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The digital disruption of the CIO

Marie Johnson, managing director and chief digital officer, Centre for Digital Business | May 26, 2014
It’s time the Australian government appointed a chief digital officer, says Marie Johnson

The Australian government's decision to abolish the CIO role indicates a profound misunderstanding of the impact that the public sector's use of technology has on the broader economy.

It also suggests a lack of appreciation that every policy setting has technology in its DNA. The CIO role stands at the inflection point in the digital disruption of enterprises, industries, public administration, and the economy.

Technology is no longer just an enabler. In fact, it never was just an enabler. It's one of the most powerful policy levers and catalysts of innovation in service delivery. It's also the most under-used policy lever in the government's toolkit. In many respects, very few see technology as a policy lever at all.

This nexus between policy lever and service delivery and administration is critical to understand - because it opens up a discussion about governance and accountabilities.

For decades, technology in government has primarily focused on automation, not transformation. However, there have been some standout examples of digital transformation such as the introduction of the Australian Business Number (ABN) in 2000.

If technology is a pervasive lever across the spectrum of policy, administration and service delivery - changing the economics and design of business models - what does this say about governance and accountabilities? And in particular, the responsibilities of the CIO?

Is the CIO accountable for the client experience or actually harvesting and realising return on investment? Is the CIO accountable for system performance? The design of the operating model? The risks that could be attributed to technology? Is the CIO responsible for innovation?

These questions are important because governments and enterprises are largely ill-equipped to comprehend the impact of digital disruption. This is increasingly now a major focus of company boards.

The signs have been very clear but interpreted as 'technology' or 'IT project' issues in a great many audit reports, capability reviews, various inquiries and media reports over the past decade. So, why have structural and systemic issues persisted? And who is standing back and looking at governance and assurance issues from a system-wide, economic and risk perspective?

Over the years, audits of inquiry dealing with governance and IT projects have pointed to complexity of systems, lack of architecture and business engagement, inadequate or scarce skills, and procurement methods as key reasons for project failures.

IT projects are identified as costing too much, delivering too little, or failing completely. It would seem that the various audits, reviews and reports individually are misreading or not identifying the systemic signs of disruption.

A very powerful commentary in the May 15 edition of Harvard Business Review titled, 'The IT project that brought a bank to its knees' is a must read for all CXOs.


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