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EXCLUSIVE – The impact of whole-of-government changes and amalgamation at a newly formed WA government department

The government of Western Australia (WA) is undergoing significant changes at the moment. Earlier this year, the WA government announced the first round of Machinery of Government changes in the public sector, as outlined in the Government’s election commitments creating a number of new amalgamated departments.

OpenGov had the opportunity to speak to Mr. Marc Dimmick, Director of Information Management (Interim) at the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries to find out the impact of these changes, the challenges and the expected long-term benefits. Mr. Dimmick was the Chief Information Officer at the Department of Sport and Recreation prior to the amalgamation.

The Department of Sport and Recreation was merged with the Department of Local Government and Communities, the Department of Culture and the Arts and the Department of Racing, Gaming and Liquor to create the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries.

The ‘Communities’ part of the Department of Local Government and Communities is extracting itself from Local Government and going to another department.  Mr. Dimmick said that it is a complicated process. Once amalgamation is completed, corporate services will be shared across all the different streams. But the different workstreams will continue to be maintained.

We discussed the impact of the amalgamation, as well as the whole of government initiative, being run by the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (GCIO), called GovNext-ICT, which aims to move the government from a capital intensive, infrastructure-centric ICT operating model to an as-a-service, consumption-based operating model.

Whole-of-government changes

GovNext-ICT involves co-locating the government’s data centres and server rooms; migrating to cloud services; and creating a data and communications network that connects government workers across WA.

In January this year, the government formalised the appointment of three companies to supply ICT infrastructure as a service to WA Government agencies.

Mr. Dimmick said, “The idea is that they would set up 3 data centres that would form a hub, which would then connect to the cloud and then each department moves its infrastructure into those data centres, at a reduced rate to what they are currently paying. And also to utilise the connectivity and communications through scalability. So we’re going in as a whole government rather than separate departments.”

Mr. Dimmick said that during the first part of this year they analysed their current usage and requirements and potential spending for the next 3 years. Then requests were sent out to each of the suppliers to then provide a quote of what they could provide those same services for. Based on the responses, savings of around 30 to 40 per cent are expected over 3 years on the initially projected spending estimates for the department.

As the other departments come onboard, costs are expected to decline further because of scale. So, the total potential savings could be considerably higher.

In addition, as more agencies come onboard, all internal communications, from phone calls to video conferencing will be across the same network, eliminating additional costs for intra-government communication.

It is possible for the government agencies and departments to pick different vendors for the supply of different aspects. For instance, one might give a better price on, whereas the other might give a better price on communications.

Interoperability is ensured between the three suppliers. “The whole thing has been designed so that we can pick and buy from all three and that we can move from one to the other without any hindrance or obstruction,” Mr. Dimmick explained.

The Office of the GCIO is also coming out with whole-of-government ICT policies to provide a foundation for collaboration between public sector agencies. Till date, policies have been released for areas like open data, cybersecurity, digital services, cloud and interoperability.

Rather than every department reinventing the wheel every time, they can pick up the common policy and adjust it for the department.

Within the new department

When asked about the merger-related challenges, Mr. Dimmick replied, “In bringing the departments together, we need to align our systems and processes. From a corporate services perspective, that’s looking at HR, finance and information management.”

“We’ve 3 different HR systems currently being used and we’re looking to pick up each of the departments at a time and moving them into one system. That’s projected to take within 6 to 12 months.” The challenge here is to transform the data to fit the model of the new system.

All the different departments which were amalgamated were on the same system for finance. So, the migration and merging of silos is expected to be easier. Currently, the Chief Financial Officer is working to produce a whole of department chart of accounts from the different charts of accounts in the different departments.

Within Mr. Dimmick’s specific area of information management, the challenge is dealing with multiple versions of the record management system.

Mr. Dimmick said, “The first part we need to define is an information architecture across the department. It’s about understanding what content we actually obtain, how we need to manage it, the rules of disposal and retention that need to be applied and the templates that we actually use.”

All these rules are defined by the State Records Office of Western Australia. Some information, such as financial information may have to be kept for 7 years. Some information may have to be kept for 25 years and some indefinitely. So, the information has to be identified to then apply the relevant rules. At the moment, there are hundreds of rules that have to be applied to hundred types of information.

Earlier systems just took the old records management systems of filing cabinets and drawers and replicated that into a computer. The new system is designed to take away the burden of record management from end-users.  

The latest version of the system allows the rules to be pre-defined within the MS Word template. The system can then apply the rules based on the template being used.

“The Western Australian state government is about to sign off on classification of information.  So, we now need to apply classifications to our documents. Using the template model, I can define these templates, pre-define the classifications to those documents. When a person opens up one of those templates to create a document, it’s got the word draft plastered against it. It’s got the relevant classification. It’s got the rules applied to it and it’s got the button that says finish,” Mr. Dimmick elaborated.

When the ‘final’ button is clicked, the system picks up the document and applies the relevant rules to that document. In the past, the computer had to be told what to do, when to do, how to do. Users had to login to the program, fill in all the details, which was time-consuming and interfered with business.

“In the new system we will be able to say here is your bucket to work in, there are the folders, put the right document in the right folder and once you have done that, the system will take care of it for you. So, we are trying to eliminate the practice of records management from end-users and let them get on with their work,” Mr. Dimmick added.

This is expected to be an 18-24 month exercise to get to the base level and then it would be a continuous process.

Once the information is stored correctly, and the data identified, then data analytics can be explored. Here, Mr. Dimmick said it is important to teach the business ‘how to fish’, as in how to prepare and analyse the data, to realise the value of the information that they hold.

“At the moment, we bait the hook, we find the fish, we slice it, we dish it up and half the time, we eat it,” he said. So, business has to be provided with intuitive, easy to understand tools

This process is not just about technology, but also about a cultural shift. It is about a shift in the understanding of information, and in the management and reporting of information. It is about discarding manual bad practices and digitising of processes.

Often, when people are shown a new system, they try to stick to their old practices to achieve the same outcome. In effect, they are tying the shoelaces of the new system, not letting it work as it is designed to.

So, the first thing to do is to clarify the desired outcome (the previous outcome might not have been what exactly was wanted but was judged good enough at the time). The next step would be to look at how the new system can help achieve that outcome, starting from the end-point.  

“The practices and processes of the new system will potentially be totally different from what was done in the past. But unless you go in with open eyes and a willingness to just relook at everything, all you are doing is creating complexity. So, the idea is to agree to the outcome and then find the easiest way to achieve the outcome using new tools, not replicating the practices of the past,” Mr. Dimmick conc

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