Introduction

Information and communication technology (ICT) in the Australian Government (the Government) operates within a broader context and hence must take into account key macro national and global trends. These trends include:

  • growing expectations among citizens and business for the quality of services delivered by governments
  • increasing concerns about climate change
  • public sector funding pressures
  • technology trends
  • globalisation
  • ICT workforce challenges.

These trends will continue to have an increasing influence on the application, delivery, cost and demand for ICT services. They should therefore be considered in order to develop an enduring whole-of-government strategy.

Growing expectations among citizens and business for the quality of services delivered by governments

Citizens now expect government services to be as good as those provided by the private sector. As Deloitte3 commented, ‘One-size-fits-all solutions requiring citizens to navigate a complex bureaucratic maze to obtain services simply do not cut it in today’s "on-demand" world. Restoring the confidence of citizens in their public institutions means demonstrating competence in carrying out the difficult task of governance in the 21st century and delivering citizens better value for their hard-earned tax dollars.’ The reality is that citizens view government as a whole – they do not want to repeat the same information when accessing services from different agencies. Essentially, this calls for improved collaboration, integration and sharing of information between government agencies, keeping in mind privacy and security considerations.

A relatively recent survey of Australians’ use of and satisfaction with e-government services4 showed that the internet has become an indispensable channel for delivering government services to Australians; its use is continuing to grow and it is now the preferred service delivery channel for a majority of people. The survey report also highlighted the continuing challenges facing the Government in delivering services to the Australian public. Citizens are saying that they value convenience in their interactions with agencies, although for some, the advantages of being able to deal directly with ‘real’ people face-to-face or by telephone are preferable. Citizens are also saying they want e-government services and government websites to be easier to find and to use.

But while citizens are demanding more joined-up government services, they also want their information to remain secure and their privacy protected from cyber crime and identity fraud. The challenge for the Government is to maintain this delicate balance of making the provision of integrated services both secure and convenient so as to build and maintain trust.

Increasing concerns about climate change

Societies and governments are becoming increasingly concerned about the environment. Governments are facing pressure to deal with the effects of global warming, a foreseeable decline in fossil fuels and gas supplies, and steeply rising energy costs. As a result, the ‘greening’ of government policies is taking place around the world.

The current Government is committed to taking action to reduce the impact of climate change, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and by responding to the potential impacts of unavoidable climate change. The Government is considering introducing a cap and trade emissions trading scheme by 2010, and a mandatory renewable energy target by 2020.5

These changes will need to be taken into account when an overarching ICT strategy is developed for the Government. In April 2007 Gartner estimated that the global ICT industry accounted for 2% of CO2 emissions, on a par with the aviation industry.6 Gartner also estimated that large organisations spend between 4% and 10% of their total ICT budgets on energy and that this number may quadruple by 2012 due to the twin factors of power-hungry hardware and rising energy costs.7 In Australia, the Australian Computer Society undertook an emissions audit on the amount of carbon dioxide being generated by Australian businesses’ use of ICT. The results of the audit indicated that ICT use by Australian businesses generated 7.94 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2005, equivalent to 1.52% of total national carbon dioxide emissions.8

The Government will be under increasing pressure to articulate a viable strategy to make ICT environmentally sustainable.

Public sector funding pressures

Effects of an ageing population, global competition among various economies, and climate change are creating and will continue to place pressure on public sector budgets to increase spending in areas such as health, education and transport. The Government must find ways of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of its service delivery. This means providing value for money by improving quality of service (accessibility for all and acceptable citizen experiences and outcomes), and reducing the costs involved in service provision.

Technology trends

Businesses, individuals and public institutions are adopting a wide variety of technologies and to such an extent that they are changing the way each entity functions and relates to others. Governments in general, although more conservative users of some newer technologies, still need to be aware of broader technology trends and the potential impact of these on government policies, operations and service delivery.

For example, the internet has moved to Web 2.0, a more interactive model in which user-generated content is front and centre, and has the potential to change relationships with citizens, intermediaries and external service providers, as well as among government agencies. Governments will need to explore and shift to this new paradigm.

Many private sector organisations have already embraced service oriented architecture (SOA), where ICT assets are aligned to business services in a standard, flexible and architected fashion, and also the benefits that come with it such as increased agility, re-use and reduced costs. Government organisations are slowly moving towards leveraging SOA in the development of their applications, but there is potential for the pace to be quickened and for further thinking to done at the whole-of-government level rather than agency level to maximise the potential benefits.

