The entire government contract portfolio - spanning maintenance, implementation, consulting, advisory and managed services - represents the holy grail for the Australian channel.
Yet interacting with the public sector is a complex and bureaucratic beast, with providers facing an uphill battle - coupled with a steep learning curve - when responding to tenders.
In drawing on over 20 years of public sector experience, Deloitte Australia national consulting public sector lead, Ellen Derrick, believes new digitally driven agendas in government presents ongoing opportunities for the channel around advisory, integration and managed services.
“But partners must be mindful when securing lucrative government contracts of the differences between dealing with the public sector as opposed to private enterprise,” Derrick said.
Despite cut-throat competition dominating both sectors, Derrick advised that key distinctions should be made when distinguishing public business from private.
Traditionally, the majority of government IT systems were siloed, yet through the adoption of cloud-first strategies among many internal departments - in parallel with increased digital transformation initiatives - such disparate environments are beginning to find a point of parity.
In aiding the delivery of strategic policy outcomes, Derrick observed that today, government departments across the country have a new appetite for emerging technologies, in particular cloud.
Previously, government would design and build infrastructure that was fit for purpose, with such strategy now reserved for security forces and divisions holding sensitive data, such as the Department of Finance.
Upon the release of a Cloud Computing Policy in October 2014, data showed only modest use of cloud services by government agencies at the time.
Two years later and cloud first policies have become the new norm across many areas of the Australian public sector, and while the majority of infrastructure remains on premise, Derrick said new deployments are now directed skyward.
“There’s a real appetite for cloud,” Derrick observed. “The advancements in the technology have made it an attractive proposition for the public sector.”
Such appetite is playing out across government with departments traditionally bound by the build camp now edging towards a cloud first strategy, illustrated by the Australian Tax Office (ATO) moving to Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Originally planned as a reinvention of the agency’s digital technology program through to 2020, the department has now moved mission critical applications to the public cloud with the help of Accenture and IBM.
Due to the scale at which government operates at however, Derrick insisted that the threshold for failure is low, with numerous stakeholders ensuring a rollout takes typically longer than in enterprise, which operates based on a more autocratic model.
When advising the public sector, Derrick said partners encounter the policies of line agencies - those which deal with the primary function of the department - alongside ministerial priorities, which often fail to add up.
“Large ICT enabled transformations normally involve multiple stakeholders, including multiple agencies, ministers, jurisdictions, end users and their representative groups and many operational staff,” Derrick said.
“It depends on the scale of the transformation but often the biggest challenge in achieving outcomes is keeping stakeholders aligned to the vision.
“Unlike the private sector, because there are many stakeholders there is rarely a single decision maker - and it is important to keep alignment across stakeholders - so you see a more consensual style to delivery and decision making than you would see in the private sector.”
Once decisions are reached however, particularly in cloud, Derrick insisted that government preference is based around replying as soon as possible, while taking into account any setbacks or failures.
“There is a policy of fail fast,” Derrick added.
Once the slogan of the budding entrepreneur, and now adopted by the enterprise, the failing fast mantra of many represents a double edged sword for public sector departments.
Given the visibility of the deals to the public, and the subsequent impact on citizenry, Derrick cautioned that such an approach to business can create greater scrutiny than private sector deployments.
A quick glance at the technology and mainstream media last month provides the most recent example of a government ICT policy falling under intense public criticism, following the IBM census debacle in August.
After winning the $9.6 million contract from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in 2014 - to design, develop and implement the online census - Big Blue has been directly blamed by government for its role in allowing four distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks to take down the country’s online census service.
As the only non-government entity involved, the tech giant was taken to task by Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, who fiercely insisted “heads would roll” following the technology collapse.
A matter of weeks later, two senior IBM staff in Australia “resigned with immediate effect”, emphasising the technological tight rope that connects success with failure in government.
Across Australia, the public sector relies heavily on cooperation with business for delivering IT projects, but also leans on partners to deliver the essential skills lacking in-house.
While a lack of deep expertise and resources isn’t unique to government, public sector organisations by definition typically possess greater capacity to employ specialist skills compared to enterprise.
But no single entity can possess all the skills required for ongoing digital transformation, leaving partnership as a crucial component in the delivery of public sector technology projects.
As Prime Minister, Turnbull recently called for a rethink in the way services are deployed, insisting he remained “very sceptical” about government outsourcing IT services to large system integrators that deliver less than first promised.
“That's why, as Prime Minister, I set up the Digital Transformation Office within government,” outlined Turnbull, during an appearance on ABC Q&A in June.
“That is to be an agency to operate like a start-up with the innovative edge of a start-up but to revive and renew government online services from within government, rather than just signing big contracts with big system - you know, private companies, big systems integrators.
“What we have to do is ensure that you bring government into the 21st century, government services into the 21st century and you don't do that solely by pushing them all out the door so that there is nothing left inside government.
“There is a lot of innovation that can be done in government if you provide the right leadership and the right culture.”
But as Derrick qualified, while the issue of developing IT skills within government remains high on the agenda, it’s not black and white.
“It’s not a matter of simply having deployments done by the public sector or by government,” Derrick explained.
“There would always be collaboration at some level no matter how advanced government departments become at digital transformation.”
For Derrick, the consumer experience of citizens, through mobile banking and eCommerce applications, has driven many to expect similar levels of interaction within government agencies.
“You hear this directly from Malcolm Turnbull or any agency,” Derrick added. “Consumers expect the same experience when they transact with government as they get when they use their banking app or order an Uber - it should be that simple and easy.”
This article originally appeared in the October issue of ARN magazine - to subscribe, please click here