Ensuring digital investments have the best chance of success

Our next blog from the series on the Digital and ICT Investment Oversight Framework (IOF) looks at the fourth state - Assurance. Delivering the Government’s major digital investments can be complex and challenging at the best of times. Successful implementation can be especially demanding in an environment undergoing rapid digital transformation. The new Assurance Framework the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) is implementing is timely: it ensures digital investments funded by the Australian Government have the best chance of success to deliver expected outcomes and benefits.

Through the Assurance state, the DTA focusses on applying the requirements of the Assurance Framework, through a ‘System of Assurance’ approach. The approach builds on global best practice to ensure tailored and risk-based assurance arrangements are planned, implemented and monitored regularly to inform decisions – while providing Government with visibility of project health.

As of June 2023, the DTA is providing Assurance oversight to over 60 digital investments across the Commonwealth’s portfolio of ICT and digitally-enabled investments, with the number of in-scope investments expected to grow to more than 100 investments because of further investments being funded in the 2023-24 Budget. 

Fit for purpose Assurance

Thinking and planning for Assurance needs to start early in the development of an initiative. Assurance insights inform the government during the Prioritisation state. When a Minister brings forward a digital initiative for Government consideration (during the Contestability state), agencies are required to develop an Assurance Plan of assurance activities that are fit for purpose for the investment. Assurance is not a one-size-fits-all approach. We make sure it is tailored to ensure the level of support and engagement by the DTA, and the steady flow of assurance intelligence provided to delivery teams and the Senior Responsible Officers, matches the risks and complexities of the investment.

This enables us to best target our oversight and support to agencies so with lower risk and/or lower value investments are not unnecessarily burdened by excessive levels of oversight 

“Governance and leadership, particularly of major digital projects, can be complex and challenging.  Independent and objective assessments (of project health) that support good governance are crucial to successful delivery. Research and evidence tell us they serve to address optimism bias and to better inform key decisions.” – Chris Fechner, CEO of the Digital Transformation Agency.

Supporting agencies through challenges

The DTA is uniquely positioned to have a portfolio-wide view of the Government’s ICT and digital initiatives. The Assurance team at the DTA develops biannual reports for senior government officials on the key metrics and health of the Australian Government’s digital ICT portfolio of investments. Drawing from a range of data across the states of the IOF and project assurance plans, the DTA is identify issues that are being commonly experienced across the span of digital initiatives and is developing recommendations for Government to address these.  We support agencies that may be experiencing delivery challenges by sharing experiences and lessons learned from across Government. This helps to guide investments already underway, as well as ensuring senior officials and Ministers have access to high-quality information to understand risks and adopt mitigations when planning new investments.

Assurance advocacy and awareness

The DTA has been working across the System of Assurance to identify how it can best support agencies to successfully deliver digital and ICT investments. Factors such as planning and management, resourcing and budgeting, communication, and stakeholder engagement are among the list of factors that are critical to project success. These things are a key focus for the DTA in helping to build capability across the cohort of senior leaders who will be responsible for delivering the next wave of digital and ICT investments.

Some recent DTA-led initiatives include:

  • Delivering information sessions to our colleagues in Commonwealth agencies, as well as international audiences in Chile and Canada.
  • A project governance program pilot in partnership with Digital Victoria has commenced to provide senior leaders new to project delivery with practical advice on project leadership and governance.
  • Continuing the collection of valuable insights on lessons learned and project risks to develop tools and resources that assist agencies with the application of assurance principles, e.g. Fact sheet on Assurance for Senior Responsible Officers.

Keeping benefits at the centre

“Benefits must be at the centre of investment oversight and delivery, but too often are being under-emphasised in the design and delivery of investments,” – Mr Jamie Whitcombe, Branch Manager, Portfolio Assurance Branch.

The 2021 Digital Review revealed that agencies need to improve their benefits management to guide decision making at key points in the implementation phase, and to better manage and report delivery on investment outcomes, the return on the Government’s investment, and implementation performance after the initial allocation of funding.

In response, the DTA is consulting with agencies to develop a new draft Benefits Management Policy. The widespread adoption of a Benefits Management focus would provide the Government with a better understanding of how its investments are performing and delivering against key objectives. 

If you need help or advice on Delivery Assurance, including how it might apply to your digital and ICT-enabled investment, please contact us at portfolio.assurance@dta.gov.au