Gershon Report - Review of Australian FedGovt ICT

The Gershon Review is good solid stuff that doesn't rock the boat, doesn't challenge current methods & thinking, nor show deep understanding of the field.

It has a major omission - it addresses ICT inputs only.
ICT is useful only in what it enables others to do or improve - measuring & improving ICT outputs is completely missing from 'Gershon'.

It doesn't examine the fundamentals of ICT work:
  • What is that we do?
    How is Computing/IT special or different to anything else?

  • Why do we do it?
    Who benefits from our outputs and How?
Here are my partial answers to these questions:
  1. Computing is a "Cognitive Amplifier" allowing tasks to be done {Cheaper, Better, Quicker, More/Bigger}.

  2. IT is done for a Business Benefit.
    Like Marketing, defining how outputs & outcomes are measured and assessed - both in the macro and micro - is one of the most important initial tasks.

Gershon doesn't address outstanding issues of the IT Profession:
  • improving individual, organisational and general professional competence and performance.
  • Reducing preventable failures, incompetence/ignorance and under-performance.
  • Deliberate, directed & focussed effort is required to institute and maintain real Improvement of the Profession. (vs 'profession-al improvement' of practitioners)
After ~60 years of Commercial Computing:
  • Are there any new ways to stuff things up?
  • Is it "efficient, effective, ethical" to allow known Errors, Mistakes, Failures to recur without consequences? [see FMAA s44]
It isn't like the Government isn't aware of the processes and instruments needed to avoid repeating Known Errors, nor the benefits of doing so.

Aviation is controlled by ATSB (Australian Transport Safety Bureau, previously Bureau of Air Safety Investigation [BASI]) and CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority). The USA's FAI publishes hard data on all aspects of Aviation - and mostly they improve on every measure every year. This isn't just due to the march of technology - the figures for 'General Aviation' (as opposed to Regular Passenger Transport) plateaued decades ago... This is solid evidence that Aviation as a Profession takes itself seriously - and that commercial operators in one of the most competitive and cut-throat industries understand the commercial imperative of reducing Known Errors.

Aviation shows that profession wide attention to Learning and Improvement isn't just about Soft benefits, but translates into solid business fundamentals. You make more money if you don't repeat Know Errors/Mistakes.

ATSB investigates incidents and looks for Root Causes.
CASA takes these reports and turns them into enforceable guidelines - with direct penalties for individuals, groups and organisations. CASA is also responsible for the continual testing and certification of all licensed persons - pilots, Aircraft Engineers, ...

There are 4 specific areas Gershon could've included to cause real change in the IT Profession - to start the inculturation of Learning & Improvement and the flow-on business gains.
Federal Government accounts for 20% of total Australian IT expenditure. It is the single largest user and purchaser of IT - and uniquely positioned to redefine and change the entire IT profession in Australia.
  • Lessons Learned - Root Cause Analysis of Failures/Problems
    Dept. Finance 'Gateway Review Process' on Projects.
    Needs equivalent of CASA - inspection and enforcement of standards plus penalties/sanctions - Not just reviews and suggested guidelines.
    Not just ICT staff, not just FedGovt but their suppliers/vendors/contractors as well.
    Without real & timely (personal and organisational) consequences, nothing changes.

  • Standish 'Chaos Report' equivalent - real stats on IT Projects.
    Without solid numbers, nothing can change.

  • Operational Reviews.
    How well does an IT organisation do its work?
    Critical Self-assessment isn't possible - exactly the reason work needs to be cross-checked for errors/mistakes/omissions/defects.
    C.f. Military Operational Readiness Reviews - done by specialist, impartial experts.

  • Individual Capability Assessment - equivalent of on-going Pilot etc recertification.

  • Research: Quantifying & standardising metrics and models for "Effectiveness".
    DCITA/DBCDE on macro-economic results.

The ACS describes Gerhon's recommendations as "all aimed at addressing the efficiency of ICT":
  • governance,
  • capability,
  • ICT spending,
  • skills,
  • data centres
  • sustainable ICT
Note the issue of Reducing Faults/Failures/Errors/Mistakes doesn't make the list.
Nor does the idea of institutionalising the building/improving the Profession of IT and increasing the Capability/Performance of IT Professionals.

By the DCITA/DBCDE own reports, ICT contributes 75% of productivity improvements: ICT is still the single greatest point of leverage for organisations reducing costs and improving output.

Does getting IT right in Federal Government matter?

Gershon delivers 'more of the same' and could conceivably achieve its targets of 5% & 10% cost improvement

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