Government ICT strategy underway and well supported by industry

Michael McGrath has resigned as interim Government CIO since this interview was conducted.

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11 May 2015 | 0

The Public Service ICT strategy document released in January gave a bold outline of a data-driven, shared service model for government ICT into the future that aims to deliver “better outcomes and efficiency through innovation and excellence in ICT”.

In the first of a quarterly series of interviews, TechPro spoke to interim Government CIO Michael McGrath about the practicalities of implementation, changes to existing practices and industry support for the strategy.

With regard to the main points of the strategy, McGrath was asked which would require the greatest effort, to which he replied the infrastructure for the ‘build to share’ model.

“The most work to be done is on build to share, and trying to build that private/hybrid cloud-type environment — there’s a lot of infrastructure needed.”

Cloud services
McGrath said that he had recently met with the Office of Government Procurement (OGP) to discuss the strategy and what was required, as the government cloud services catalogue programme had been cancelled.

“It just doesn’t fit with this,” he said.

“That was a framework to go out and procure whatever you wanted. We want a more dedicated framework to say ‘you are a public sector body, you want computing power, storage, email’ and there is a number a number of providers who can provide that out of a private cloud. Some of that might be on government premises, some of it might be on private premises — those things have to be designed and planned, with a service model around it and financial plan around how you pay for it. There’s a lot of heavy lifting to be done there.”

“That’s probably the most challenging piece in terms of effort,” he said.

“In terms of the most challenging psychologically, I think will be the governance piece, because it isn’t a PLC, you don’t have that chain of command back to the CFO.”

McGrath said that there are many independent departments and bodies, and each one has to be brought on board, which, he said, can be the most difficult aspect of a big transformational change — ensuring that people come on board and support the efforts required.

However, McGrath was sure that governance would help with support.

Governance
“We have good governance structures under the CIO Council, and we are trying to tie that back into the new civil service management board, but you still don’t have a stick. You have lots of carrots, but you don’t have any sticks. So that’s going to be challenging.”

There were other areas too that McGrath envisaged as posing challenges, but with benefits that far outweighed the risks.

The strategy document identifies the power of data as an enabler and McGrath argues that more can and must be made of it.

“I see data as a hugely powerful piece in this if we can connect it up as we talked about in the strategy — to drive better, informed decision making, and give data back to citizens. But we have to work around the data legislation. That is tricky.”

McGrath said at current legislation around does not facilitate properly joined-up services.

“The legislation doesn’t allow government bodies to change the shared data,” he observed.

“Finance have been able to do it, because every year as part of the finance bill, they have been able to put legislation through to allow them to share data.”

McGrath said there is currently a draft data sharing bill going through the houses that will allow any public sector body to share data where there is a legitimate business reason.

For example, an online application for a driver’s licence does not need to be linked to Revenue for how much tax that person paid last year, however, a single, unique identifier to allow a person to verify themselves to a public service would mean that where appropriate, data can be shared, reducing duplication, errors and having to submit multiple instances of the same information at each interaction.

“Once that legislation goes through, it should make it easier to share and join up data,” said McGrath. “There will still need to be controls in place to make sure that there are genuine reason for data to be shared.”

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