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Rich-Phillips charts Victorian ICT strategy revamp


By GovTechReview Staff
Friday, 30 November, 2012



Fourteen months into his dual role as Victoria's Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Technology, Gordon Rich-Phillips is confident the Baillieu government has, through a series of strategy reviews, put its fingers on the key issues impeding ICT development in that state. Fixing them, however, is another thing altogether.

He's determined to make it happen, however – and he's starting with improving the state's procurement processes. These processes were the subject of a scathing review, Own Motion Investigation into ICT-Enabled Project, that in November found ten key state ICT projects had blown out their combined budgets – from $1.3b to $2.7b – due to endemic poor project management and broken procurement processes.

If he was ever wondering what he needed to put on his agenda during his term as minister, Rich-Phillips couldn't have had a better guide. Pointing to the "unsustainable position for use and procurement of ICT within government", Rich-Phillips recently fronted an AIIA forum to tell an audience of industry leaders about his plan to pare back inefficiencies in ICT procurement and promote growth through appropriate private-public sector partnerships.

On the latter point, the government has been making concrete steps. For example, a recent government trade mission to India – which with over 280 delegates from 220 companies was "the second-largest trade mission ever to arrive in India" – built new relationships and identified new export opportunities.

Targeted investments in SME innovation got a boost as Rich-Phillips announced its $11m Digital Futures Fund (DFF), a grants program offering up to $500,000 for collaborative projects that unite at least two Victorian SMEs to solve a shared problem or challenge affecting private and public-sector organisations.

"We are looking for projects that will deliver cutting-edge advances and transform cutting-edge business models, and how they can be shared broadly across the economy," Rich-Phillips said. "We see enormous potential in harnessing technology, particularly from the opportunities created from the rollout of high-speed broadband – and we encourage organisations to maximise the opportunities this program offers, to ensure we can harness the potential of that new infrastructure."

The grants program may be an easy win when it comes to industry reception – but on the earlier point, however, Rich-Phillips may face long nights and innumerable headaches as he executes on an ICT procurement clampdown that's part of a statewide austerity plan whose headline toll includes the loss of 3400 public-sector jobs.

A substantially reworked scheme for state government procurement last year saw the creation of a new e-services panel with substantially fewer suppliers than had previously been authorised for government supply. This move drew such an outcry from the industry that Rich-Phillips was forced to review the panel and boost its membership to 368 companies – "the largest e-services panel that has ever been in place in Victoria", he admitted in a seeming contradiction to the government's lean-government policy – and loosen exemption processes to ensure that off-panel providers have adequate opportunity to be drawn into contracts where necessary or desirable.

The fate of CeniTex, the state government's troubled shared-services arm, remains equally problematic for Rich-Phillips, who recently received a State Services Authority review into the division that he said is "currently under consideration. The issues surrounding CeniTex are complex, go back to the way CeniTex was originally established, and will be complex to resolve," Rich-Phillips said.

Among the other issues Rich-Phillips fingered as significant issues are finalising a framework to boost the number of government data sets made available to promote innovative solutions development; improving assessment of ICT projects that are all, since the Ombudsman's damning report, considered "high risk"; and the ongoing challenges around building skills and boosting first-preference enrolments in ICT-related subjects.

"Universities and other institutions can't do it by themselves without industry engagement," he said. "I urge companies to look at ways they can contribute to skills development in the sector – not only for the interest of your own operations, but for interest in the health of the sector for years to come." – David Braue

This story originally ran in the February-March 2012 issue of Government Technology Review.

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