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Part 4: Detailed assessment of department capability

This section provides an assessment framed by the leadership–strategy–delivery structure of the capability review model.

Assessments were made according to the assessment criteria set out in Figure 2.

Figure 2 - Rating descriptions
Assessment rating Rating image Rating description
Strong
  • Outstanding approach for future delivery in line with the model of capability
  • Clear approach to monitoring and sustaining future capability with supporting evidence and metrics
  • Evidence of learning and benchmarking against peers and other comparators
Well placed
  • Capability gaps are identified and defined
  • Is already making improvements in capability for current and future delivery, and is well placed to do so
  • Is expected to improve further in the short term through practical actions that are planned or already underway
Development area
  • Has weaknesses in capability for current and future delivery and/or has not identified all weaknesses and has no clear mechanism for doing so
  • More action is required to close current capability gaps and deliver improvement over the medium term
Serious concerns
  • Significant weaknesses in capability for current and future delivery that require urgent action
  • Not well placed to address weaknesses in the short or medium term and needs additional action and support to secure effective delivery

The review team's assessment of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship capability is outlined in the tables below.

DIAC capability review - leadership
Capability Assessment rating Rating image
Set direction Development area
Motivate people Development area
Develop people Development area
DIAC capability review - strategy
Capability Assessment rating Rating image
Outcome-focused strategy Development area
Evidence-based choices Development area
Collaborate and build common purpose Development area
DIAC capability review - delivery
Capability Assessment rating Rating image
Innovative delivery Development area
Plan, resource and prioritise Development area
Shared commitment and sound delivery models Development area
Manage performance Development area

4.1 Leadership summary

Set direction

  • The department's vision and purpose are articulated in the draft Strategic Intent 2012-15, allowing staff to identify with the department's broad objectives.
  • There are perceptions that risks and issues are 'glossed over' to provide good news stories rather than delivering difficult messages.
  • Similar to the 'One APS ' concept, DIAC SES would benefit from an integrated 'One DIAC ' approach to business and recognition of their leadership role in the wider APS senior executive network.
  • Change needs to be better managed, with a focus on stronger design and planning, communicating reasons for change, and sustaining change until it has 'stuck'.

Motivate people

  • The department's values 'Fair and reasonable dealings with clients, well developed and supported staff, and an open and accountable organisation' are widely recognised by staff.
  • Staff are observed to be intrinsically motivated by the national interest and humanitarian aspects of their work; however, initiatives driven by the leadership seem to have been less effective.
  • SES performance management has not been rigorously applied since the elimination of performance-based pay three years ago; however, a 360 degree feedback process, nearing completion, will provide feedback to senior executives.
  • The State of the Service 2010-11 results revealed that 33 per cent of DIAC staff do not think recruitment decisions are routinely based on merit (APS average 25 per cent).

Develop people

  • The department would benefit from encouraging SES officers to seek broader APS exposure as part of their development and at the same time seek to attract external applicants able to provide the department with fresh perspectives and broader management experience.
  • The department has a broad agenda (social, economic, and national security) which provides opportunities for broad skill development and mobility; however, the department's workforce planning needs development.
  • Strategic workforce planning is primarily managed using manual processes and is heavily reliant on individuals' knowledge rather than a more systematic process.
  • Individual performance management is patchy at all levels and requires urgent action to gain the benefits good performance management processes can yield.

Comments and ratings against the components of the 'leadership' dimension follow.

Set direction

Guidance Questions

  • Is there a clear, compelling and coherent vision for the future of the organisation? Is this communicated to the whole organisation on a regular basis?
  • Does the leadership work effectively in a culture of teamwork, including working across internal boundaries, seeking out internal expertise, skills and experience?
  • Does the leadership take tough decisions, see these through and show commitment to continuous improvement of delivery outcomes?
  • Does the leadership lead and manage change effectively, addressing and overcoming resistance when it occurs?

Rating

Development area

The department's vision and purpose are articulated in the draft Strategic Intent 2012-15 allowing staff to identify with the department's broad objectives. The document provides a vehicle for the Executive to use in communicating the department's vision internally and externally. Clear and consistent messaging by the SES will ensure that the Strategic Intent 2012-15 becomes 'part of the fabric' of the department as it improves its strategic planning processes.

The Secretary and the Acting Secretary are widely respected by staff and stakeholders. The Secretary has demonstrated deep personal knowledge of all areas of the department's operations and is respected for his ability to lead and manage through years of crises, criticism and successive 'transformations' of the department. The recently arrived Acting Secretary is recognised and welcomed for his leadership experience in other areas of the APS , his personal interest in good management, and the fresh perspective and opportunity for renewal that he brings to the department. Perceptions of the Executive Committee are not so positive. The review observed this is due to perceptions of a lack of focus on strategy, unnecessary delays in decision-making, and ineffective feedback to affected staff, including those preparing the committee's papers.

Many SES and the Acting Secretary believe transparency in internal communications is sometimes lacking and, with a sense that risks and issues are 'glossed over' to provide good news stories rather than delivering difficult messages. The department would benefit by focusing on better communicating risks and issues to provide context for more effective decision-making at all levels.

