On the High Wire

After arriving in Canberra six years ago to keep an eye on the government IT scene for our sister publication Computerworld, it took me no more than a week to forge the view that government CIOs have it tough.

It seemed the CIOs I spoke to, whether at federal, state or local government level, all faced a high-wire balancing act. Not only were they grappling with most of the same complex issues preoccupying the private sector, they faced the added pressures that came with having to consider issues of accountability, privacy and government policy. And not only could they not expect to be paid as well as their private sector counterparts, but also the remuneration models they worked under made it impossible for them to compete for skill sets with the prevailing IT market.

My shock at the way federal CIOs' warnings on whole-of-government outsourcing, as laid out in the infamous leaked Cabinet submission on wholesale competitive tendering of IT services in 1997, was largely ignored by the Howard government served in my mind to dramatically underline their difficult and delicate roles.

Now outsourcing, recognised as perhaps the only way for the government to sidestep the shortage of skilled IT workers, is causing multiple headaches in Canberra, and the federal government's ill-advised whole-of-government outsourcing policy is in tatters. Government CIOs must find ways of retrieving the situation and clawing back lost intellectual knowledge and corporate memory while still ensuring services are delivered and critical skills retained or maintained.

At the same time, the CIOs must find ways to balance the drag of legacy and the pull of the bleeding edge, must streamline operations, deliver information and services to their clients and better interact with other departments while being responsive to changing government priorities. The pressure to deliver online services means changing the culture of the government to a much more collaborative one. It means breaking down stovepipes, while addressing a growing imperative to investigate shared-risk investments with the private sector, or public-private partnerships.

It isn't always easy to cover the government IT scene from the outside. Often CIOs are understandably reticent about talking to reptiles of the press - for all sorts of reasons but, most of all, to protect their own positions. No one can argue with that stance. But it does mean it can be easy for journalists to make mistakes. When we get it wrong, we would love to know about it - either officially or anonymously.

If we can make this publication a forum for the exchange of your ideas, we will be absolutely delighted. If anything in this publication can serve to make your lives a little easier, excellent!

Sue Bushell



Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

Security vs. innovation: IT's trickiest balancing act