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Friday, 17 July 2020 11:18

DTA believes in renewal. A complete purge every 18 months

DTA believes in renewal. A complete purge every 18 months Image by Savana Price from Pixabay

The Federal Government's Digital Transformation Agency is one unit in Canberra that really earns its name. It transforms itself completely within as short a period as 18 months, gaining an entirely new workforce.

That's true transformation, the changing of a complete workforce, not merely getting rid of a few spare parts. That kind of renewal can only lead to the type of digitisation we've been witness to, with the COVIDSafe app being an excellent example.

The antics of the DTA are not followed closely at iTWire, given that extracting any information from it is like getting a molar out of an elephant's mouth. Indeed, that task would be a lot easier.

But there are some sites, like InnovationAus, which do an admirable job of keeping tabs on this body which is supposed to digitise everything in Australia, but appears to have great difficulty in meeting any of its targets.

InnovationAus editor James Riley is a Canberra veteran who has done service with iTWire in the past and his main man, Denham Sadler, is adept at keeping track of what goes on at the DTA. It looks like the main activity of the agency consists of staff writing resignation letters and then fresh staff being hired.

In his latest story on the DTA, the long-suffering Sadler wrote: "The continued high level of staff turnover at the Digital Transformation Agency is 'very alarming' according to the Opposition, with the agency experiencing near-100% turnover in the last 18 months."

Sadler obtained figures through a Freedom of Information request — note my earlier statement that it is easier to extract an elephant's tooth than obtain information from this government agency that uses public money but feels no obligation to the public — and found that 251 DTA staff members ceased employment from July 2018 to February 2020. The DTA’s total employment level as of February 2020 was 256.

The agency, of course, had an answer. This was because of its "agile" way of working, something which involved short-term contractors and secondees from other departments.

It should give every denizen of this big brown land comfort to know that the DTA is using "agile" methods. The only fear is that it will trip over its own feet were it to become a little too agile.

But it looks like this philosophy was not always the DTA's guiding principle. As Sadler recounts, "Late last year, DTA boss Randall Brugeaud told a Senate estimates hearing it was one of his 'key priorities' to provide stability at the agency after it was revealed that from December 2016 to June 2018 the agency had experienced a close to 100% turnover, with 340 people ceasing employment and the agency’s then total workforce being 342 people."

So it looks like Brugeaud was not totally sold on the "agile" concept. He could have used some other phrases to explain his approach, had he been on the ball: like incubating proactive e-business, integrating mission-critical e-business or delivering visionary synergies. Those phrases, which I got here using three clicks, make as much sense as the great "agile" philosophy.

Call me biased, but when I think of the word agile, I think of monkeys. They are really agile, but I doubt they could bring about any kind of digital transformation.

The man in charge of this department is one of the most agile: Stuart Robert. The man who knows when to call in a distributed denial of service to escape questioning about a website crash. This is digital literacy at its very best.

It looks like the government is allergic to things digital, and the DTA is a good example of that. Exactly how you get some work done when staff are walking in and out is beyond me. But. hey, I am an old fogey who still uses an IBM keyboard from the 1980s. I am not in the agile category. The DTA is and Australia can, therefore, be taken to be in safe hands. Not.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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