Howard's hard-man gets stuck into government IT

After a spell on the portfolio sidelines thanks to an election, IT is well and truly back on the John Howard government's fourth term agenda with political hard-man and Special Minister of State Eric Abetz now hitting the straps to drive home the message on how government intends to do IT business in its $4.2 billion backyard.

Special Minister of State may not sound much like an IT portfolio, but in terms of power dynamics it means Howard has appointed one of his closest allies to ensure IT will perform as a spearhead for a raft of policy changes that will profoundly affect the way the government does business.

That's the business the government wants to do with the community, not necessarily the business IT vendors want to do with the government.

Having taken ministerial command of the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) in November, the last three weeks have seen Abetz launching a flurry of government IT initiatives aimed squarely at improving government services and value for money through smarter use of IT.

This week it has been the standardization of business to the federal government's electronic authentication frameworks. Last week it was a helping hand to make government Web sites more accountable.

While not particularly sexy, both are crucial to implementing Howard's stated intention of making government agencies and departments work together and make IT deliver services rather than digging deeper silos.

Abetz told Computerworld he intends to make life that little bit easier for agencies by providing consistent and cohesive frameworks on which to base IT decisions, with the assistance of guidelines from AGIMO outlining "best practice".

To date, AGIMO's advice on best practice has been for government IT purchasers to look very carefully at what IT goods and services they are buying to avoid costly lock-ins.

"We as a government want to be technology neutral. We also want to look at the cost advantages. We don't want to be locked into technology that doesn't deliver. We want to retain flexibility," Abetz said.

On open source, Abetz says he is greatly looking forward to publicly releasing a government procurement open source guide in six weeks.

That's a nice way of saying in six weeks time, proprietary vendors who can't prove better value to agencies wanting to go to open source offerings will need to invest in bigger and better pencil sharpeners.

And Eric Abetz won't be losing any sleep over it either.

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