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All-of-Government ICT Operations Assurance Framework

1. Introduction

1.1 New Zealand's digital environment

We need to keep up with the current pace of digital evolution to maintain New Zealand’s standing as a digital leader.

Read about New Zealand’s place among the world’s digital elites and the benefits of government digital transformation:

1.2 Benefits of government digital transformation

Accelerating New Zealand’s government digital transformation will help people:

  • access personalised services when, how and where they need them
  • engage in decisions about the issues they care about
  • trust in an open, transparent and inclusive government.

1.3 Role of the System Assurance team

The role of the System Assurance team is to provide Ministers, the GCDO and other key stakeholders with confidence that the system of assurance supporting digital government outcomes is effective.

Role of the System Assurance team

1.4 The system of assurance

Read about the system of assurance and the outcomes that deliver high levels of trust and confidence in digital public services:

The system of assurance

1.5 ICT assurance landscape

There have been several changes in the assurance landscape since the original ICT Operations Assurance Framework was published in 2014. There is now an established network of functional leads that look after specific areas of information and communications technology (ICT) risk. Working together, they operate as a multi-functional group, using their shared expertise to advise Ministers and government organisations on how to improve the management of ICT risk across the State services.

The following functional leads are the most relevant to ICT assurance and further detail on how to engage with them can be found using the links below:

2. Digital Assurance Roadmap

Government organisations are increasingly dependent on technology to deliver public services. The traditional ICT function is also changing to support new ways of working, including a shift towards continuous delivery through Agile / DevOps approaches.

Now more than ever, managing ICT risk requires a well-coordinated, integrated approach that prioritises understanding the business impacts of ICT risk. Integrated ICT risk management means that government organisations are in a better position to achieve their strategic business outcomes as well as to create opportunities to exceed them.

Government organisations face several challenges to digital transformation:

  • A lack of a strategic, portfolio view of ICT investment, which makes it more difficult to know if the business is investing in the right things. This includes knowing where there might be opportunities to collaborate with other government organisations to deliver improved services
  • Legacy ICT assets that are operating beyond their intended use are now an organisational constraint in the transition to a digital operating model, not just from an investment perspective but also from an ongoing cost challenge — this is because legacy assets are costlier to support, maintain and provide operational assurance over
  • Understanding the risks and opportunities presented by new and emerging technologies — such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and machine learning, as well as increasing reliance on complex data analytics
  • Developing digital skills and capabilities, including attracting digital talent, to support the transition to a digital operating model, while at the same time continuing to manage legacy ICT operations

These challenges require a strategic risk management focus. While government organisations need to continue to manage their day-to-day ICT operational risks, they must also identify, manage and govern the risks arising from digital transformation.

This strategic focus is reflected in the GCDO’s shift from a ‘pure’ ICT operations assurance focus to a broader digital assurance focus that provides Ministers and other key stakeholders with confidence that government organisations have the right skills and capabilities to manage the transition to a digital operating model. Achieving an appropriate level of digital maturity is a key enabler of the Digital Government Strategy.

Lifting digital capability to enable government organisations to successfully undertake digital transformation is the foundation of the Digital Assurance Roadmap.

The roadmap sets out how the GCDO's independent assurance oversight role is changing. It supports moving to a more informed evidence-based assurance approach. This will provide greater value to government organisations and the system of assurance that supports digital government outcomes. For example, it will inform investment decisions and provide system insights to improve business resilience and the management of ICT risks.

Figure 1. Digital Assurance Roadmap

Digital assurance roadmap (small)

Detailed description of image


The diagram of the Digital Assurance Roadmap shows how the GCDO's independent assurance oversight role is changing over the course of 3 financial years from 2019/20 to 2021/22.

Value streams

There are 3 value streams that are represented in both the 2019/20 financial year, and the 2020/21 financial year.

They are:

  1. system-wide view of ICT risks
  2. providing confidence
  3. lifting digital capability.

And each value stream includes topics related to that value stream.