There are internal and external perceptions that members of the department's SES do not consistently collaborate across groups and divisions, appearing to be more focused on line responsibilities than whole-of-department priorities and corporate responsibilities. Ownership and responsibility for programs, projects and issues which require collaboration across boundaries are not always clear. Consequently, responsiveness and mutual support across business areas are uncertain and sometimes absent. Similar to the 'One APS ' concept, there needs to be an integrated 'One DIAC ' approach to SES corporate responsibilities and a greater recognition of the broader responsibility of the SES to contribute to the wider APS SES network.

The department has undergone a series of 'transformations' since 2006 with varying degrees of success in achieving sustained change. The majority of interviewees, including external stakeholders, observed that past change processes have often overlapped with new change initiatives – sometimes implemented before previous initiatives have been completed or evaluated. It is also noted that in response to several external reviews recommending changes to ICT capabilities, the department's change agenda has become increasingly ICT -led rather than driven by the business units. Staff have considered those ICT changes, and thus wider change processes, as slow and disappointing. The lack of success of previous change initiatives has led to mistrust and scepticism about the department's ability to manage change. This is supported in the results of the 2011 DIAC Staff Survey, where only 43 per cent of staff were confident that leadership would make transformation happen and 39 per cent believed clear and realistic plans were in place. There is little evidence that evaluations of change initiatives (including transformations) have been drawn on to improve subsequent change initiatives.

Motivate people

Guidance Questions

  • Does the leadership create and sustain a unifying culture and set of values and behaviours which promote energy, enthusiasm and pride in the organisation and its vision?
  • Are the leadership visible, outward-looking role models communicating effectively and inspiring the respect, trust, loyalty and confidence of staff and stakeholders?
  • Does the leadership display integrity, confidence and self-awareness in its engagement with staff and stakeholders, actively encouraging, listening to and acting on feedback?
  • Does the leadership display a desire for achieving ambitious results for customers, focusing on impact and outcomes, celebrating achievement and challenging the organisation to improve?

Rating

Development area

The strategic themes outlined in the Strategic Intent 2012-15 depict the DIAC triangle of values that are widely recognised in the department: fair and reasonable dealings with clients, well developed and supported staff, and an open and accountable organisation.

Staff surveys show consistently high levels of employee commitment and staff members are observed to be intrinsically motivated by the national interest and humanitarian aspects of their work. Although the Executive relies on this commitment to achieve good outcomes, there is little evidence of systematic initiatives driven by leadership to maintain and further enhance staff motivation. There is significant risk to delivery if staff goodwill continues to be relied upon to perform in a high-pressure environment and more systematic approaches to maintain staff motivation are not developed.

The SES has a strong but internally focused culture, which reduces opportunities to draw on the insights and support that other agencies and stakeholders could provide, including the identification and management of risks. This culture has been reinforced by the high percentage of internal recruitment to key senior positions.

Senior executive performance management has not been applied rigorously since the elimination of SES performance-based remuneration. However, a number of initiatives have recently been implemented by the department, including the SES Remuneration and Performance Management Policy and a 360 degree feedback process. It is expected this will enable more robust performance management for members of the SES in all three bands, and provide an opportunity for them to become more self-aware by listening and acting on feedback. Depending on the success of the initiatives, a more stringent framework may be needed to guide the desired outcomes and behaviours. However, the implementation of such initiatives demonstrates the department's renewed commitment to developing quality leaders.

The State of the Service 2010-11 results revealed that 33 per cent of DIAC staff do not think recruitment decisions are routinely based on merit ( APS average 25 per cent). This perception is discouraging and indicates mistrust among staff members. The department's Recruitment Policy (February 2012) outlines the requirements of merit-based recruitment, and remedial steps, introduced in 2009, included a requirement that an independent member be assigned to each selection process. If staff confidence is to be renewed, further scrutiny of decisions and support to staff and leaders are required to ensure that fair and equitable selection processes exist, and are seen to exist, throughout the department.

Develop people

Guidance Questions

  • Are there people with the right skills and leadership across the organisation to deliver your vision and strategy? Does the organisation demonstrate commitment to diversity and equality?
  • Is individuals' performance managed transparently and consistently, rewarding good performance and tackling poor performance? Are individuals' performance objectives aligned with the strategic priorities of the organisation?
  • Does the organisation identify and nurture leadership and management talent in individuals and teams to get the best from everyone? How do you plan effectively for succession in key positions?
  • How do you plan to fill key capability gaps in the organisation and in the delivery system?

Rating

Development area

In 2010-11, a three-year decrease in external recruitment levels ended when the external recruitment rate increased to 23.9 per cent of total recruitment. This increase has largely been attributed to the urgently growing workload associated with IMAs, which saw an increase of 50.8 per cent in full time equivalent staff in that work area during 2010-11. DIAC as a whole continues to have low staff turnover, with a total separation rate of 11.6 per cent and a voluntary separation rate of 8.6 per cent for 2010–11. Both those results place the department below the industry standard. In 2011-12, the internal recruitment of staff to SES Band 1 roles was 79 per cent and 100 per cent at the SES Band 2 level. While experience and corporate memory have many benefits, the department would benefit from encouraging SES officers to seek broader APS exposure as part of their development whilst at the same time seeking to attract external applicants with fresh perspectives and broader management experience.

