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Coalition orders review of IT projects after census, Centrelink and tax office woes

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Digital Transformation Agency to oversee new tech investments and lead review of existing projects over $10m

The federal government has ordered a review of all its major IT projects, while giving its Digital Transformation Agency broader powers to oversee new tech investments.

The announcement comes after a string of highly public IT failures, including the census drama, tax office outages and Centrelink debt debacle, which have undermined public confidence in the government’s ability to deliver digital services.

IT projects that are worth $10m or more will be subject to the review, a threshold expected to capture about 100 projects.

The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA), once Malcolm Turnbull’s pet tech innovation project, will lead the review.

The DTA will also be given an expanded remit to scrutinise new government IT investments through an “investment management office”. The changes will give it “greater visibility and centralised management of IT projects”, the government says.

The assistant minister for digital transformation, Angus Taylor, said the DTA was currently helping the Department of Human Services with its debt recovery system and would continue to intervene to “remediate” projects when significant problems arise.

“We’re looking across all projects, and in fact we will make interventions where we need to,” Taylor told Guardian Australia. “Already we’ve had the DTA team working very, very closely with DHS on changes to how the Centrelink system works, and I think those changes are extremely good and will make a big difference.

“So alongside the review there will be selective intervention where it’s needed.”

The expanded powers of the DTA will see its role shift further from its original inception as a nimble, innovation-focused, start-up-style service delivery agency to one that takes a broader role in government IT.

That process largely began last year, when the DTA was restructured to give it some responsibility for procurement, shared IT services, expenditure and strategy and policy. It has previously absorbed staff from the department of finance to help it deal with its changed focus.

Taylor conceded there was room to improve government IT delivery but said all projects inevitably experienced problems, whether in the public or private sector. He said quickly dealing with problems as they arose was key.

“I think we can always do better, I think in IT you can always do better, and this is an opportunity to do better,” he said. “The value from this for the Australian citizen is enormous, anyone who has used really good IT, after dealing with clunky IT, knows how big a difference it makes.”

The recent failures of digital service delivery led the former DTA chief executive Paul Shetler to launch a scathing assessment of the government’s tech performance last month.

Shetler said the government’s response was symptomatic of a culture of blame aversion and said the failures with census, the tax office and Centrelink were “cataclysmic” and “not a crisis of IT” but a “crisis of government”.

Taylor said the government, in making major investments across government, had realised the skills for modern IT were difficult for each department to build up on its own.

He said there was also “serious duplication” between the IT areas of various departments.

“Now, after the restructure late last year, [the DTA] is focused also on overseeing these projects, making sure they are delivering value for money, making sure they will deliver the outcomes to citizens and government, and that they’re being done in the best way possible,” Taylor said.

“We’ve decided the best way to start that process of oversight is reviewing the portfolio of bigger projects.”

Online Source: The Guardian

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