. Steward now has the wind in her sails and a government that understands the opportunity of better coordinated ICT as an enabler of both citizen-centric reform and higher productivity," he said.
Gershon's review is due in September and a new round of program funding allocations will be announced in the forthcoming May budget.
Hodgkinson said Gershon has a tough task ahead of him as data on ICT spending within agencies is "poor because the management system has not required secretaries and CIOs to rigorously monitor and report input costs like ICT".