In a move certain to worry IT vendors, the federal government will retain its two most powerful internal IT advisory bodies, the Information Management Strategy Committee (IMSC) and the Chief Information Officer Committee despite the almost certain closure of their coordinating arm, the National Office of the Information Economy.
Set up in October 2002, the low-profile IMSC and CIOC are made up of government CIOs, agency heads and departmental secretaries with a mandate to clean up their own IT backyard in the wake of the highly questioned policy of whole of government outsourcing. The committees have already struck fear into the hearts of some members of the vendor community, as the government institutes measures to control costs, sales tactics and technological and contractual lock-ins.
Acting NOIE CEO John Grant told Computerworld that, "The IMSC and the CIOC are demonstrably starting to create the synergies that you need to deliver multi-agency and whole of government [ICT management] approaches. I think its life is quite long term."
In plain terms, that means re-centralised IT planning and procurement is saving big money and returning control of IT architecture and expenditure to the government rather than suppliers.
Grant said such approaches had already created whole-of-government volume pricing structures for both telecommunications and software procurement known as "head agreements", with key vendors such as Microsoft.
However, NOIE's acting CEO politely refused to comment on Microsoft Australia CEO Steve Vamos' assertion that Microsoft was merely "bit player" (CW March 1, p3) – preferring to note that volume agreements, if correctly applied, represented better value for money and outcomes for government, citizens - and vendors.
Meanwhile, the CIOC has been quietly beavering away on a new tranche of government procurement strategies through an internal working group, carefully shielded from the arm-twisting tactics of multinational vendors and their lobbyists.
In a careful selection of terms, Grant said that, "The sourcing working group has been set up primarily to look at issues agencies face when they are contracting-out or contracting-in their ICT systems," adding that real outcomes would flow from it - and soon.
Acknowledging that government ICT sourcing had not always been a smooth process, Grant said that, "While the clustering arrangements have received a lot of public comment, they have not been the only sourcing approaches undertaken. That reflects the complexity of the environment we are working in."
One such recent complexity includes managing the change-over of the government's secure hosting requirements from homegrown firm 90East to its US-based purchaser Betrusted. Grant said that NOIE, in consultation with other agencies via the CIOC, had spent $65,000 as the lead agency assessing the likely impacts of the merger on government.
With the deal now approved by NOIE, Grant said other agencies are spared the expense of conducting their own duplicate assessments.
"I think that’s money well spent," Grant said. Or money not spent by 37 other agencies and two vendors, as the case may be.
While refusing to name which agencies were involved, 90 East's executive chairman John Palfreyman said that the move had proved "highly efficient and cost effective".
Who's on the committees?
As the Public Service's peak ICT body, the IMSC features the top bureaucrats (secretaries, commissioners and CEOs) from the government's heaviest purchasers and users of ICT. The CIOC reports to the IMSC, effectively setting the government ICT agenda.
Secretary of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Secretary of Defence, Secretary of Finance and Administration, Secretary of Health and Ageing, Secretary of Family and Community Services, Secretary of Environment and Heritage, Commissioner of the Australian Taxation Office, Australian Statistician (Australian Bureau of Statistics), Chief executive of Centrelink, Chief executive of the National Office for the Information Economy.
Prime Minister and Cabinet, Defence, Finance and Administration, Health and Ageing, Family and Community Services, Environment and Heritage, Australian Taxation Office, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Centrelink, Attorney-General’s Department, Australian Customs Service, Australian Public Service Commission, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisations, Defence Signals Directorate, Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Education, Science and Training, Employment and Workplace Relations, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Industry, Tourism and Resources, Transport and Regional Services, Veterans’ Affairs, Health Insurance Commission.