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Is 'fit for purpose' the new government IT agenda?

Pankaj Chitkara | June 18, 2013
Trying to meet every demand leads to a decline in performance and dissatisfaction with the IT function.

IT departments within the public sector are under more pressure than ever to deliver. Government CIOs are increasingly being expected to improve the quality of services they provide, conform with whole-of-government initiatives and embrace new trends -- all while spending less an uncertain economic and political environment.

And many of these CIOs are trying to meet all these demands. This may be feasible in the short-term but over time it inevitably leads to a decline in performance and widespread dissatisfaction with the IT function.

One way IT can address this issue is by becoming fit for purpose -- focusing on capabilities that are strategically important to the agency.

There are two steps in this process: understand the strategic intent of the agency and determine the right role and agenda for IT.

The first step is to gain clarity on the agency's core mission and the strategic capabilities most essential for it to deliver on that mission. Some agencies are focused on external customers while others on improving internal efficiencies.

Although each agency will have its own mix of capabilities, they are all likely to have one thing in common: IT will play a significant role in either contributing to or co-creating those capabilities.

But regardless of the nature of the mission, a clear definition of the essential capabilities of the agency, and the technology support required to deliver those skills is the starting point to becoming fit for purpose.

The second step focuses on defining the strategic role that IT will play to deliver the capabilities.

When doing this, it is helpful to think of its role as an archetype: a well-established identity that guides the agenda for IT, influences the way it operates within the agency, and defines and clearly communicates the contribution it makes to the core mission.

There are five archetypal agendas to consider: operator, value player, technology leader, service broker and capability leader.

Each is named in a way that reflects how it resolves the tensions that often exists among common ICT value drivers, e.g. attention to cost effectiveness is seen as a curb on quality or eager responsiveness may seem to undermine the independent thinking for innovation. No single IT group can possibly excel at all six of these value drivers therefore a more strategic role needs to be adopted.

Below are short explanations of each agenda.

Operator: This IT department provides high quality services with low risk by emphasising execution and operational excellence. It is valued in agencies that depend on technology to avoid mishaps and damages, or to maintain high volumes or extra reliability. If an IT division pursues this agenda, it may need to resist the temptation to overinvest in world-class technological excellence.

 

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