The department has a broad agenda (social, economic, and national security), which is a significant attraction for potential employees. The variety of the department's work needs to be leveraged from a workforce planning perspective to deepen management skills and maximise staff performance. The department is also encouraged to address the size of its contractor workforce. The Review of the Australian Government's Use of Information and Communication Technology in 2008 (the Gershon report) recommended that ICT contractors be reduced from 450. The actual outcome has been an increase to 550 staff (although this is partly explained by new ICT workloads taken on since Gershon). The department agrees it could reduce its reliance on contractors and consultants to fill key capability gaps by more deliberately aiming to transfer skills and knowledge to permanent staff.

In these and other ways, the department would benefit from strengthening strategic workforce planning processes. The aim would be to identify and plan for capability and capacity gaps (see also the review team's suggestions in Section 1: Summary Assessment, finding 5 - Strengthen the department's Functional capabilities in six specific areas). There is no central skills register within the department to support staff development and staff deployment in response to emerging situations. In the past the department has tended to rely on the knowledge of particular staff members who have been used repeatedly to deal with priority matters or crisis management. While this may serve the immediate needs of the department, it does not support the development of staff and may be detrimental to individuals who frequently find themselves in high-pressure, high-intensity roles. The workforce planning program is being expanded in the coming financial year and a succession planning program has recently been established for high-performing, high-potential EL2 staff. This initiative has been received well, although it should be expanded further to provide better career planning, particularly for people in regional and international roles. A Workforce Management Group has also been established with a view to implementing better governance arrangements for the mobility of the EL2 cohort, including placement, term transfer and reintegration.

The department accepts that its processes for individual performance management are currently viewed more as a compliance exercise than a serious management tool. There is patchy application across the organisation and high dependence on individual managers' willingness to set expectations, provide constructive feedback, have difficult conversations, and recognise high performance. Approximately 90 per cent of employees have a performance agreement in place; however, at section level the utilisation rate of those performance agreements can be as low as 25 per cent. Staff reported that on many occasions underperforming individuals were moved into other areas rather than their underlying performance issues being addressed. The department has advised that it intends to improve the quality of performance management once compliance has been bedded down. This risks discrediting performance management processes by maintaining the focus on compliance and the review team suggests urgent action be taken to give meaningful purpose to the performance management. Another barrier to effective performance management is the shortcomings in the department's corporate HR system, which does not support a qualitative assessment of performance agreements nor provide easily accessible compliance data.

DIAC 's ELs and SES Band 1s are professional technical managers; however, their core management skills such as HR management, financial literacy and management, and performance management (both individual and operational) are patchy. There is minimal guidance or induction for newly promoted or lateral hires regarding expectations. This poses risks for the department, particularly in the areas of financial management, contract management, and individual performance management. This could be improved by expectation-setting through a structured induction to the role, on-the-job and tailored training and mentoring, and more consistent professional assistance from corporate services areas.

The review team observed that existing training courses could more comprehensively reflect the dynamic environment that DIAC works in and encourage a shared understanding among staff members of the department's strategic plans and critical risks. The department would benefit from developing or sourcing practical APS training on risk management (beyond policy and framework), stakeholder management and communications, contract management, and comprehensive leadership.

4.2 Strategy summary

Outcome-focused strategy

  • The recent development of the Strategic Intent 2012-15 document is a positive step in setting out principles of operation for the department.
  • There is considerable scope to improve whole-of-department strategic planning processes with clear priorities and links to resource and budget planning and individual accountabilities.
  • People's understanding of 'what success looks like' and 'how business should be conducted' varies across the department and staff at all levels are seeking greater clarity.
  • The department has made a good start in documenting its high-level risk framework; however, scenario-based risk identification, systematic risk scanning at the local level, and escalation guidelines are lacking.

Evidence-based choices

  • The department recognises the importance of research and evaluation in supporting decision-making; however, the availability and reliability of information/data on which to base decisions is a key concern across the department.
  • A small emerging capability exists in the department to conduct research and evaluation; however, utilisation of the capability to identify future trends in support of policy and program development has been confined to particular areas and is not a department-wide practice.
  • In furthering the stronger client focus built up in recent years, more can be done to create feedback loops between policy and program development and client services for example, drawing on information held by the network to better understand the views of clients can be taken account of in policy and program development.
  • An effective knowledge management approach, including the ability to evaluate, transfer and adopt lessons learnt into policy and programs, needs to be further developed.

Collaborate and build common purpose

  • Close collaboration with external partner agencies and stakeholders is increasingly critical to the department's success in contributing to its social, economic and national security objectives, and building joint capabilities with ever decreasing resources.
  • Staff and stakeholders report that lines of responsibility and accountability are unclear, which makes collaboration more difficult.
  • In recent years the department has been working hard to improve its engagement with stakeholders; however, internal and external views regarding the timeliness and quality of engagements are mixed. In particular, some external stakeholders see a closed attitude to new ideas. SES engagement with central agencies requires closer attention.
  • The development of a whole-of-department strategy for the management of stakeholders could improve collaboration and enhance the department's position and reputation.

Comments and ratings against the components of the 'strategy' dimension follow.

