Government pushes collaboration boundaries further than private sector

Government pushes collaboration boundaries further than private sector from the NSW government takes collaboration state wide

By Keith Power

Very few people understand the innovation that comes out of the public sector, according to David Lewis, group general manager of e-business solutions at NSW Department of Public Works and Services (DPWS). In fact, in electronic delivery, in particular, Mr Lewis thinks the public sector is leading the way over the private sector.

One example of such innovation, he says, is DPWS’, a Web-based collaboration and procurement system for capital and non-capital projects. Officially launched on 3 October 2002, Morris Iemma, NSW minister for DPWS, claims that allows all stakeholders involved in a project to collaborate online, regardless of where they are located.

”Stakeholders from across NSW can work together online from a centrally stored set of documents, reducing the risk of errors caused by work from outdated plans. eliminates time and distance barriers by operating as a secure virtual project and document management office. It is estimated that time savings of up to 10 per cent can be achieved in both the pre-construction phase and construction phases,” he said.According to Walter Koll, manager, the system’s functionality falls into three broad categories. First, there is a community consultation area. This enables the general public to access up-to-date information on the scope, design and progress of a project, such as a school or hospital in their local community, and effectively allows them to participate in the actual decision-making in the project by providing feedback through Internet-based forums. Much of the content here is image based and access is available to anyone via the public Web site ( While this may be particularly relevant in a government environment, as Mr Lewis points out, there have been many private sector projects that would have gone a lot smoother if the developers had communicated with the community a bit better.


The second part of, Mr Koll says, is a document management module designed specifically for project teams Ð often multi-disciplinary and geographically dispersed Ð to be able to collaborate via the Internet and create a virtual office.

Thirdly, there is a project management section that Mr Koll says streamlines and regulates the contractual communication between team members. Like the document management module, access is restricted to relevant parties and the system uses public key security.

Although, geared primarily towards capital works projects, according to Mr Lewis, the project management module is equally applicable to large IT systems implementations. Mr Lewis says DPWS has used to manage its own whole-of-government smartbuy project. Having recently gone live at the time of writing, DPWS claims that smartbuy is set to become the largest electronic marketplace in the southern hemisphere and will process up to 11 million transactions a year.

Furthermore, Mr Iemma says that the NSW Government is committed to delivering its key services electronically and is another step in its vision of e-government. In fact, Mr Lewis contends that had its genesis in the government’s and DPWS’ quest to find ways to improve efficiency and effectiveness in all their activities.A big issue in capital works projects, for example, is the overruns and costs associated with contractual disputes because of the way in which they’ve historically been conducted. Typically, someone may rip out a piece of paper from a big specification and give it to a subcontractor, except half the relevant page has been left behind. The subcontractor subsequently quotes on the specification and later on there’s a dispute about what hasn’t been done.

”In any large project you have thousands of documents. Traditionally, they’ve been circulated via e-mail, fax, courier, or whatever for approval and markup and then collated. Somebody has to chase and keep track of all the markups and inevitably things get lost. But if you have a system where all the documents for that project are always accessible, depending on your access and security rights, obviously all the markups and changes can be recorded, tracked and audited and you eliminate so much time wasting just looking for where things are.

”So we looked at what we were doing and said how can we improve [the whole process] and in so doing reduce the overall cost of delivering services. As a consequence of that, we’ve bought and developed this series of tools [],” Mr Lewis says.

DPWS developed and configured around a range of existing products, the two principal ones being ProjectWise and Prolog. Although officially launched in October, according to Mr Lewis, was effectively up and running 12 months prior, with the project management module going live around April 2002 and completing the current set of tools. However, Mr Koll says DPWS is continually modifying the functionality as new clients come on board with new requirements.

”Because we’re buying third party products and they’re all licence-based, we were able to start off as small as we wanted to, and then buy extra licences as take-up increased. It also minimises the risk while you’re still in uncharted waters and you don’t know how the take-up will be,” Mr Koll explains.

Mr Lewis concurs that the cost of developing was relatively minor and given that the licence cost per seat falls substantially the more users you bring on, he says it was not particularly hard to cost justify.

One customised feature of that Mr Koll exemplifies is a reporting system that tracks all capital works projects in NSW and goes to Cabinet every month. A “traffic light system” highlights in yellow the jobs that are starting to get into trouble. The ones in blue mean the client hasn’t input all of the required data yet, so there will be chasing up involved, and any in red mean the project is going to miss the target date.

Clients can enter data into via a flat file from their ERP system, for example, or directly through input screens. According to Mr Lewis, direct interfacing through to clients’ backend systems would be extremely expensive and fraught with peril because of the range of different systems used throughout the public sector.”We are doing some work, particularly in the electronic marketplace, on getting that framework right and getting a major architecture set up for Internet interconnectivity, but it’s not there [yet],” he says.


Be that as it may, a big obstacle for knowledge management systems is getting people to actually contribute information to the system and share it. Mr Lewis, though, doesn’t consider a knowledge management system as such because there are specific outputs the parties that use it want to achieve, whether that’s producing a new guideline or report or getting a building developed.

”All of the content in the collaboration sites is totally driven and managed by the team members. Content management really is only an issue on the publicly available Web site.

Responsibility for every word on the public health sites [for example], lies with NSW Health. They need to own that content and be totally happy with what they are promising there to the public about a hospital,” adds Mr Koll.

Rather, the biggest challenge in the project was the perennial one of change management. Mr Lewis uses the analogy of the iceberg; what you see on the screen is what is above the water, below it is the hurdle of getting everyone involved to change the way they do things.

”The ‘e-game’ is forcing a transformation that has to occur, and one which requires people to drop off their baggage,” he says. “It’s achievable and we’re doing it, but the major effort is in changing people’s perceptions about why they did things in the past and why they don’t need to do that in the future. There are now other ways in which they should be doing it and, more particularly, living with the consequences. It’s actually forcing a huge amount of discipline into areas that were sometimes a little bit slack.”

At the same time, Mr Koll believes that they were fortunate time wise with in that it all happened just as DPWS as a whole started to become very “pro e-business” and “pro efficiency”. Nationally, also won Gold in the 2001 Government Technology Productivity Awards, which Mr Koll believes is recognition of the system’s innovation.

”Even though it’s not rocket science, what’s behind it is good ideas and we’ve put it together, formatted and packaged it in such a way that it’s simple, readily available and very user friendly.

”Whenever a new project goes on to the system, we try and train the project team together. It usually takes two to three hours and it’s more about going through the new business processes rather than IT training,” Mr Koll says.

DPWS has also had discussions with the South African Government about on-selling And as regards its future, Mr Lewis says the Department will be going through a series of reviews and iterations and bringing out new releases as it starts to firm up on users” needs and expectations.

”We have some ideas about what we can do, but we’re really waiting for the users to come up to speed and get comfortable with it. It’s new stuff for many of them and it’s not until they get in and understand it that they can start providing feedback for further enhancements. In my view, the public sector is here to push the boundaries and that’s largely what this is all about,” Mr Lewis says.