Digital Transformation Office CEO's record reveals project wobbles

Little sign of turnaround at the Ministry of Justice on Paul Shetler's watch

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Australia's Department of Communications on Thursday announced the appointment of Paul Shetler as Chief Executive Officer for the Digital Transformation Office (DTO), communications minister Malcolm Turnbull's effort to digitise government services. But an examination of his recent work suggests that one of the major projects he oversaw went backwards on his watch.

The canned statement announcing Shetler's appointment said he boasts “20 years’ experience leading complex IT and business transformation projects, most recently as an executive at the UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS) and as Chief Digital Officer for the UK Ministry of Justice.”

“Under Paul’s leadership, the Ministry of Justice delivered four of the UK Government’s 25 digital transformation exemplars,” the statement continues, praising him as “the outstanding candidate”.

But Shetler's time at the Ministry doesn't appear to have been entirely golden, an assertion we can make because some of his achievements in the job are there for all to see in records published by the UK's Major Projects Authority (MPA).

The MPA is a body established to ensure large projects don't go off the rails. It therefore publishes portfolios of agencies' major projects, and as it happens the 2015 edition, which covers 2014, emerged just last week. The 2014 version, covering 2013, is also available so there's a chance to assess Shetler's time at the Ministry, which his LinkedIn profile says spanned January 2014 to February 2015.

To understand the portfolios, consider the MPA's annual report (PDF) which explains how it rates large projects using “a traffic light system ranging from green for the projects judged with the lowest risks to success, to red for those projects facing the most serious challenges.” A red light doesn't mean a project is halted or should be killed: it's an indicator of the risks the project faces. It's therefore expected that some projects will be assessed as Red during some phases of delivery.

Big projects have lots of inertia: it's not reasonable to assume Shetler could have made a huge difference in the few months between his taking up his job at the Ministry and the September 2014 compilation of the 2015 list. So the available documents offer a chance for a little longitudinal assessment by looking at the projects from both years' portfolios that touch on matters digital or technological, but not a full assessment of Shetler's performance.

So: how did he go?

A shared services program was rated Amber/Red in 2013 and improved to Amber in 2014. The portfolio notes “good progress” and finds a few nice things to say.

But the “NOMS” project, an effort to deliver internal IT services, went from Amber to Red between 2013 and 2014, in part due to “... the main rollout phase of the programme being paused in August 2014, due to performance issues with the live service. It was subsequently re-started, but further operational service issues in March 2015 have led to an independent review by Deloitte. Whilst awaiting the outcome of that review, significant work has been completed to ensure the live service has been kept in a stable and usable state.”

“The programme is preparing for a decision to restart roll out in late June 2015.”

That pause took place on Shetler's watch.

Things also didn't go well on the “Common Platform” an effort to “support business transformation” with “an integrated data store and suite of services that allows all stakeholders to access and use the same data.” The Common Platform is expected to deliver savings by “switching off legacy systems” and “Minimising the need to transition legacy systems to new suppliers.”

The project was rated Amber/Red in 2013 and retained that status in 2014. Shetler's known to have worked on it.

The portfolio includes the following analysis of the Common Platform project:

The Delivery Confidence rating reflects the scale and complexity of the Programme and the need to change the approach to an agile development methodology.

In response, the delivery approach needs to be developed and agreed with all stakeholders.

Particular areas of focus were:

  • The need for clear agreement of the way forward
  • Streamlining the governance as part of the HMCTS Reform Programme including clear delegations
  • Formal agreement of a Business Case.
  • The Business Case is progressing through governance and there is good engagement with all key stakeholders.

The project's completion date has therefore been pushed out, from 2015 to 2017.

The “CJS Efficiency Programme Phase 2”, an effort “to introduce digital working throughout the CJS, in particular to deliver the ‘digital courtroom’” had Amber status in 2013 and retained it in 2014. The project seems to be going well, is meeting its delivery schedule and has found ways to reduce its lifetime costs.

But the review also says new risks have emerged, including a need for “planning for a seamless solution handover to the business and ensuring plans are in place to deliver realisation of benefits.

A “Future IT Sourcing Programme (FITS)” was Amber in 2013 and stayed that way in 2014, but the assessment offers no nasties.

We'll leave it to you to decide if our excerpts, or the full documents, suggest Shetler was a success at the Ministry of Justice.

For The Reg, it's easier to suggest what success looks like in his new role, because Australia's DTO unashamedly aims to replicate the UK's GDS.

Without wanting to indulge in shop talk, writing in article like this about an Australian bureaucrat is nigh-on impossible because documents like major project portfolios aren't consistently collated and published. If Shetler delivers, he'll make it possible to write a review of his five-year tenure using easy-to-find documents, published in an open format on websites accessible to all. In doing so, he'll also have to make Australia's government willing to be more transparent, which looks the harder part of the gig. ®


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