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Western Australia Government A/Executive Director, ICT Strategy & Delivery, explains the process behind forming the State’s first IT strategy

stuart gibbon

OpenGov recently sat down and spoke to Stuart Gibbon, A/Executive Director, ICT Strategy & Delivery, Office of the Government CIO Western Australia, about how he helped form the State’s first IT Strategy and what he would continue to focus on throughout its implementation.

Stuart Gibbon is the former CIO of the Western Australian Department of Training and Workforce Development, the agency responsible for funding and coordinating vocational education and training, as well as skilled migration, apprentices & trainees, and workforce planning and development. In this role he oversaw a departmental de-merger, introduced a sector-wide shared service, and major system projects to support of significant Federal and State policy reforms.

Mr. Gibbon holds a degree in applied physics, and formally ran the Business Intelligence Office at the Western Australia Police. Here, he was responsible for strategic planning, performance evaluation, and information analysis.

Western Australia’s first IT Strategy

As Western Australia is embarking on its journey towards digital transformation, it is important to understand what makes this strategy different from those across the nation. Mr. Gibbon began to explain to us the reason why the State’s IT strategy is so unique and what the key drivers behind it were.

“I am just formalising the State’s first IT strategy. This has consumed the last 9 months of my team’s time. Because it is the state’s first IT strategy we have ever had, there is a lot of foundational elements that must be put in place,” Mr. Gibbon began.

“While we are looking at the best things that have been done around Australia or around the region, and trying to leap frog forward to get into the digital world. We also still have to establish those base foundational cross-government standards and governance. We need to get the public sector to think of itself as one sector, rather than silos.”

With this, the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer has established 3 overarching goals which will drive the execution of this strategy across the state.

These goals were created, in part, to develop a more citizen-centric approach to IT implementation.

“The three goals of the strategy are to simplify our technology, connect the agencies to the community, and inform everybody through those channels so that better services can be delivered and more information consumed,” stated Mr. Gibbon.

As it has been discussed, culture and mind-set change is the most essential factor to enabling digital transformation, above technology.

Based on these goals, Mr. Gibbon explained the three key principles which must drive cultural change.

“With the key principles to drive the cultural change, being innovation, collaboration, and transformation, or ICT, from a business perspective rather than a technical perspective,” Mr. Gibbon shared with us.

Beyond cultural change, some of the challenges in forming this IT strategy have been different than the case of other states.

Western Australia may seem like it is playing a game of catch up but it is believed that there are certain factors which will greatly influence the way that the state approaches digital transformation.

As Mr. Gibbon explained, there are three big differences which have influenced Western Australia, “The three big differences that we have encountered while forming this strategy include that we are coming from behind so we get to see what everyone else has done. Secondly, our GCIO reports directly to the Minister of the Cabinet, and with this direct access to the highest level of authority in the state. Thirdly, we developed this strategy purely within the public sector.”

Only the public sector was involved in forming the IT strategy so as to deter any bias or private interests from having major influence. The Office of the Government Chief Information Officer thought this was essential to forming a strategy that would work for the public sector agencies.

“To reason for doing this [just within the public sector], we said that we have 150 Government agencies, 120 or more CIOs, and a wealth of experience to do this ourselves. We are not trying to come up with something new, but apply best practice to Western Australia,” stated Mr. Gibbon.

“With extensive consultation across the public sector, pulling working groups with CIOs, direct conversations with key CIOS and organisations, we ended up also getting private sector to review the strategy and give their feedback. We ended up with sound research, rather than just our own ideas.”

Marking a shift in culture and mind-set

Initiating a shift in mind set about how people and organisations look at IT, is key to driving Western Australia’s IT strategy. No longer can people view IT as an exclusively technical area, yet it is intertwined with business processes and operations. Mr. Gibbon commented on how this must change.

“A key aspect of the strategy is to get the IT people thinking as business people. That is what it is all about, it is no longer about delivering a good technical service, it has to focus on delivering good community services. Changing that mind-set of IT to consider the business, and then changing the mind-set of the business to view IT as an enabler rather than a barrier,” explained Mr. Gibbon.

The culture in the public sector must change so as to better embrace the opportunities posed by technology and benefits that digital transformation brings. As the State move towards a more citizen-centric approach, they must consider how internet penetration has reached a peak and how outdated some public sector services truly are.

To this point, Mr. Gibbon explains how they will manage to initiate a sector-wide shift into a cultural pattern of behaving along these strategic lines.

“The best definition of ‘culture’ that I have ever heard is that it is nothing more than a pattern of reinforced behaviours and what people do. Strategy remains nothing more than shelf ware until people do something about it. In order for the right actions to be taken, we need to reinforce the right behaviours,” Mr. Gibbon told us.

“To do this, we will try to say here are the behaviours that we would like you to do, the actions we would like you to take, the motivations and reasons for doing this, here is what we will reward you for, what we will criticise you for… That starts setting up a new culture by rewarding them for things that are positive, strategically, and penalising them for things that are not positive.” 

Looking forward, the Western Australia Government has set up a stable and sound foundation to enable IT transformation across the public sector. As long as they manage culture change and maintain a less risk averse mind set, there are few limits to what can be attained by the Office of the Government CIO. 

Image from Daniel Lee- CC BY ND 2.0

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