The history of public sector agencies is littered with the wreckage created by CIOs with a ‘grand vision’ but an inability to create meaningful and sustainable change through people, says Steve Hodgkinson, CIO at the Victorian Department of Health Human Services (DHHS).
“This is also reflected in the woeful project delivery track record of many agencies,” he says. “It’s important to create ‘sticky innovation’ and to stay around long enough to both lead in a new direction and steward visible and sustainable success.”
Technology systems that create real change at the DHHS are being rolled out by Hodgkinson and his technology team following recommendations put forward by a 2016 Royal Commission into Family Violence. At the core of a Victorian government program of policy and service delivery reforms is improving the way information about people who are involved in family violence incidents is collected, stored and managed by agencies in the human services, justice and health sectors.
So far, they have deployed a family violence referral and triage system that automates the flow of referrals from Victoria Police to the DHHS and agencies in the social services sector. The system processes about 70,000 referrals each year and significantly improves the capacity of agencies to respond in a more timely manner and track the status of service responses.
A risk assessment management panel information sharing system is used to support collaborative initiatives that protect the most ‘at risk’ victims of family violence across the state. Finally, a client overview system uses advanced analytics and an agile systems development approach to search multiple disparate client databases to quickly reveal a profile of information about a client’s history of interactions with the department. This was a ‘shunkworks’ RD project to demonstrate new technology.
“Our tangible achievement was the family violence system. That was implemented, is operational and has been used all year to improve the way referrals are handled by Victoria Police and then out to the agencies before we create a closed loop back to police so they can they see what happened in each situation,” Hodgkinson says.
“Qualitatively, it’s been extremely well received by staff in terms of reduced time chasing up paperwork and doing follow up calls.”
Fixing a dysfunctional relationship
Confidence in ICT was at its lowest ebb when Hodgkinson joined the DHHS in 2014. The department had systematically underinvested in technology for many years, resulting in outdated infrastructure, unsupported applications and high cybersecurity risks.
There was limited enthusiasm for funding an ICT project, no department budget for technology, and a dysfunctional relationship with its shared service provider CenITex.
Hodgkinson said he had three main priorities during this first few years as CIO: fix ‘the situation’ with CenITex; get cybersecurity risks under control; and rebuild the productivity of application services, leveraging cloud services and agile methods.
His first major action was to rebuild the relationship with CenITex by committing the DHHS to participate in the Government Shared Platform. The involved securing $16 million and managing an 18-month project to integrate the networks and migrate users from an unsupported Windows XP SOE to the Windows 8.1 SOE, provided by CenITex.
“This was the largest ICT transformation program implemented in the department in over a decade, replacing 4,000 desktops and upgrading 9,000 users in over 65 office locations across the state,” Hodgkinson says.
The DHHS’ recommitment to CenITex was a material catalyst for a revival of faith in the shared services model. This has led to other agencies, mostly the Department of Justice and Regulation, also committing to join the Government Shared Platform, he says.
Secondly, Hodgkinson secured funding for a cybersecurity program for a priority security system and Windows server upgrades. He also chairs a new CenITex Customer Cybersecurity Group designed to improve the cybersecurity posture of the Government Shared Platform and DHHS systems.
“Leadership of the cybersecurity program has significantly improved the security posture of DHHS and all customers on the Government Shared Platform. There has been a steady decline in cybersecurity incidents affecting DHHS over the past year.
Lastly, Hodgkinson led a program to radically change the public sector’s approach to application development. The new ‘platform and agile’ approach was based around strategic application development platforms, agile methods and a re-focus on in-house DevOps rather than outsourcing, says Hodgkinson.
New applications are implemented by leveraging and configuring proven and trusted cloud services platforms via agile integrations. The reduces unnecessary procurement, improves information security, speeds delivery and reduces risk and cost, he says.
This new approach has resulted in the successful delivery of projects totaling more than $32 million in value in the 2016-2017 year. Thirty new business systems were delivered, ranging from standalone applications to major integrated systems supporting mission critical processes. A noteworthy success was the award-winning Housing Register Application Online, the first state government system made available via the MyGov portal, he says.
“The overall result is a renewed enthusiasm for funding ICT investments – the department has, in effect, regained its ‘ICT mojo.’ There is now a renewed confidence to allocate internal funds to ICT projects and to think more innovatively about how ICT can act as a catalyst for new policy and service delivery reforms,” he says.