System-wide view of ICT risks

This value stream shows the top 5 agency-identified and managed risks, and a sixth risk labelled ‘other ICT risks’ — this represents another 7 risks.

They are: security management, service continuity, service portfolio management, vendor management, capacity management, other ICT risks.

Lifting digital capability

The topics in this value stream are spread over the 2019/20 and 2021/22 financial years.

All the topics related to one another in various ways, and all the topics together relate to the other 2 value streams.

  • In 2019/20, the digital maturity level calculator leads to targeted digital capability assessment.
  • Targeted digital capability assessment leads to capability development in 2021/22
  • In 2020/21 thematic reviews also lead to capability development.
  • In 2019/20, application portfolio management directly leads to the providing confidence value stream.
  • In 2020/21 the cloud risk assessment tool and other functional lead insights and collaboration also lead directly to the providing confidence value stream.

Throughout both financial years there will be GCDO engagement and collaboration.

Providing confidence

This value stream has the Annual System Assurance and Insights Report. It is an output of the value stream ‘lifting digital capability’.

2021/22 Digital operating model

This section shows the transition from ICT assurance to digital assurance to support the Government move to a digital operating model.

4 key areas which make up a digital organisation:

  • digital business model enabled by technology
  • dynamic and agile business environment
  • great customer experience
  • rich information.
View larger image (PNG 50KB)

To successfully deliver the Digital Assurance Roadmap, the System Assurance team will need to become digital itself and look at how we can use technology to help government organisations better manage the risks they face. We are developing new ways of working so that we are more integrated, automated and data-driven in our independent assurance oversight role and the insights we provide to government organisations.

Embedding good risk management and assurance practices into your ICT operations continues to be a core expectation of government organisations in order to provide confidence to your Chief Executive that ICT risks are being managed effectively (refer to 4.8 Core expectations of government organisations). This expectation defines the scope of this current version of the ICT Operations Assurance Framework.

We plan to transition to a Digital Assurance Framework by 30 June 2022.

3. Value of assurance

3.1 Improving ICT portfolio management

Strategic risk management and assurance are critical components of ICT portfolio management, enabling government organisations to make risk-informed investment decisions.

Often there is a disconnect between the business and ICT, which means that executives and ICT governance bodies don’t understand the business impacts of ICT risks or the opportunities they might present to improve business performance.

Lifting the conversation to a strategic, portfolio view of ICT investment can help the business and ICT develop a shared view of ICT risk with a focus on business outcomes.

This shared understanding enables better conversations about critical ICT risks, including the challenges of moving to a digital operating model, and how to manage them to acceptable levels based on the organisation’s risk appetite. This includes balancing the costs and benefits of managing ICT risk. In this way, assurance can help inform future investment decisions about people, process, data and technology to achieve business outcomes.

Case study – Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE)

MBIE plays a central role in shaping and delivering a strong New Zealand economy. Its diverse business units are supported by a complex ICT landscape, including legacy systems.

The ICT leadership team faced the challenge of a large number of low-level risk statements that added to the confusion between issues and risks. To help support better risk conversations at leadership/management levels, the team adopted a portfolio approach to risk management that focused on risk expressed as a ‘top event’ rather than numerous risk causes with the same result. Control assurance considers control effectiveness creating opportunities for improved management insight.

“Risk management is viewed as a management activity no different from budgeting, recruiting or communicating. We plan an annual programme of risk reviews and assurance activity that drives better risk conversations and managerial decisions. Risk informs our activity choices and frequently provides the rationale for prioritisation.”

Mark Brown – Acting CIO

3.2 Improving service delivery

Assurance can help improve service delivery by identifying opportunities for improvement.

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day activity of providing services to customers. Assurance provides an objective and evidenced-based view of the likelihood of key ICT risks occurring and their potential impact on service delivery. In this way, assurance can help identify the areas of greatest risk to service delivery and make sure adequate arrangements are in place should they arise.

