In particular the Williams review identified that AGIMO had moved away from the IT policy and analysis role recommended by the 2008 Gershon review to take on a range of whole-of-government IT implementation functions.
These didn’t necessarily always fit together well, with cultural differences (which Williams termed a ‘schism’) between policy and implementation Divisions and a split focus for AGIMO which diluted its effectiveness in driving government IT reforms.
In the new reform, taken following the departure of Ann Steward, AGIMO will be splitting into the AGCIO (Australian Government Chief Information Office), providing ICT Governance and policy investment advice around information and ICT for whole of government; and the AGCTO (Australian Government Chief Technology Office), providing whole of government service delivery and support including networks, online services and ICT procurement.
The current AGIMO First Assistant Secretaries will be taking on the leadership of these new offices. Glenn Archer as CIO and John Sheridan at CTO – though it is unclear if either or both of them are being promoted in level.
Both have sound track records in AGIMO and, while government employs merit-based promotion, it is no surprise that they’ve both been awarded these new roles ahead of any external candidates.
So what does this practically mean for AGIMO, the government and Australia?
Firstly, it is unclear whether AGIMO itself will continue to exist as a single entity, or as two separate offices who must work in close collaboration. This will require some short-term adaptation for AGIMO staff as they come to terms with the changes and how these offices work individually and together in practice.
Given than Glenn and John have a history of working together this, at least, bodes well for continued cooperation – though it is unlikely that the separation of the offices is likely to resolve the cultural ‘schism’ that Williams identified.
I expect the change process will see the AGCIO and AGCTO engage in navel-gazing for a few months as they develop their internal plans and come to grips with the new arrangements.
Both offices will then need to make it clear to the government and external stakeholders which is responsible for what areas. While one Office will be policy-focused and one implementation, in practice there are likely to be gray areas for which responsibility may not be clear to external observers.
This could create confusion as to which Office an agency, media representative, external stakeholder or supplier should speak to on given topics, which in turn could lead to misunderstandings and mistakes.
More critically is how the government will view and use the office to pursue whole-of-government IT reform and policy outcomes.
This reform is administrative – designed to make the machinery run better. There’s been no public leadership from our elected government on what the new AGCIO and AGCTO are there to achieve.
This means that even if the AGCIO and AGCTO are doing their jobs – developing IT policies and implementing whole-of-government solutions around web hosting, IT procurement and governance – it remains unclear how this tactical work is being used strategically to bring the government’s infrastructure and engagement into the 21st Century.
This is a major concern for me, per my last blog post on this subject. IT needs to be employed within a strategic framework, rather than treated as just one of the cogs in an agency’s gears.
When agencies are unable to carry out policy goals for the government of the day due to their IT configuration, or when agencies are unable to effectively engage the community because their IT is substandard, there is a major issue that affects how Australia’s elected representatives meet the needs of the community.
The new AGIMO structure doesn’t appear to come with any additional mandate or resources (though more might be revealed next year) and this, in my opinion, will limit the ability of both AGCIO and AGCTO to be successful.
The new structure may even be counterproductive. If the AGCIO and AGCTO need to compete against each other for sufficient people and funds to achieve their goals, or a change in leadership sees the two offices less cooperative this will only weaken their effectiveness.
It is early days yet, and it takes time for this type of change to be fully communicated, considered, implemented and embedded.
I do believe that the restructure will provide a solid administrative base to continue to improve centralised strategic IT thinking, leadership and delivery.
I hope that, over the next few months, it will also become clear that there is the right political support and resourcing to use this base effectively – that it won’t be starved to the point of irrelevance.
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