Outcome-focused strategy

Guidance Questions

  • Does the organisation have a clear, coherent and achievable strategy with a single, overarching set of challenging outcomes, aims, objectives and measures of success?
  • Is the strategy clear about what success looks like and focused on improving the overall quality of life for customers and benefiting the nation?
  • Is the strategy kept up to date, seizing opportunities when circumstances change?
  • Does the organisation work with political leadership to develop strategy and ensure appropriate trade-offs between priority outcomes?

Rating

Development area

The recent draft Strategic Intent 2012-15 document is a positive step towards more outcome-oriented strategic planning because it sets out in a brief and easy to follow way the department's principles of operation (what the department does, and why). The document focuses on the intent to build Australia's future through the well-managed movement and settlement of people, through a number of social, economic and national security priorities. However, while the broad strategic intent is now clear, the document provides less guidance on what success will look like in terms of outcomes rather than outputs and the initiatives the department will implement to achieve this success. The next step will be to incorporate these outcomes in the group, divisional, branch and sectional business plans.

While the department is strong in reactive mode, responding to frequent crises, many staff members and some stakeholders lamented a lack of whole-of-department strategic planning and longer term thinking. At present, many divisions and branches tend to narrowly define their success by their ability to meet numerical targets and respond to issues, but give less thought to how those responses contribute to successfully achieving the target outcomes of the department as a whole. As discussed previously, planning activities in the department also suffer from a compliance mentality: a sense that time spent on planning activities is time not spent on 'real work'.

The department would therefore benefit from a renewed focus on business planning. A more comprehensive whole-of-department business planning approach would define the outcomes the department seeks in each area of its work, identify interdependencies between different parts of the organisation, describe the initiatives the department will undertake to achieve its priorities, facilitate assignment of responsibilities and accountabilities between organisational units, and provide a tool to determine where trade-offs are necessary. With an overarching set of target outcomes, clear priorities and measurements of success that cascade through all business plans, the department would be better positioned to deliver the outcomes the government seeks. These plans would, of course, be carried forward into individuals' work plans and performance targets. A more professional approach to business planning along these lines would require sustained attention and commitment by all members of the SES .

The review team acknowledges that within the department there is a growing acceptance of the need to move from a reactive, crisis-driven mode to a more proactive and strategic approach. Recent initiatives, such as the involvement of representative EL2 staff in the senior executive conference, are encouraging and should be continued. Additionally, the 2010 business case for transformation, Strengthening Australia's Border, demonstrated that the department has an impressive capability to develop a strategic view of how it will operate looking forward five years, as well as the necessary organisational changes required to achieve the vision. Although the business case was ultimately not funded, the department has progressed aspects of the transformation vision through the planned implementation of the Visa Pricing Transformation initiative. However, while those initiatives are encouraging, such approaches tend to be isolated, and not sustained due to the distractions of the next crisis. Building innovation opportunities into strategic planning processes will therefore be important.

As changes occur to the strategic planning process and accountabilities and responsibilities become clearer across the department as a result of improved governance, staff will feel more empowered to make effective choices on how best to spend their time and what they should delegate to others. In developing policy and strategy, the department should look for better ways to engage front line staff to inform the process as these staff have a unique view of risks and opportunities from a client and implementation perspective.

The department has made a good start in documenting its high-level risk framework; however, there is a lack of scenario-based risk identification and systematic risk scanning from the local level upwards. Clear escalation guidelines, where lower level risks, either individually or collectively, may have higher level impacts on the whole of the department, the Minister or the Government at large, would also be of benefit. In particular, the department would benefit from designing and communicating more systematic and timely processes to provide notifications, alerts, warnings and background to the Secretary/Executive, the Minister and central agencies about emerging issues and trends—before they become matters of public scrutiny. The current detailed scrutiny of the department's operations, particularly in respect of Irregular Maritime Arrivals, Immigration Detention Centres, and visa decisions, seems certain to continue. Accordingly, processes for identifying risk and escalating issues will need to be designed to function smoothly at all levels of the department.

Evidence-based choices

Guidance Questions

  • Are policies and programs customer focused and developed with customer involvement and insight from the earliest stages? Does the organisation understand and respond to customers' needs and opinions?
  • Does the organisation ensure that vision and strategy are informed by sound use of timely evidence and analysis?
  • Does the organisation identify future trends, plan for them and choose among the range of options available?
  • Does the organisation evaluate and measure outcomes and ensure that lessons learned are fed back through the strategy process?

Rating

Development area

The department has built the small Policy, Innovation, Research and Evaluation Unit (PIREU) in recognition of the need for improved strategic insight. This unit has an evidence-based approach to policy advice and reportedly has a credible voice around the table with central agencies and partners. The department has also recently been engaging in war gaming with partner agencies to identify possible future scenarios to assist in planning relevant to Immigration Detention Centres. However, research of this nature and the use of evidence, analysis and evaluation in support of policy and program development are variable and localised to particular areas, as opposed to a department-wide practice for all policy and program development.

The department has built a strong customer focus in recent years around its core business of processing persons travelling to Australia for a broad range of reasons ranging from holidays, through study and working stays, to full migration, settlement and eventual citizenship. As it performs this work the department collects and stores considerable information within various department systems. However, DIAC currently has only limited capability to utilise this rich information resource for research, evaluation and longer term planning purposes. Enhancing this capability would not only provide strategic insight to assist policy development, but would also contribute to service delivery strategies, business process design, improved client management, and enhanced management of risks.