Advances in processing power, storage and memory technologies have paved the way for more sophisticated use of data analytics and business intelligence technologies. Governments are also using geospatial technologies and resources to optimise service delivery and to improve decision making in areas such as collection and analysis of intelligence information, protection of critical infrastructure and response to emergencies. However, the explosive growth of data, compliance requirements and increasingly complex business environments have made information storage management more critical than ever. Governments need to ensure that they are able to maintain control over their ability to store and manage this key business asset, having due regard to privacy concerns.

Globalisation

Countries and societies are becoming more economically interdependent across social, political and cultural boundaries. There is greater global movement of goods and services, labour and people, capital and technology among previously independent and sovereign entities.

These trends need to be considered from an ICT perspective. For example, globalisation is enabling large emerging economies with high or increasing educational standards (such as Brazil, Russia, India and China) to draw activity away from the developed economies – often delivering equivalent services at a fraction of the price. There may be ways for ICT to harness some of these trends to address other challenges such as the ICT skills shortage. The potential for outsourcing ICT-related activities to lower cost countries with highly skilled workforces is already being utilised by many private sector organisations to improve their competitiveness. For governments, more complex trade-offs have to be made when considering whether ICT-related activities should be undertaken offshore. However, even if political considerations limit the activities to onshore locations, there may be scope for deploying government ICT work to reinforce regional economic development policies.

ICT workforce challenges

Australia’s unemployment rate at July 2008 was 4.3%, and some parts of Australia are experiencing even lower rates (for example, the Australian Capital Territory had an unemployment rate of 2.7% in July 2008).9 Coupled with an ageing population, this represents a significant policy and resourcing challenge for the Government as a manager of economic growth and as a large user of skilled labour.

According to a report prepared for the Australian Computer Society and the Australian Information Industry Association10, the Australian ICT industry is looking at a shortfall of 14,000 jobs by 2010, growing to 25,000 within another 10 years. The report also warned that the ICT skills shortage will continue at current or worse levels until at least 2012, and argued that temporary migrant visas are only a short-term solution. The report said that Australia must act quickly to increase local graduate numbers by at least 12.5% a year and reduce the loss of ICT professionals to overseas employers.

Such ICT skills shortages will also drive the need for better sharing of ICT assets across the whole of the Government. In addition to growing its own ICT professionals through training and development, other options may include employing older Australians, attracting more females to a career in ICT, and partnering with academic institutions. The Government will also need to consider strategies to ensure it has sufficient skilled ICT professionals to meet the demands of service provision.

The changed Australian political context

The current approach to the governance and management of ICT across Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 agencies, where they have very high levels of autonomy (including the ability to self-approve opt-ins to whole-of-government approaches in the ICT domain), may have been an appropriate model in the context of the previous government’s objectives and policies, and the trends of the 1990s and early parts of this decade. However, there are now a different set of external trends and my discussions with the Prime Minister and some other Members of Cabinet have indicated to me that there is now a very different political and public administration agenda in which it is appropriate to consider whether the status quo is still fit for purpose.

Next section: Chapter 1: Views from within the Australian Government


Footnotes:

 

  1. Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu (2007), ‘One size fits few: Using customer insight to transform government’, http://www.deloitte.com/dtt/cda/doc/content/dtt_ps_onesizefitsfew_040908(1).pdf
  2. Australian Government, Department of Finance and Deregulation (December 2007), ‘Australians’ use of and satisfaction with e-government services – 2007’, http://www.finance.gov.au/Publications/use-of-e-government-services-2007/docs/31576_AGIMO_Satisfaction-ALL.pdf
  3. See Australian Government (July 2008), ‘Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Green Paper summary’, http://www.climatechange.gov.au/greenpaper/summary/pubs/greenpaper-summary.pdf
  4. Gartner Press Release (April 26, 2007), ‘Gartner estimates ICT industry accounts for 2 percent of global CO2 emissions’, http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=503867.
  5. Gartner Press Release (November 7, 2006), ‘Gartner says look beyond power issue as pressure mounts for 'greener' IT’, http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=498224.
  6. Australian Computer Society (August 2007), ‘Policy statement on green ICT’
  7. http://www.abs.gov.au.
  8. Centre for Innovative Industry Research Inc. (August 2008), 'The ICT skills forecast project. First report: Quantifying current and forecast ICT employment (Executive summary and contents)’

Contact for information on this page: agimo@finance.gov.au

 

Last updated: 10 October 2013