Small technology suppliers will have a better chance at Queensland government contracts but hundreds of public servants continue to face an uncertain future as the state forges ahead with its ICT outsourcing push.
According to a government ICT Action Plan released Thursday, agencies will start to quantify the cost and quality of IT services currently being provided in-house and compare them with equivalent services from external suppliers. The move is expected to precede the outsourcing of ICT services across all agencies.
Minister for Information Technology Ian Walker said this “contestability framework” would help agencies determine which services might be better delivered by external suppliers.
Major systems slated for replacement are also expected to be prioritised by the year’s end. An $5.2 million ICT audit commissioned by the government last May revealed a plethora of outdated and moribund systems with a replacement bill estimated as high as $6 billion.
Mr Walker has previously announced the government’s intention to adopt a ‘buy-not-build’ strategy for ICT systems and offload its CITEC and shared services divisions within two years.
He said more high tech roles would be filled by the private sector as the government outsourced 1700 IT jobs within the next four years but the net number of jobs was unlikely to change.
“In relation to workforce requirements, the total number of people providing IT services to government is not going to go backwards,” Mr Walker said.
The skills of current ICT staff are set to come under the microscope, in the wake of the Royal Commission into the Queensland Health payroll system, which was critical of public servants’ ability to manage complex projects.
Several senior bureaucrats involved with the Health Payroll project were sacked earlier this month and others may face disciplinary action.
Mr Walker said the government would be “up-skilling staff where necessary” and would hire new people with appropriate skills as needed.
Meanwhile, the plan contains welcome news for small and medium enterprises, which have traditionally struggled to get access to lucrative public sector work, courtesy of onerous tendering conditions and risk averse agency mandarins.
Suitably qualified SMEs will be shortlisted for new projects automatically while major contracts will be broken down to allow them more opportunity for a piece of the action.
Tendering conditions for small suppliers are to be simplified while major consortiums would need government approval to change their subcontracting arrangements with SMEs, the plan states.
Dean Robertson, the technical director of Mexia, a Brisbane software consultancy employing 11 staff, said small suppliers had superior technical skills but were constrained by not being able to meet entire tender requirements.
“We think this risk-based approach to purchasing means the Queensland government has been getting an overall lower standard of IT skills in our particular area of specialisation, resulting in the higher project costs and lower levels of solution quality that they were trying to avoid,” Mr Robertson said.
“By opening the door to smaller SMEs with deep technical skills, the Queensland government will now get a far higher level of quality for a fraction of the price.”
The plan comes on the heels of an ICT strategy released in July which unveiled sweeping changes to the way the state buys and manages ICT and a raft of measures to prevent failures and cost blow-outs on major projects.
Measures include an IT dashboard which will act as an early warning system for projects which are falling behind time and budget and more scrutiny of ICT projects by directors general and Mr Walker’s department prior to approval.
Queensland spends around $1.6 billion running its ICT infrastructure, including $1 billion on products and services and $600 million on IT staff.
The state’s ICT spending has long received unwonted attention. Dubbed “the worst failure of public administration in this nation” by premier Campbell Newman, the Queendsland Health payroll system is expected to cost $1.2 billion to rectify.
The new plan identifies developing digital services for government and the public and creating a “transformed and capable workforce’ as key objectives for the state.