On a day-to-day basis, managers report that evidence-based business decision-making is impeded by a lack of timely and reliable data. In some cases data that is captured (for example, complaints and compliments data) is reported statistically but not evaluated to inform policy development. The outcomes of complaints are not centrally tracked to identify trends that might influence policy decisions and business strategies. Similarly, a range of finance data is available but not always provided to managers until specifically requested. Even then, some managers lack the financial literacy and related training to interpret financial reports. Managers also advise that HR -related reporting is neither integrated nor regular and that it has limited value for them in workforce planning and individual performance management. In short, decision-making across the department would benefit if decision-makers had access to more user-friendly and timely information from corporate and business systems.

While the department is recognised as being effective in reacting to crises as they arise, it tends not to evaluate the outcomes of its actions in order to capture lessons learned, instead relying on various reviews and audits to identify issues. There is currently some early planning in this respect to develop a 'lessons learned' framework, compiling recommendations from audits and reviews (including embracing uncomplimentary feedback). The review team would encourage a standard requirement that evaluation and documentation of lessons learned be applied across all programs, projects, and operational initiatives so that relevant lessons can be routinely incorporated into business as usual.

Collaborate and build common purpose

Guidance Questions

  • Does the organisation work with others in government and beyond to develop strategy and policy collectively to address cross-cutting issues?
  • Does the organisation involve partners and stakeholders from the earliest stages of policy development and learn from their experience?
  • Does the organisation ensure the agency's strategies and policies are consistent with those of other agencies?
  • Does the organisation develop and generate common ownership of the strategy with political leadership, delivery partners and citizens?

Rating

Development area

The department's many roles across policy, program and delivery impacting on social, economic and national security agendas necessitate frequent engagement with numerous partner agencies and stakeholders. The department's engagement with clients, partner agencies and stakeholders has reportedly improved in recent years, albeit from what has been described as a low base. Even so, DIAC is still seen by some government agencies as inward looking and not sufficiently engaged or open with partner agencies in learning from their experiences and taking into account their views.

The recent refresh of the senior leadership team has resulted in more successful engagement, with more productive relationships being reported by some key stakeholders. However, feedback is mixed. Working relationships with operational enforcement agencies are in the main viewed as positive. However, practical collaboration is limited by a lack of systems interoperability. Boundary issues and unclear or multiple accountabilities within DIAC are also problems for such agencies in their dealings with the department.

Relationships with central agencies also require more attention. Some central agencies continue to describe DIAC as 'insular'. Engagement currently relies heavily on individual personalities and relationships and would benefit from a more planned, and therefore consistent, whole-of-department engagement strategy.

Currently, the department's relationship with a number of Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) is seen as constructive, enabling frank and robust discussion on various issues. When contrasted with other international experiences, NGOs view the department as ahead in its current approach to engagement. However, the NGOs also note the fragility of the current approach, which is seen as more individually-driven than department driven. On occasions perceptions were that engagement was not so much to consult but to communicate a decision already made.

Many stakeholders have complex and multi-faceted relationships with the department and are therefore required to deal with different groups and divisions within it. Partner agencies advised that three or more separate DIAC areas sometimes need to be engaged in order to progress a matter. On occasions, the department had provided conflicting advice, causing confusion and impacting on the department's reputation for professionalism. To address this issue, lead points of contact have been established in certain business areas but other areas reportedly continue to experience engagement difficulties.

Such issues are compounded by the fact that there is no corporate guidance on how to manage stakeholders, nor is it easy to identify current DIAC stakeholders, their interests, and lead points of contact within the department. Currently, stakeholder management is fragmented across business areas with varied approaches to relationship management. While it is unrealistic to think that dealings with stakeholders can ever be centralised, a more planned approach to the management and engagement of stakeholders would reduce reputational risk as well as strategic, tactical and operational risk by providing consistent and enduring engagement and ensuring that the department speaks as far as possible with a 'single voice'. Staff representing the department need to be empowered and enabled to represent the department as a whole when necessary. This will be particularly important when engaging with central agencies and key operational partners. The 'One DIAC ' concept discussed elsewhere in this report would facilitate such an approach. Regular feedback from stakeholders, perhaps in the form of a stakeholder survey, could be sought to ensure that management continues to focus on this critical area of good management.

4.3 Delivery summary

Innovative delivery

  • Over the years, international counterparts have adopted some of DIAC 's more innovative policy and service delivery models.
  • Innovation has become a lesser priority in recent years, with staff distracted by crises and as pressures for delivery increase.
  • Innovation tends not to be considered core business in DIAC . There is little encouragement for staff to be innovative. Risk aversion is partly responsible. The recently established Innovation Fund is a step in the right direction.

Plan, resource and prioritise

  • Deficiencies in whole-of-department business planning and the lack of a cross-departmental view of resources, interdependencies, and trade-offs creates difficulties in resourcing and prioritising.
  • Business planning is too often seen as a compliance activity without quality assurance, resulting in business plans that do not really drive activities.
  • The current emphasis on handling IMAs risks being at the expense of other core business.