Assurance can also help identify the root causes of key ICT risks and make sure actions appropriately address these. For example, opportunities for improvement may include lifting capabilities in people and processes, the lack of which are often at the heart of ICT risk failures.

3.3 Improving risk ownership

Assurance can help improve business ownership of key ICT risks by clarifying goals and objectives for how ICT supports business outcomes. Every ICT system should have a Business Owner who is accountable for making sure ICT systems are fit for purpose, based on the business outcomes they support. This includes obtaining assurance over the effective operation of ICT systems.

Engaging with Business Owners to understand their key ICT risks, potential business impacts and assurance needs, enables better management of ICT risks and improves business performance. Improving risk ownership also enables better management of changes to ICT systems, as Business Owners engage early to assess the likelihood and impact of future changes on business outcomes.

Case study – Ministry of Social Development

The MSD ICT environment is complex with more than 440 different applications / tools / technologies in various stages of their lifecycles that deliver business services to more than 1 million MSD clients, partners and non-government organisations (NGOs) and 10,000 internal users. Gaining and maintaining assurance over ICT risks is key to making sure services are available and up to standard throughout the product and technology lifecycles.

“Recording our ICT operational risks in a single authoritative repository enables a clear view of MSD’s ICT risk landscape. This also enables us to assign clear accountability and ownership for control over technical risk back into the business. This supports more informed decision-making and investment decisions.”

Paul Weyers – Manager IT Performance and Risk

3.4 More efficient use of resources

Assurance can help prioritise resources by identifying areas that are overcontrolled and redirecting resources to those areas of greatest risk and value.

For example, developing an integrated risk-based assurance plan can help government organisations gain a better understanding of the roles and the scope of work that is undertaken by both internal and external assurance providers. In this way, an assurance plan may identify overlaps in assurance activities which could be combined or better coordinated to improve the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the assurance process.

It also helps to reduce the compliance burden on delivery teams and to maximise value for money. This is becoming increasingly important as government organisations are expected to do more with less resources.

Case study – Department of Internal Affairs

In 2017/18 Government Information Services (GIS) adopted a coordinated approach to complete security assessments across the GIS portfolio, which provides products for All-of-Government. In the past each product was managed independently. The team started by identifying which products required certification in the current year. They then consolidated these products into a single certification exercise, preparing a pack of refreshed artefacts for the Certification team (vendor).

“While the process took a little longer than initially planned, GIS was able to significantly reduce the cost of certification. Now that we better understand the process, we plan to make the upkeep of all related artefacts across the entire portfolio a priority, further reducing the time and cost involved. These artefacts also feed into continuity planning helping us to further reduce our risk footprint.”

Christine Bennett – General Manager

4. Overview of framework

4.1 Purpose

The purpose of the All-of-Government (AoG) ICT Operations Assurance Framework is to support government organisations to implement a fit-for-purpose assurance approach for managing their ICT risks.

Effective assurance provides confidence to your Chief Executive and other key stakeholders, including Ministers, that ICT risks are effectively managed to achieve business outcomes.

The framework is supported by detailed guidance and templates to help you apply the principles of good assurance.

Guidance and templates for ICT Operations Assurance

4.2 Audience

The target audience for the framework is:

  • Business Owners and ICT governance bodies
  • Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and Chief Digital Officers (CDOs)
  • ICT leadership teams
  • internal audit functions
  • security and risk practitioners.

4.3 Our definition of assurance

An independent and objective assessment that provides credible information to support decision-making.

The key words in our definition are ‘independent and objective’. There are varying degrees of independence and objectivity, but assurance is most effective when integrated across all ‘3 lines of defence’ in the 3 Lines of Defence model.

4.4 Three Lines of Defence model

  • The first line of defence is the day-to-day operational management processes and controls you have in place for identifying and managing ICT risks. This includes business management and line managers who are responsible for the design and implementation of business processes and controls.
  • The second line of defence is the governance and oversight arrangements that exist for ongoing monitoring of ICT risks. This includes oversight functions that provide advice and guidance on how to make sure the correct organisational settings are in place to manage risk – for example, Finance, Human Resources, Procurement, Security and Risk, Privacy, and so on.
  • The third line of defence is the independent assurance you obtain from Internal Audit and third-party assurance providers, including External Audit, that ICT risks are effectively managed.

