Help wanted: National digital leaders apply within

Published on the 15/08/2018 | Written by Jonathan Cotton

The government has its fair share of challenges when it comes to digital and data – and finding competent leaders is one of them…

Senior technology leadership in government is a recognised urgent need to deliver upon the burgeoning needs and expectations of the populace. And we’re not alone in finding these roles difficult to fill.

The good news is the Chief CDO role has been filled. Paul James – former CEO of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage – has been appointed to both the CDO and Department of Internal Affairs CEO roles come October, following the departure of long standing Colin MacDonald from both positions.

It’s a good result and a quick turnaround, especially when compared to the government’s ongoing search for an appropriate candidate for the national CTO position. The $400,000-a-year (plus $100,000 in travel) role was re-advertised in May, following a failed first attempt to fill the position in February. Sixty applicants put their name forward then. None were deemed suitable.

“This is a vital role to ensure we can use and develop digital technologies for the benefit of all New Zealanders,” said Broadcasting, Communications, Digital Media and Government Digital Services Minister Clare Curran at the time.

“While the candidates we looked at have an impressive range of skills and backgrounds, I am not confident that we have found the right person yet.”

“We always knew it was going to be extremely difficult to find one person with all the skills we want so I’ve decided not to appoint anyone to the position at this time and to seek input and perspectives from a new digital advisory group which is being set up.”

Now that the second round of searching is over, the government looks like it may have found their person – at one point rumoured to be outgoing CDO Colin MacDonald – from the private sector. The first job on the agenda is likely to be the development of a national level digital strategy with the new CTO answering directly to the Prime Minister and Curran.

Expect an announcement in the coming months.

Across the ditch, they’re still learning to do digital right: Most recently a federal court judge has been appointed to head up the Law Reform Commission, which will review state, Commonwealth and international laws and what happens to data upon the death of its creator. Before that we reported on the great open banking initiative challenge: Two-thirds of the populace unwilling to share their financial data with non-banking organisations. And before that we covered the mass exodus of 20,000 users on the first day of the AU$1.2 billion My Health Record project’s opt-out ‘window’.

“We have the technology, it seems, but not the will. With the right leadership however, that could all change.”

So a lot rests on the shoulders of public servant Deborah Anton, who has just been named Australia’s first Data Commissioner, part of the government’s four-year open data program which seeks to provide greater access to the country’s non-sensitive data (something estimated to be worth AU$25 billion to Australia per annum).

On the advice of the Productivity Commission, Anton (technically the interim National Data Commissioner at this stage) will work with the Privacy Commissioner “to help strengthen safeguards around the integrity, management and use of government held data”. Those safeguards will then be enshrined in law through the delivery of a new Data Sharing and Release Act.

It’s a good move. Simplification of the complex web of more than 500 privacy and secrecy provisions that currently exist across Australia’s government departments will go some way to opening up data sharing practices across industries – including the above mentioned banking sector.

Still, at least they have updated their privacy legislation.


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