Shared commitment and sound delivery models

  • The department has a robust service delivery network with a strong client service charter.
  • Delivery models are unclear outside individual groups, and do not support a clear understanding of responsibilities and accountabilities.
  • Elevated decision-making has resulted in bottlenecks and complex approval processes.
  • The department lacks a clear and structured approach to information management and knowledge sharing.
  • Employees have low expectations of what ICT delivers, with systems that are not perceived to support effective business operations and decision-making.

Manage performance

  • Departmental performance targets are too often focused on quantitative data rather than outcomes, inhibiting the ability to measure organisational health and success.
  • Work units' performance evaluation and reporting are seen as compliance activities and not meaningful to staff, as information is collected but feedback is scant.
  • The risk framework has been inconsistently implemented and is not widely used to prioritise or manage risk at the operational level.
  • Failures to meet performance targets tend not to be followed through.

Comments and ratings against the components of the 'delivery' dimension follow.

Innovative delivery

Guidance Questions

  • Does the organisation have the structures, people capacity and enabling systems required to support appropriate innovation and manage it effectively?
  • Does the leadership empower and incentivise the organisation and its partners to innovate and learn from each other, and the front line, to improve delivery?
  • Is innovation explicitly linked to core business, underpinned by a coherent innovation strategy and an effective approach towards risk management?
  • Does the organisation evaluate the success and added value of innovation, using the results to make resource prioritisation decisions and inform future innovation?

Rating

Development area

The department has a history of implementing several large-scale initiatives that have been adopted by other countries. These include the world's first electronic visa with the Electronic Travel Authority, and Advance Passenger Processing, which commenced in 2003, and which is still regarded as the world's most sophisticated real-time border management system. The department also has a record of implementing successful change in response to events and crises. There are instances where the department has adopted improvements at operational levels with the notion of doing 'more with less'. In some areas, the department also has demonstrated a cross-agency approach to innovation, which has received support from external stakeholders and central agencies. An example of this is the recent National Targeting Centre proposal, which aims to facilitate better informed and targeted risk assessments for border threats based on a whole-of-government collection of information and intelligence holdings.

However, while the department has successfully innovated in the past, innovation is currently a lower priority, which decreases staff motivation in this area. The lack of enthusiasm for innovation is arguably a consequence of the environment within which the department currently operates, where there are heavy pressures of crises and a demanding government agenda. The department's risk-averse nature, fragmented operating structure, and lack of an explicit and coherent innovation strategy also contribute to difficulties in gaining traction for innovative ideas.

A survey indicates that guidance about the importance of innovation from the DIAC leadership has been lacking, with only 33 per cent of staff stating that the SES encourage innovation (State of the Service Report Employee Survey, 2011). Similarly, the department's risk-averse nature has led to a low tolerance for error, with staff believing that their ideas will not be seriously considered by managers. As a result, staff feel that they are not given permission to innovate, which inhibits their motivation to generate new ideas without the freedom to fail. The department would benefit from a clear innovation directive and a systematic framework to support the development and implementation of new ideas and initiatives. The department has acknowledged this by introducing an Innovation Fund for the 2011–12 financial year. This is a step in the right direction in encouraging innovative ideas, although it is focused on cost benefits with less consideration of qualitative outcomes, such as improving client satisfaction, departmental culture or stakeholder relations.

Plan, resource and prioritise

Guidance Questions

  • Do business planning processes effectively prioritise and sequence deliverables to focus on delivery of strategic outcomes? Are tough decisions made on trade-offs between priority outcomes when appropriate?
  • Are delivery plans robust, consistent and aligned with the strategy? Taken together will they effectively deliver all of the strategic outcomes?
  • Is effective control of the organisation's resources maintained? Do delivery plans include key drivers of cost, with financial implications clearly considered and suitable levels of financial flexibility within the organisation?
  • Are delivery plans and programs effectively managed and regularly reviewed?

Rating

Development area

Planning, resourcing and prioritising were seen by the review team as one of the areas of management most in need of attention in DIAC .

DIAC is in the process of reviewing its governance arrangements in order to improve the effectiveness of its business planning and decision-making processes. The review team acknowledges that business plans are in place in most parts of the department and, in some cases, are detailed and comprehensive. However, current plans lack traction. While they are usually aligned to the department's broader strategic intent, they are not seen by staff, including SES , as driving operations and are internally perceived as 'tick and flick' compliance exercises. Cultural commitment to planning is not strong and members of the SES have not always shown the necessary leadership and sustained commitment to the task.

The business plans of work areas sometimes overlook interdependencies with other business areas. Consequently, the department seldom achieves a clear line-of-sight, both vertically and horizontally, with partnering business areas. Plans also tend to focus on objectives that are measured against deadlines for compliance and numerical targets rather than departmental outcomes. The quality of plans is not well monitored by local SES and the departmental Executive and the proper cascade of planning from corporate intent to group, divisional, branch, section and individual performance plans is not easy to see.

More effective planning processes are critical to the department in understanding its business, assessing its priorities, setting out clear accountabilities, and assigning its resources and efforts. However, there is anecdotal evidence of 'patch protecting' and silos affecting the agency's attitude towards planning. In a resource-constrained environment, the department can no longer continue to deliver everything to which it has previously committed. It needs rigorous and transparent processes in order to make choices. With changes in the operating environment, government policies and priorities, and requirements for increased efficiency, the department needs to improve the full sequence of its planning, prioritising, budgeting, reporting and accountability processes.

