Opinion: What’s wrong with CenITex?

Antony Harrowell argues that Victoria’s CenITex needs a radical shakeup

Antony Harrowell. Image credit: Media Culture

Antony Harrowell. Image credit: Media Culture

There’s something to be said for starting from scratch rather than behaving like a MASH Unit patching wounded soldiers and sending them back into battle for more of the same, and for the Victorian government, it has a conflict injury in need of serious surgery.

This year marks the eighth anniversary of the Victorian government’s CenITex IT services entity, but CenITex is more of an embarrassment than a strategic decision deserving celebration.

Since CenITex’s inception it has been a cause of headaches, with operational failure, budget blow-outs, repairs tinkering at the edges with no strategy for resolution, and a government completely at a loss with what’s necessary to fix the problem. It has been a feeding ground for consultants and contractors, driven by commercial interests than successful outcomes.

CenITex is a sound concept if it were capable of delivering what it was meant to. But the problem is that it’s not.

CenITex’s misfortunes stem from its inception and the lack of a sound vision or goal, to enable all people to understand the big picture and buy in to the strategy. This failing has seen its implementation and continued mishandling become a train wreck.

Government is born from a place of arrogance, because government believes it knows best. Poor strategic thinking often leads to missed opportunities, and getting it right from the beginning is one missed opportunity that should have lead the way in innovation, and drive home the message Governments aren’t followers.

Why was the vision not to create a best of breed IT services entity that could in fact compete in the commercial world, becoming a profit making entity, with these profits being used to subsidise the state Government IT expenditure, leading to the ultimate goal of free IT services for the state government?

Governments are driven by inept public service bureaucracy compared to commercial smarts - the result is an abuse of taxpayer dollars wasted on an IT service provider failing to fulfil its promise.

CenITEx’s current approach is to act as a services broker; yet a failure to recognise it needs to behave commercially repeatedly hinders it.

What is CenITex’s objective? Is it just for government departments or a wider base? What advantage does it have over other entities? Has the Victorian government employed or seconded the best ICT procurement personnel from within or from external entities? No one can really say.

What is abundantly clear is the government’s doubt about its own ability to manage its way out of this mess.

Mismanagement often provides luck in ways one could never expect, and luck has served the Victorian government well in this instance.

If it were not for the ineptness of some within the Victorian government who failed to secure the sale of CenITex’s services in 2014/2015, the state government would now be bound to multi-year contracts and pandering to whim of multiple large multinationals.

Read more: Transformed CenITex delivering wins for its customers, CEO says

Looking in from outside and with all the supposed intellectual grunt the government employs, why has no one thought outside the dots and considered the ‘what if’?

What if rather than attempting to sell off CenITex, the state government took the complete opposite approach and it acquired an Australian (or international) ICT company to provide services? It’s a question that should have been considered and adopted and for very good reason.

CenITex’s establishment was an exercise in insularity based on arrogance, ignorance and inexperience. CenITex was setup as an ICT services provider with no explanation why the government chose to adopt such a strategy. The value it expected to gain has and could never be measured from its model. But what it refuses to admit to that it lacked a clear direction and supporting mandate.

Mistakes are often made, but the ability to remedy mistakes marks the difference between success and failure. There have been many battles lost to date, but the war is by no means over. The Victorian government should objectively assess why CenITex was failing, draw breath, take stock of the current situation, modify the plan of attack, ready the troops and charge forward to victory.

The question is do they have the drive, knowledge and passion to push the boundaries and make it happen. Imagine a government initiative being recognised as best of breed!

Antony Harrowell is an Australian business solutions and technology advisor. Harrowell is founder and CEO of Huxxer Corporation. He currently consults to some of Australia and the Asia Pacific’s major financial institutions.

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