Turnbull's Transformers lash government IT mavens over spend

Tech projects running at not far south of ten BEELLION a year

A taskforce led by Australia's Digital Transformation Agency hopes to rein in the Australian government's galloping IT spend.

The Agency's (DTA's) analysis, posted to its site late last week, says government IT procurement has blown out under the Turnbull government, from AU$5.9 billion in 2012-2013 to almost $9.6 billion. The latter sum is about what Australia spends on the Newstart Allowance, an income support program for the unemployed.

Most of the IT spend is devoted to a handful of big-bang projects: six agencies collectively account for 76 per cent of the government's IT budget, 100 individual projects (a total of $4.1 billion) swallowed 46 per cent of the 2015-2016 spend, and the remaining 17,000 projects shared the rest.

The DTA reckons the problem is that agencies don't like taking risks, so they prefer leaving legacy systems in place to replacing them.

As its report notes, previous inquiries in 2008, 2010, 2014 and 2015 have recommended changes to IT governance that haven't been implemented.

So the DTA's recommendations are something of a reiteration of what's been suggested before: the devolved decision-making structures put in place in the 1990s mean there's a lack of “centralised policies, coordination, reporting, oversight and accountability”; the APS's “limited capability and risk averse nature” results in “a focus on compliance, a fear of failure, poor collaboration and industry engagement”; and systems are rooted in the “bespoke and waterfall models of the past, and not the agile, consumer technology models of the present.”

One of the government's more recent brainwaves to deal with its expensive failures is to announce that its contracts will be limited to $100 million, announced last week by Minister for Digital Transformation Angus Taylor.

(The idea is borrowed from the UK, which the DTA notes imposed a £100m cap on individual contracts in 2014 via the Government Digital Service, itself the prototype for the DTA.)

As well as splitting projects into sub-$100m chunks, the report recommends capping external government IT spending, with a 10 per cent reduction target over four years.

That'll be quite an achievement, given that the government has already committed to more than $300 million to replace its truly ancient welfare payments systems at Centrelink. ®

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