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When Being Smart Is Not Enough: The Mythical Value of IT in Government

by Andrea Di Maio  |  August 6, 2010  |  5 Comments

I just read the news about the reallocation of over 440 million Australian dollars of innovation funds to pay down the deficit. This money had been set aside as a result of the efficiency review conducted by Sir Peter Gershon.

While it is not unusual that governments scratch the bottom of the barrel during tough times, I was surprised to see this happen in one of the few countries with a pretty solid economy, which was the only one in my recent series of client visits, where cost cutting did not seem to be at the top of the agenda. One reason – I thought – was that the Gershon review had already identified savings.

Over the last several months I have been following government 2.0 in Australia, and I have always been quite positive about their approach and achievements (see here and here). They also have ongoing initiatives around data center consolidation and cloud computing. I understand that the country is very close to an election, but closing the tap for innovation is really unfortunate.

While it is probably too early to draw conclusions, this seems to be yet another data point showing that politicians do not really get the value of IT. I have seen this happening several times during the last two years when we have been discussing about cost optimization with government executives around the world. While everybody would admit he or she understands that spending on IT may help reduce costs elsewhere – by increasing automation, by identifying waste, by leveraging information – reality is that IT get the ax as much as (if not more than) other expenditures. So IT is still seen more as a liability than as an asset.

This last case suggests that having gone through an efficiency review and having a good record on innovation, as well as plenty of smart ideas and smart people, is not enough to make the case for the value of IT.

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Category: public-value-of-it  

Tags: australia  cost-cutting  innovation  

Andrea Di Maio
Managing VP
19 years at Gartner
33 years IT industry

Andrea Di Maio is a managing vice president for public sector in Gartner Research, covering government and education. His personal research focus is on digital government strategies, open government, the business value of IT, smart cities, and the impact of technology on the future of government Read Full Bio

Thoughts on When Being Smart Is Not Enough: The Mythical Value of IT in Government

  1. We’re in an election, money is being sought everywhere. Butchering of innovative thinking and budget allocation is as common here as it is anywhere else during an election.

    That said, I think you’re absolutely right. In spite of all the right noises being made and smart things being said, politicians, particularly, are rarely well-informed about IT. But no more so than senior executives within bureaucracies.

    Like HR, communications or marketing, IT is a “cost”. If you need savings, you reduce costs.

    Longer-term thinking would see IT and other cost centres identified as strategic investment where costs are borne in order to reap return over time. If this was the view taken, I think the practices around IT and the like that see them as expensive and wasteful (not without reason given high failure rates of IT projects) would have the opportunity to mature and we’d see smarter attitudes more often.

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  3. Doug Hadden says:

    To be fair, government does not have a bottom line like profit. Hence, the value of IT needs to be related to mission and outcomes. Government CIOs need to be able to relate IT costs per unit of output and outcome.

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