A key driver for planning in DIAC should be to ensure that the department has the capacity to find the resources for unavoidable crises while continuing to maintain effective core business operations. The department is seen as well able to flexibly respond to ad hoc demands, such as dealing with IMAs. However, the current emphasis on resourcing and prioritising IMAs risks diverting resources and attention from core business, and an over-reliance on the current demand-driven quarantined funding is a key risk for the department at a time of fiscal constraint. Processes need to be designed to maintain the Executive's attention on mainstream departmental business during crisis periods, and to ensure that resources are not 'raided' from other areas of the department.

The department is beginning to recognise the importance of workforce planning, which is being driven by the People Strategy and Services Division in an attempt to facilitate a better alignment with business planning processes. This process begins with the budget, whereby indicative budgets are available at division level well in advance of the Commonwealth Budget. However, visibility of the budget has not always filtered down to staff in a timely manner, thus impacting on the effectiveness of their planning. Staff report that budgeting processes, and in particular budget cuts, are not clearly communicated across the wider department and, as a result, employees do not have a thorough understanding of what drives financial decision-making and resource allocation.

Some managers have indicated that while they have apparent accountability for a program outcome, they do not have sight or control of its full budget. In the review team's view, the latter (full control of the budget) is probably unrealistic, but the former (full visibility of the program budget and expenditure) is not an unreasonable expectation for designated program managers. Unclear financial management responsibilities and somewhat limited financial literacy among managers also contribute to difficulty in effective budgeting, program management and planning.

Shared commitment and sound delivery models

Guidance Questions

  • Does the organisation have clear and well understood delivery models which will deliver the agency's strategic outcomes across boundaries?
  • Does the organisation identify and agree roles, responsibilities and accountabilities for delivery within those models including with third parties? Are they well understood and supported by appropriate rewards, incentives and governance arrangements?
  • Does the organisation engage, align and enthuse partners in other agencies and across the delivery model to work together to deliver? Is there shared commitment among them to remove obstacles to effective joint working?
  • Does the organisation ensure the effectiveness of delivery agents?

Rating

Development area

The department's service delivery component is large and disparate and includes detention services, settlement services, and client service centres that cover social, economic, and national security issues. It is responsive in managing a large and successful migration program that contributes to the country's economy, society and security. This is evident in the department's high-volume operations, administering 4.3 million visas in the 2010–11 financial year and catering for more than 30 million people crossing Australia's borders. The department's responsibilities are one of the most diverse among APS departments; it develops policy and provides full service delivery across a global network of 69 offices. This makes the department second only to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in terms of its international presence. Despite the problems discussed below, the review team is impressed by the department's service delivery.

The increased volume of travellers, coupled with integrity and security concerns which are not diminishing, is placing a very challenging processing burden on the service delivery network. As a result, the department has made significant changes to critical business processes. These changes include initiatives to transform the four major client service channels, with an aim to drive the uptake of the online channel. An example of recent reforms is the Visa Pricing Transformation project, where the department is addressing visa pricing and transforming the visa product offering. Similarly, the Global Manager Transformation project has improved efficiency by centralising the management of the visa products portfolio across the service delivery network (although some unintended horizontal consequences at the regional level are currently being addressed). The department would benefit from an early evaluation of those initiatives and from feeding the lessons learned into future client delivery models as volumes rise and resources remain constrained.

The effectiveness of departmental delivery models is inhibited by the number of hand-off points and endemic confusion about accountabilities. This leads to overly complex process-driven systems, elevates decision-making authority, dilutes accountabilities among many, and adds to risk. It encourages issues to be escalated unnecessarily or 'socialised', and may cause risks to be missed by falling between organisational boundaries. The department's complicated accountability structure is further affected by the lack of a departmental functional directory and unclear reporting lines between key corporate managers and the Executive.

Unclear accountabilities also disempower individual officers especially at EL and SES Band 1 levels. It results in lengthy clearance processes, numerous committees, and excessive use of senior officers' time while withholding responsibility from junior officers.

The current complex committee structure in DIAC is seen as one consequence of the department's risk-averse culture, which has contributed to a diffusion of responsibilities across the department. The existing 79 internal committees are being reduced in an attempt to clarify the purpose of the committees, ensuring that they understand that theirs is a consultative role with ultimate decision-making being vested in the relevant senior executive staff. The Acting Secretary's proposed four-committee structure is expected to drive more effective decision-making and clarify accountabilities.

There is a perceived disconnect between business and ICT operations due to the significant investments in ICT systems that have not met the expectations of business areas. The misalignment between business and ICT is apparent in the Systems for People (SfP) initiative, which is widely viewed by staff as overpromising and underdelivering. The SfP transformation (2006–2010) was developed in response to recommendations of the Palmer and Comrie reports in 2005. The review team acknowledges that SfP has delivered a number of improvements to the department's ICT environment. These include the Case Management Portal, the Client Data Hub, the Client Search Portal, the Border Security Portal and the Health Assessment Portal, as well as related improvements in e-correspondence and information records management. However, key outputs of SfP were to be a suite of portals for general use, but which are currently used primarily by the compliance and detention business areas with low and varied uptake across the remainder of the department.

