The Australian Computer Society (ACS) has warned an increased reliance on outsourcing technology projects to large multinational firms may be hindering the government’s long-term goals for digital capability within the public sector.
“The danger would be that outsourcing to an extent may be a short-term solution that doesn’t help a longer term problem,” ACS interim chief executive office Rupert Grayston told InnovationAus.
But just how much the outsourcing decisions have impacted Australia’s broader digital ambitions is difficult to assess, the ACS chief says, because procurement strategy is not currently considered in the government’s APS Digital Professional Stream.
Mr Grayston said it would be helpful to see more “thought and observation” on the impact of procurement on the sector’s capabilities.
“If [outsourcing] is part of a broader strategy – and if this is consistent with the government’s plan to develop a strong digital and data profession across the Australian public service – if it’s consistent with that and if this is a holistic plan then it would be good for us to see it.”
Mr Grayston said good things are happening in the local sector to improve capabilities and develop skills, but Australia remained an “average performer at best” in comparison to peer OECD nations.
“At the moment the signs are not great, but some good things are being done, and the government aspiration and strategy is a good one,” he said.
“But government and industry will need to do everything that can be done to bring that into fruition.”
This includes ensuring local providers can access government contracts and smaller companies get the support they need to grow.
This week InnovationAus published its first tranche of analysis on the use of large consultant houses by government departments during the pandemic. The findings, based on analysis of 2019 and 2020 tender data, show a significant jump in contracts awarded to five global firms.
KPMG, Deloitte, EY, PwC and Accenture increased their government business by 23 per cent in 2020 receiving more than a billion dollars between them.
The overuse of consultants has been criticised as a roadblock to building internal capabilities within the public sector and a potential drag on the government’s plan to make Australia a digital global leader.
However, the Australian Information Industry Association has argued the extensive use of consultants is not necessarily at odds with internal capabilities.
Mr Grayston said the large firms have an important role to play in Australia but overuse of them may hurt the APS in the long term.
“The ACS does see consulting firms having an important role in providing advice, filling gaps in government agencies capabilities,” Mr Grayston said.
“However, over reliance on consultants may mean that APS can’t develop its own in-house skills, and, if true, that would be at odds with the APS digital professional stream strategy.”
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