It’s not easy to cut IT costs in public administration, especially when there is a strong commitment to innovation and development of digital services and interoperable platforms. This was the promise the Portuguese government made in 2012, however, in line with a global reform program implemented with the support of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The Global Strategic Plan for Rationalization of ICT Costs in Public Administration – whose Portuguese acronym is PGETIC – had ambitious objectives. The Portuguese plan was organized according to five main themes: improving governance mechanisms; cutting costs; using ICT to enhance administrative change and modernization; implementing common ICT solutions; and stimulating economic growth.
In total, the plan identified 25 measures with the goal of saving up to 500 million euros by the end of 2016 on ICT management and other operational costs. It focused on rationalising data centres, using cloud technology, and optimising communication, including through the use of unified communications technology. The use of open source software was a significant consideration in many of these objectives.
Governance of ICT is one of the key points in PGETIC. With this in mind, AMA, the Portuguese public agency for modernisation, became responsible for implementing the strategic plan. AMA worked closely with the Prime Minister’s cabinet to restructure processes inside public administration bodies, with strong policy enforcement to ensure that the measures were put into practice.
Although the plan focused on central government, the team also involved local authorities to extend the measures to local government, through the Portuguese National Association of Municipalities.
Along the way the plan was revised in 2014, when some of the initial goals were aligned with current expectations. The changes included updated figures for the investment in ICT that were very different from those in the original assessment.
Teams to reorganize IT functions were created in several of the government’s cabinets, directly involving four ministries. AMA supported the whole process with fundamental know-how and teams of facilitators who worked in the field to give structure to the plan, assess skills, and define priorities for data centres and communications systems according to their strategic importance . A website was created to make the project visible to citizens and ensure accountability to the ministries and other public bodies involved.
The amount saved now stands at 157 million euros, split between savings resulting directly from the use of technological tools and other savings achieved as a consequence of the reorganization of IT services. An index of the project’s execution success, within Measure 6, is above 86%.
With the change of government in Portugal in October 2015 , a new strategic project was created within a structure known as CTIC (Conselho para as Tecnologias de Informação e Comunicação na Administração Pública), linked directly to the Prime Minister’s cabinet. CTIC’s mission is to nominate representatives at individual ministries and present a new strategy and action plan for ICT, with a new governance model that aims to match the government’s own objectives with the needs of society. The first parts of this new strategy must be presented to the Prime Minister within the next two months.
Facing the need for strong control of public spending, the Portuguese government developed savings plans in several areas. Of these, PGETIC was the strategy targeted at savings in ICT. The project’s other goals were to enhance public trust, to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of government ICT without compromising service quality, and to continue to support economic growth.
Until 2011, public organizations were free to manage their own ICT infrastructures. They could acquire software and hardware to build their information systems, employ contractors as required, and run their own departments to maintain and manage their ICT infrastructures. This level of autonomy led to a lack of integration between systems and data in different information systems.
It also encouraged the duplication of resources and systems, without the economies of scale that are desirable when building and managing information systems. One assessment of seven ministries made in 2011 revealed the existence of 6,000 server rooms or small data centres. The same survey also showed that ICT spending had increased by 75% between 2006 and 2011.
The focus on improving governance mechanisms and reducing costs led to several controls on government ICT expenses. All expenditure was reviewed by a central committee, led by AMA, which checked whether it was really necessary and aimed to avoid duplication of resources.
To guarantee the success of the plan, strong political sponsorship was considered fundamental. Such leadership would motivate the organizations concerned to adopt new processes for approving ICT projects, and overcome their natural resistance to change.
The plan was developed specifically to target central public administration bodies and government staff providing public administration services.
A group was created in 2011 to develop the PGETIC plan. After the formal approval of the strategic plan, AMA was appointed to implement the strategy, working closely with the Prime Minister’s cabinet to ensure the strong political commitment needed to enforce policy changes. PGETIC was based around five main themes and 25 defined measures. The primary aim was to implement the new management procedures across Portugal’s central public administration, ministries and related public institutions.
A secondary goal was to extend the project to local government, represented by municipal councils. Although this part of the project was put into practice, the structure of PGETIC meant that the value of the savings achieved in local government could not be included in the published savings .
Some of the processes used by PGETIC required a test phase. This was true especially of the procedures for assessing ICT projects and expenditure, which required a form and a scoring model to be developed. The results of the test phase were used to improve the process and calibrate the scoring model before the support tools were finalised.
A crucial part of the project was to define the internal procedures used by the teams evaluating ICT projects and expenditure. This ensured the standardization of practices and the definition of hinge mechanisms, so that the different evaluation teams could come up with consistent results.
Training, the definition and monitoring of key performance indicators, and the creation of templates and supporting documents, were other significant parts of the process. Flexibility in all these aspects allowed the PGETIC platform to adapt as new requirements were identified .
Alongside its technical requirements, PGETIC was supported in terms of the human resources needed to coordinate the group across the different ministries. Key members of the government worked hard to explain the importance and benefits of the initiative to the stakeholders and to the public administration personnel further down the hierarchy.
Communicating the project’s achievements was a key factor. Several interviews with the media and other publications covering government policy and ICT helped to explain the benefits. The main achievement in terms of openness, however, was the PGETIC website, which is believed to be a first for a program of this kind.
The website at https://tic.gov.pt shows the score, and the associated cost saving, for each of the 25 measures targeted by PGETIC. The data, which is updated regularly, shows a total saving of over 157 million euros. Visitors can also see how scores and savings vary across the different ministries, and the contact details of the person responsible for each specific measure.