Yesterday I did my session on Smart Government at the Gartner Symposium in Gold Coast Australia. As I expected, government officials as well as vendors on this side of the world feel less the pain that some of their colleagues in the US or in Europe are feeling, with budget cuts and a sluggish economic recovery, possibly heading toward a further recession.
An earlier session held yesterday with CIOs from federal and state government in the region seemed to confirm that, despite the efforts to efficiency through the so-called Gershon review, departments and agencies here are still untouched by the fundamental sustainability questions that are being raised elsewhere. Top issues are still shared services – but without the impetus for consolidation that I am seeing elsewhere, one stop shops, tell-us once, and other topics that concern improvements in service levels and customer interaction, rather than actual survival.
Also questions after my session witnessed this. One in particular picked on the point I make about evolutionary, agile, stepwise development as opposed to traditional large programs, where I state that at every single step one should deliver value that can be sustained over time, in case somebody pulls the plug on the rest of the program for budgetary reasons or just because of a sudden shift in priorities. His interpretation was different: he thought I was advocating a prototyping approach, and he correctly pointed out that many prototypes and pilots in government do not really go anywhere, beyond a proof of concept. I explained that this is no prototyping approach, but it is breaking down complex programs into smaller chunks, each of which delivering demonstrable value.
As I told the audience in my introduction, while I appreciate that some of the challenges that are already a reality in other countries appear less of an issue for Australia, there is a plausible scenario where a double-dip recession or a flat economy combined with huge national debt may rapidly cool down the Chinese economy which plays a key role for Australia. In the long run, issues like unemployment caused by increasing work automation, increased life expectancy with consequences on the cost of health care, increasing cost of energy will require governments to take a hard look at how they manage and how they spend in technology.