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Having the right culture is critical. Digital government, and its potential to empower citizens, better target and make government services more efficient, can only be realised if governments have a culture that enables innovation at all levels.

Culture refers to unwritten practices like attitudes, habits, values, biases, and beliefs. It can encourage or inhibit innovation. Culture shapes what we choose to do, the way we do it and our receptiveness to change. This includes our attitudes to risk and uncertainty, our willingness to experiment with new solutions 27 and how we interpret and apply formal rules.

In 2015, the Shergold Review examined government processes for the development and implementation of large programs and projects. The review found that:

  • Public servants are often reduced to process monitoring, payment processing and other administrative tasks, rather than focusing on outcomes
  • Government agencies can often have a reactive and defensive culture, focused on compliance rather than performance
  • Risk management responsibility is often placed away from the people who are best placed to identify risk and act on it. 28

In the context of ICT procurement, the characteristics identified above could encourage public servants to prioritise the safe option over the most fit-for-purpose option, favour the status quo over new and innovative solutions and take a controls-based approach to managing security risk. This could include a "big procurement" approach to ICT projects where agencies appoint a large prime contractor to manage projects and engage sub contractors, or viewing ICT as simply a cost to be contained, rather than as an investment to boost productivity and improve services.

Notably, in situations where large prime contractors are used, the risk may be perceived to be lower as it is held with a large business. However, where sub-contractors are engaged under a prime contractor, the project risk profile can be more similar to those where contracts are made directly with SMEs. In addition, the "big procurement" approach may have unintended consequences such as higher prices where two large agencies procure for the same skills/services at a similar time.

Questions:

  • 12. How does culture influence the Australian Government's approach to ICT procurement?
    What sort of culture and attitudinal change would better support innovative ICT services and get more SME and startups working with the Government?
  • 13. What experience have you had with "partnering" with the Australian Government and what is required to do it better?