How can a government department use technology to help business transformation?
This is exactly what the NSW Department of Justice is proposing through a project commencing shortly aimed at bringing major benefits to the community through widening access to video conferencing and mobility. The $40 million, four-year project plans to address current bottlenecks facing those that come into contact with the justice system. Importantly, it is not being perceived as a technology project but about how technology enables the adoption of new business processes.
The program of work impacts all agencies comprising the Justice Cluster including the courts, police, corrective services, legal aid, ODPP and juvenile justice as well as private lawyers.
The project has two major streams, business transformation and technology, with the technology stream playing the supporting role. From my experience, this is a welcome change from many 'IT' projects, where the delivery of technology - not the impact it will have on business process - is judged the primary goal. Considering IT in the context of a business project is likely to introduce a discipline where projects are only undertaken if they deliver business benefits, even those that have a high technical component. After all, even upgrading WAN links, a task many may see as a technical project only, will have a business impact by opening up opportunities to expand online business applications.
How an organisation ensures projects are considered from such a perspective is the question all CIOs need to grapple with.
An early sign can be found in the position of the CIO itself. As an executive position, it is more likely that the business benefits test will be used; if, however, the CIO holds a middle management role, I'd suggest the culture is still differentiating between business and IT or technical projects.
From a business perspective, the Department of Justice knows the justice system requires greater flexibility to handle both current and future demand while still ensuring people have the required access to justice. Services need to be delivered in a timely manner that maintains the community's confidence in the system.
How is the Department proposing to accomplish this? The answer lies in adopting mobile-based solutions while also extending existing hardware infrastructure into more locations. But what will determine what particular technology solution is implemented is the business needs of an agency or location.
To gain some appreciation of the impact this project will have on the justice system, consider that there were nearly 65,000 video conference sessions facilitated across NSW in 2012/2013.
The project will also see tablets introduced to bring mobility to a currently inflexible solution. Lawyers will no longer have to attend a Legal Aid office to have a video conference with a client who is in detention; instead they will be able to do so from their chambers or anywhere with Internet connectivity.
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In addition, police officers will not need to always attend court and wait until they are called but will video conference into the courtroom from their station or even a patrol car.
These are just two examples of how business transformation is made possible through the adoption of new technologies.
Implementing technology before understanding the impact on business can create inflexibility and new problems even while improvements are also created. It's time to put technology into the right business context.
Mark Coles is the former CIO of NSW Federal Courts, and consulted on several projects for the NSW Government department. He is now principal at Align IT Management and Consulting.