August 22, 2021

Lessons from COVIDSafe

Dr Lesley Seebeck on fire in InnovationAus. She’s writing about government but this applies to all large bureaucratic organisations.

1. Technology isn’t just about technology

A fundamental lesson of running a technology shop is that most apparently technical faults aren’t technical in nature but organisational.

A technical failure’, for example, may expose how after a reorganisation, no-one had assumed responsibility for backing up key systems, or that a long-departed contractor had hard-coded passwords.

2. There’s a talent deficit

And the deficit is on the tech side and the policy side.

Twenty years of outsourcing, combined with a continued erosion of public service knowledge and rapid technological change” means that government is just bad at doing tech.

But more techies’ alone won’t help much. Technologists need to be exposed to the complexity of policy and delivery; policy and program managers need to understand the nature, opportunities, constraints, and weaknesses of technology.

Ministers, too, have a responsibility to be much more familiar with technology than they are now. They need to learn to avoid optimism bias, be wary of vendor promises, and be willing to listen to the practicalities of complex design and implementation.

3. There’s a governance deficit

Given the fusing of policy, programs and technology, government needs an appropriate means of oversight—one that has a good grasp of technology and the economic, societal, and national security implications in design, implementation, and operation.

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