On July 1, Stephen Crombie became General Manager of ICT at the Department of Internal Affairs. His responsibilities include managing the Government Technology Services (GTS), which was previously run by the State Services Commission. Paul Clearwater caught up with Crombie to find out more about the government’s plans for its own ICT infrastructure.
POSITION: Head of Government Technology Services and the GM of ICT at the Department of Internal Affairs.
Car: Subaru Forrester
Mobile phone: BlackBerry
Education: Master of Science and Technology at University of Sussex, UK.
Most admired person: Rob Fyfe and what he has done with Air New Zealand.
Favourite Website: www.telegrapgh.co.uk
Q: How’s it been going since July 1, 2009?
A: It’s been going very well. Of course, we have been working very closely with DIA for the last year because the transition was known about since a decision in cabinet, way back in 2007, so it’s been well planned.
Q: The GSN was under the SSC, correct?
A: That’s right, the GSN operation transferred to GTS, which was formed on July 1, last year. Essentially the work of GTS over last year has been to get the GSN to a fully operating and effective state, which means that we transitioned out the GSN infrastructure to the new One.govt arrangement by Datacraft. We managed a whole process of aligning agency requirements that were connected to the GSN and began a procurement process, and now we’re into transition from GSN into the new service.
Q: The procurement process, can you take me through this?
A: It was agreed that the government would not have its own network infrastructure like the GSN was, so we decided to go to market and seek a provider for those services. We developed an RFP after establishing the requirements of nine agencies. We then went to market and selected a supplier from those who responded.
Q: Is Datacraft the only supplier involved?
A: Datacraft is the supplier on an ongoing basis; they are responsible for transitioning customers from the GSN to their own service and then managing and promoting the service from then on.
Q: Is it an improvement on the old GSN?
A: It’s a significant improvement in terms of the cost to government and agencies. Through the process we managed to secure a very good deal that enabled some agencies to join the service at very low cost. It also avoids the process of each agency having to go through its own procurement process. They can just leverage of the agreement in place with Datacraft.
Q: Can you elaborate in terms of savings?
A: No, not really. They are considerable savings. I don’t want to comment on pricing in the market at the moment.
Q: What agencies are on board?
A: The nine agencies now are the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, the Department of Labour, the Department of Internal Affairs, the National Library, Archives, the Department of the Prime Minister, and Cabinet and Parliamentary Services.
Q: Has there been a loss of agencies during the transition period?
A: Yes, there were more. Some agencies decided to progress their own replacements and some agencies decided to join this arrangement. It just depended where they were in the cycle of things.
Q: How is that transition going?
A: It’s on track. Datacraft will pick up responsibility for the GSN infrastructure at the end of next month. Then there is a migration process that takes place towards the end of the year. November is really the end date.
Q: Do you think then that the GSN was far too ambitious in its approach?
A: It is on public record about what went wrong with the GSN, so I don’t really want to comment on the commentary and the work that has already been done.
It has now moved to a situation where the supplier does it at scale, and the government has an agreement with that supplier and agencies can leverage that agreement.
Q: Therefore accountability has also shifted from the government to the provider?
A: Risk is with the provider who provides the service. They are specialised at running networks and obviously have other customers than the government and they have got scale to deliver – so not everything has to be centralised within government. We’re also looking at how the supply market works and how they can deliver.
Q: Is there a government policy aim for all agencies to have a shared infrastructure?
A: There is certainly an aim to have a service that agencies can use that is cost-effective and delivers in an efficient manner. The policy objectives haven’t really changed in terms of having a service, but of course the way of delivery has changed dramatically by having a solution from the market rather than building a service from scratch.
Q: Wasn’t there talk about a cloud computing-type model across government for collaboration on projects?
A: We are certainly investigating that as an emerging technology area. It’s something we’ve definitely got on our radar – to look at what opportunities it provides government going forward.
Q: So there are no firm plans to implement this model?
A: No, there is no implementation plan, just an investigation.
Q: Is there a plan for increased centralisation in ICT across government?
A: There’s no plan per se, but there is an intent to look at opportunities for increasing value for money so we do see an increasing degree of collaboration between agencies, which is very much sector based.
Lots of agencies are looking at increasing performance and reducing costs, and shared services has come up in a lot of jurisdictions as a way of doing it, for example in Australia, the US and the UK. So there is a lot of interest in this area and there are a lot of explorations going forward, but government policy is not yet set on this.
Q: Can you refer to any examples between agencies now?
A: Nothing that I would like to comment on. It’s all too early, I think.
Q: You’ve talked a lot about cost reduction, which is obviously coming out of the current government. What particular areas in ICT does the government want to reduce costs?
A: We’re looking for opportunities across all aspects of expenditure, I would say. ICT is an area where it is expensive and complicated and an obvious area where we can explore further opportunities. Procurement efficiencies is also an area were working in with the Ministry of Economic Development.
We’re also looking at enterprise software, so having more focused engagements with software vendors so that we really understand the dynamics. We’re looking at reducing the transaction costs of buying and purchasing software and services from the main software vendors.
Some of the outlying areas that agencies have pursued are sharing data centres, which are enabled by having better networking. Archives for example, are working on the standardisation of document management and compliance of the Record Management Act.
Q: I assume staffing is not an area where the government is looking at reducing headcount?
A: We, like all agencies, are focused on providing services to the front line, and IT is an important enabler and is part of the mix of things that you need to invest in to ensure that you can deliver services to the front line.
Q: Do you think that the National government understands that more than the former government?
A: I can’t comment on that.
Take me through what DIA is doing internally.
We’ve got a major programme of work to redevelop the passports system. It’s a major technology refresh, considering that last refresh was last done in the early 1990s. What we’re doing is changing the printing technology and re-engineering the business processes that sit behind the passport process, such as the application process.
Q: How will the internal application process change?
A: The system that manages the whole process of applications is being upgraded and technology refreshed. So of course, that will have newer technology in terms of document management. The passport application process will evolve as time goes on.
Q: Can you elaborate on the Open Data Programme?
A: It’s an emerging movement around opening up data for citizens to use for various purposes.
Q: Does this mean that previously private data is made available to the public?
A: It’s not so much private data, but general data that has been available and created in agencies and would be valuable for people to use for commercial purposes or to do analysis.
This is a global trend that appears to be occurring. There is some policy work going on around that. We are engaged in providing support to undertake some further pilot work. There has been quite a bit of data already released to the public. The open.org.nz website is a good pointer to the amount of data that is available.
Q: Is there a commercial benefit involved here for the government?
A: People, when they look at the data, might find commercial uses for it. They may find opportunities for use of that data that the government does not. That’s the general idea behind open data.
The open data concept is that you don’t pre-empt any application of it. You just make sure that it’s available in its raw form for businesses to use.