Part 1: Introduction

Realising benefits from six public sector technology projects.

Using technology to deliver public services

Technology is playing an increasing role in our lives and in delivering public services. During the past 25 years, information and communications technology (ICT) has become integral to how we work, enjoy leisure activities and receive services.

The Government has signalled a focus on increasing the use of ICT to reduce the cost of services to the public and improve their quality.

ICT can help to achieve better value for money. The November 2011 Better Public Services Advisory Group Report states that "value-for-money means less cost, time and effort are taken to generate the same – or a better – result".

Making the most of available technology and ICT-enabled ways of engaging, such as via social media, can reduce costs and help meet what people and businesses expect in their dealings with government.

The Government has set 10 high-level results for the public sector to achieve during the next three to five years. Two of these results aimed at improving interaction with government are:

  • that businesses have a one-stop online shop for all the advice and support from government that they need; and
  • that people can easily complete their transactions with the Government in a digital environment.1

In this paper, we identify practices that have helped or are helping six public entities to deliver benefits effectively using ICT-enabled projects.

We have taken this approach, in contrast to auditing all the aspects of projects, because, in our view, achieving benefits effectively is what makes an ICT-enabled project successful.

The practices we identify are not all new or spectacular. However, they are not yet a consistent feature of public entities' ICT-enabled projects.

Realising benefits

It is vital that ICT-enabled projects focus on the benefits for users and the organisation that provides the services. Inevitably, not all projects go to plan. This can lead to intended benefits of ICT-enabled projects not being realised and, in extreme cases, organisations performing worse and using public money ineffectively.

To deliver ICT-enabled projects successfully, it is essential that the projects' managers, governors, and sponsors focus effectively on realising benefits. They should:

  • understand clearly what the intended benefits are and how they can be achieved;
  • be agile enough to ensure that benefits can be maximised and enhanced; and
  • be able to adapt the project, if required, to realise the required benefits.

How we did our work

The purpose of our work

There is no set way to maximise ICT-enabled projects' benefits, but some practices have helped public sector projects to successfully realise benefits. We want to pass on knowledge of these practices.

We compiled a list of 15 projects for possible inclusion in this discussion paper. We then met people in the organisations responsible for those projects and reduced the list to six projects. The critical feature that we looked for was a clear direct benefit for the end user.

To ensure that we had an appropriate set of projects, we approached:

  • the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer at the Department of Internal Affairs, which oversees the Government's ICT strategy and provides relevant high-level advice;
  • the State Services Commission ICT monitoring unit, which monitors government ICT projects; and
  • the Treasury, which has an interest in capital investment proposals, including those for ICT projects.

To identify the practices that made each project successful, we:

  • interviewed project managers and others involved with the projects;
  • asked an informed contractor, Dr Miriam Lips, Professor of e-Government, School of Government, Victoria University of Wellington, to:
    • analyse in depth each project by reviewing documents and interviewing those involved; and
    • identify the benefits that each project delivered, but not to audit all aspects of each project; and
  • identified common themes from the projects.

What we did not cover

Public entities already get much advice, scrutiny, and guidance about the more traditional project management aspects of ICT-enabled projects. This includes guidance available from our Office2 and other organisations on managing ICT projects successfully. Our focus for this discussion paper was instead on realising benefits.

Structure of this paper

In Part 2, we list the six projects we looked at and their main direct benefits and lessons.

In Parts 3-8, we discuss each of the projects in turn.

In Part 9, we discuss lessons from the six projects that may be relevant for other ICT-enabled projects throughout the public sector.

1: Our proposed 2012/13 work programme includes exploring how public entities use social media and identifying what conditions are critical for success. We will look at how effective and efficient investments in social media are. We plan further work in 2013/14 on delivering technology-enabled services.

2: Controller and Auditor-General (2000), Governance and Oversight of Large Information Technology Projects.

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