Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Boss Of The Commonwealth Public Service Calls Out Just How Bad The Public Service Is At IT! E-Health Cited As An Example Of Failure!

This appeared last week from the ABC.

Federal public service responsible for 'some incredible high-profile failures', advisor says

By political reporter Henry Belot
December 7, 2016
One of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's most trusted advisors has warned the federal public service is at risk of "a fatal combination of ignorance and arrogance".
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet head Martin Parkinson said the public sector was responsible for "some incredible high-profile failures" during 2016 and needed to improve.
In a speech to the Institute of Public Administration Australia, Dr Parkinson said many of the Government's policy failures could have been prevented, including the much-criticised VET FEE-HELP program.
The Government's overhaul of the scandal-ridden vocational education sector passed Parliament last week in a bid to end one of the worst chapters in Australian education history.
"We knew the lessons to be taken from some of the other programs such as the home insulation program, e-Health, this year's census, or the failure to effectively de-identify health records," he said.
"We know, but we keep making the same sorts of mistakes and we have to keep asking ourselves why."
The Rudd Government's botched home insulation program has been the major focus of a public service rethink this year, with senior bureaucrats accused of withholding frank and fearless advice from ministers.
Health Minister Sussan Ley was forced to apologise after a leak of Medicare data and the Government has been heavily criticised for allowing the Census website to be taken down by four denial-of-service attacks.
Dr Parkinson said the public policy was being damaged by a failure to embrace risk and a belief that failure was unacceptable.
"Our weak capacity to evaluate potential success and impending failure suggests to me we've got a capability gap," he said.
"The fact we keep repeating this does seem to me that we've got some problems around project management capabilities.
"We've got some weakness around risk management and frankly, we're not being sufficiently open in putting on the table what we see as the real risks around an issue."
More here:
There is a transcript of the speech found here:

Parkinson: stop flogging dead cats and take innovation seriously


Martin Parkinson

This section of the speech that caught my attention is this:

Complacency still too widespread

The Prime Minister has been absolutely forthright in his belief that the generation of ideas is the key to our economic success, and that we must make innovation and disruption our friend if we are to keep pace with the world.
We’ve heard that phrase many times: “disruption and innovation”. I’ve talked about in speeches in the last couple of years, I’ve talked about what it means for our economy, and our organisation — the APS. I’ve espoused it on panels where I’ve robustly suggested that APS staff embrace it.
I’ve realised recently that I’ve never really spoken in detail about what it means for the APS. And that’s why I shouldn’t be surprised by my conclusion when I look back over the course of the year.
In my first year as head of the public service, I’ve been very impressed by a whole range of things that I’ve seen, but one thing that’s surprised me has been complacency – and I don’t use that word lightly. I really do mean complacency, which many in the public service have in regard to the disruptive forces that are operating around us and operating on us.
Disruptive forces like the fundamental shift to public expectations of government; consumer directed demand for government services; and the ever-changing capacity of technology to support and improve service delivery are certainly not unique to the public sector. They impact on our work as much as they impact on the work of the private sector.
Despite this, it seems that many in the APS think that disruption is something that is happening to other people. Conversely, we have a view that innovation is either a buzzword or something that is nice to have.
I want to be clear, that’s a false reality, and a dangerous one. It feeds into a concern I’ve expressed previously that we in the APS are at risk of a fatal combination of ignorance and arrogance.
So what do I mean when I talk about innovation in the APS, what does it look like on a day-to-day basis for a graduate doing a rotation, for an EL2 in HR, for the secretary of the department?
First, we have an organisation that stops working at the word ‘failure’. I know we’ve had it ingrained in us for so long that failure is inexcusable, that we’ve either risk managed the life out of decisions, or we’ve simply refused to admit when we are taking risks.
Look at our reality: we’re an organisation with some incredible high profile failures. I’ve already mentioned VET-FEE HELP, which was entirely preventable. We knew the lessons to be taken from some of the other programs, such as the home insulation program, e-Health, this year the Census, for failure to effectively de-identify health records.
We know, but we keep making the same sorts of mistakes and we have to keep asking ourselves why. What is it that about the way we think about doing things that’s leading us to repeat these issues?