A lack of visibility of the SfP portals outside of the compliance and detention areas, and the repeated delays and functionality shortcomings of the key Generic Visa Portal has been an important reason for employees' low expectations of ICT delivery and perception that systems in DIAC do not support effective business operations and decision-making.

Although, in a technology sense, the important goal of a single view of client data (for all post 2008 clients) has been delivered, the complexity of data and systems continues to prevent a holistic single view of all clients for all departmental staff. The varied uptake of the Client Search Portal across business areas, the number of hand-off points in business processes, and the sheer volume of daily decisions means that there continues to be at least some remaining risk of another high profile failure of DIAC process.

These findings emphasise the importance of understanding business requirements and ensuring that ICT development capability takes better account of business priorities and expectations. This is of particular importance with the anticipated move to online service delivery and future needs for ICT support for a mobile workforce.

The department administers a range of 'programs' and related projects to ensure that they meet the broad needs of government, partner agencies, and clients. However, the department lacks the structures, processes and accountabilities to support effective and efficient program management. This is furthered by having no shared DIAC -wide definition of 'program'. As a result, so-called programs have tended to be focused on ICT investments rather than being considered a broader business program of which ICT is only one supporting component. 

The department's contract management capability has matured, although it still requires strengthening in the light of increasing service delivery partnerships. While DIAC is usually good at the initial development of contracts and procurement processes, the ongoing management, evaluation, and follow up are not as well managed. This is of particular concern due to the size and sensitivity of current and future service delivery partnerships, such as the SERCO contract for detention centre services, which merits continuing close contract management attention. However, the department would also benefit if it improved the contract management literacy right across the department. This would result in a more consistent and professional approach to contract management and the better management of potential high-consequence financial and reputational risks.

Cross-departmental knowledge management is another departmental capability that requires attention. Much corporate knowledge is held by long-term staff within the department rather than being captured and shared through a structured system. This causes heavy dependence on personal networks with its associated risks. This is of particular concern as the department is faced with an ageing SES and EL cohorts but has few means of capturing their corporate knowledge when they leave. Further, effective data management is integral to policy development and operations. However, the current data management systems inhibit timely access to data, which restricts the ability to interrogate data. As one stakeholder commented, 'the department has fragmented client information, and even if the information is there, they can't find it and/or are under too much pressure to do anything with it'. The department would benefit from a more deliberate approach to data management and knowledge sharing. Such an approach would enable staff to have timely access to accurate information and data in support of their decision-making and, as well, would streamline business processes.

Manage performance

Guidance Questions

  • Is the organisation delivering against performance targets to ensure achievement of outcomes set out in the strategy and business plans?
  • Does the organisation drive performance and strive for excellence across the organisation and delivery system in pursuit of strategic outcomes?
  • Does the organisation have high-quality, timely and well-understood performance information, supported by analytical capability, which allows you to track and manage performance and risk across the delivery system? Does the organisation take action when not meeting (or not on target to meet) all of its key delivery objectives?

Rating

Development area

Managing the performance of both work units and individuals was seen by the review team as one of the areas of management most in need of attention in DIAC .

In reporting on work units' performance, the department utilises Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), outlined in the Portfolio Budget Statement (PBS) and provides measures pertaining to each outcome/program area. The KPIs have not been reviewed or updated for some time. The KPIs tend to be quantitatively focused and rely on widget measures, and while this addresses compliance requirements, it tells little about performance quality and outcomes. The department would benefit from revising its KPIs to provide a more accurate reflection of business objectives and to address the distinction between outputs and outcomes.

Although the department's visa operations areas have developed and report well against a good set of performance indicators, the department more generally has a compliance attitude to managing work units' performance. This can be attributed to unclear reporting measures and an overcomplicated reporting process, where information is collected but little is utilised to inform decision-making and drive continuous improvement. As a result, in much of the department, there are few consequences for not meeting performance targets, from both operational and financial perspectives. Linkages from work units' plans to performance targets in individual performance plans tend to be weak.

DIAC 's risk-averse culture has also led to a fear or avoidance of evaluation, with the perception that evaluations only negatively scrutinise and expose business areas. The department is encouraged to develop and embed a performance management culture driven by the SES and cascading across all levels in the department to facilitate a more streamlined and effective approach to evaluation and performance reporting.

A high-performance culture will also contribute to an effective and proactive approach to managing risk. The department has taken the first steps in building capability in risk management with a risk framework that is used at department and group levels to identify strategic and tactical risks. However, the process has not been embedded and risk scanning and management tend to be left to the intuition of a small number of senior people rather than utilising the intelligence of all staff. Additionally, the current risk approach does not adequately specify the type or consequence of risks (i.e. the likelihood and the degree of damage if the risk eventuates) in order to prioritise risks and the manner in which they are to be managed. It is critical that risks are identified, taking into account interdependencies across the department. There needs to be transparent alert escalation mechanisms to the Secretary/Executive, the Minister and central agencies. The department would also benefit from strengthening its underdeveloped risk analytic capability. This could include the development of practical contingency plans that may reduce the impact of crises on core business.