Acceptable level of failure

There is an acceptable level of failure.
I’m not suggesting to anyone that you go rogue and you go out and adopt the ‘rather seek forgiveness than permission’ mantra. Because that’s often just an excuse for poor preparation or a disregard for due process. We have to do our due diligence. We have to base decisions on a solid evidence base and we have to operate within some kind of structure.
But if we’re truly going to create a safe space for people to innovate, take risks, we need to create better frameworks to test ideas.
Better still, to emulate General Electric, we should be able to fail fast and then decide to persevere or pivot. That is based on data analytics, and clear-eyed judgement. Did we make a mistake at the outset and this is not something we can rectify? Or is this something that if we take a step back and fine tune it, is this something we can continue and persevere with?
We have to learn and we have to recognise early what are we seeing. Is it an unacceptable level of failure or a situation where something is absolutely OK and rectifiable if we do a bit of fine tuning of our project?
Our weak capacity to evaluate potential success and impending failure suggests to me we’ve got a capability gap. The fact we keep repeating this does seem to me that we’ve got some problems around project management capabilities. We’ve got some weakness around risk management. And frankly, we’re not being sufficiently open in putting on the table what we see as the real risks around an issue.
So how do we deal with that? First thing, we need to be honest. Honest analysis. Honest ability to assess risk and development of risk mitigation and minimisation strategies. They have to become core skills for us if we’re going to successfully venture into this brave new world of disruption and innovation. We don’t have any choice. We’re going to be dragged into it whether we want to do or not, so we’d better arm ourselves.
Yes, innovation can take courage. But increasingly it’s going to be expected of everyone in the service. I’ve got a Prime Minister who is an early adopter of technology and puts a lot of stick into its ability to transform the way in which we work.
----- End Extract.
It seems to me that somehow the Department of Health has a number of problems and is failing to learn from its mistakes. It is worth noting Dr Parkinson is calling out 2016 failings!
That this comes from the Head of the Public Service should focus the team at ADHA to fundamentally assess what they are doing and, actually based on evidence of success, move forward.
Time to remove the ostrich’s head from the hole in the ground!


Garry said...

At last, the surface of breathtaking incompetence is being scratched!

john scott said...

David, I am not sure to what extent Martin Parkinson's recent speech to IPAA suggests a strategic opening for a serious discussion about why government has failed with digital health. It is not the first time Martin Parkinson has used the phrase: "a fatal combination of ignorance and arrogance" in a public forum.

At an earlier IPAA Conference in April, 2016, Peter Shergold, a former head of PM&C, called for a re-think of risk. At the time, Martin Parkinson, speaking at the same conference, urged public servants not to forget that poorly run government programs could endanger life and limb. He said:

“I think we worry about reputational risk, quite sensibly. I think we worry about damaging relationships with ministers, at times. What we rarely do is to stop and think about the consequences our actions have beyond the APS.”
In the case of the Home Insulation Program bungle, those consequences were the deaths of four young men, he reminded them.
“It’s our responsibility as leaders to make sure the conditions that led to their deaths … cannot happen again.” He went on to say: “We cannot erase our mistakes but we can learn from them and we have to.”

I am yet to hear from any of the public service luminaries lamenting the fact that our concept of risk and the approach to its management are unfit for purpose. Certainly, that is a topic before the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit in regard to the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act of 2014.

Perhaps the ADHA might seize on Parkinson's "a fatal combination of ignorance and arrogance" as the principal source of failure the government's digital health failure over the past decade. If so, it could open the door to a new approach--one that recognizes the potential adverse consequences to life and limb for those beyond the APS and then act accordingly.