The focus of our framework is on assurance that is performed by competent and impartial people outside of the ICT operations team (that is, at the second and third lines of defence). Examples of assurance activities within the scope of our framework include:

  • regular governance and oversight activities – for example, governance meetings, executive reporting, Audit and Risk Committee oversight
  • regular reporting to the ICT Leadership team
  • risk reviews performed by an internal Security and Risk function
  • internal audit reviews
  • third-party assurance reviews
  • annual external audits.

4.5 Applicable government organisations

The framework is mandated for the following government organisations:

  • Public service departments
  • Non-public service departments
  • Certain Crown entities (ACC, EQC, NZQA, Waka Kotahi, Kainga Ora, NZTE, TEC).

NZ’s State sector – the organisations

Note: The framework is not limited to the above government organisations. It can be used by any government or private sector organisation as a guide to good assurance practice to support improved business resilience and the management of ICT risks to grow New Zealand’s economy and enhance the wellbeing of its people.

4.6 Applicable risks

The framework applies to all ICT risks.

As a guiding principle:

“ICT risk refers to the business risk associated with the use, ownership, operation, involvement, influence and adoption of ICT within the department.”

Queensland Government Chief Information Office

The term ‘ICT risk’ is used here to mean both traditional ICT operational risk as well as new and emerging risk from adopting digital technologies.

Based on a survey conducted by the GCDO, the top 5 ICT risks faced by government organisations are:

  • information security
  • service continuity
  • service portfolio management, including legacy ICT risk
  • vendor management
  • capacity management, including resource capacity and capability constraints.

Top 5 ICT risks

This list is not exhaustive and, while the technology landscape may change with increasing use of digital technologies, our experience is that these risks are enduring. However, as government organisations begin to digitally transform, new risks are emerging related to new ways of working and attracting digital talent.

Refer to our ICT Risk Management Guidance for an example of an ICT risk universe that will help you identify other ICT risks.

ICT risk management guidance

4.7 GCDO system-wide assurance oversight role

The GCDO has a core responsibility to provide Ministers and other key stakeholders with confidence that the system of assurance supporting digital government outcomes is effective. To enable the GCDO to fulfil this responsibility, the System Assurance team has an independent assurance oversight role to make sure government organisations are managing their ICT risks effectively.

We work closely with government organisations to make sure they:

  • manage the health of their critical business applications and ICT infrastructure
  • have the right skills and capabilities to manage their ICT risks, including the transition to a digital operating model
  • follow ICT risk management and assurance good practice, including the GCDO’s guidance for information security and using cloud services
  • understand new and emerging risks in a digital world and what good risk management and assurance looks like.

The Digital Assurance Roadmap sets out how we now intend to engage with government organisations to provide independent assurance oversight. Our approach will enable us to be more flexible and responsive, so we can be more effective in helping government organisations meet the challenges of digital transformation.

4.8 Core expectations of government organisations

The following core expectations apply to all government organisations:

  • Key ICT risks and controls are identified and regularly reviewed by the ICT Leadership team – for example, on a quarterly basis.
  • Top ICT risks (that is, those rated Critical or High) are escalated and monitored by the Executive Leadership team (ELT).
  • An integrated assurance plan exists for key ICT risks which is approved annually by the Chief Executive and/or an appropriate ICT governance body.
  • Cloud Risk Assessments and the related Cloud Endorsement by Agency are submitted to the GCDO.
  • Where appropriate, the GCDO Security and Related Services Panel and/or the GCDO Assurance Services Panel is used for third-party assurance reviews.
  • Government organisations will respond to requests for specific information to enable the GCDO to fulfil its independent assurance oversight role in line with the Digital Assurance Roadmap.

5. Applying the principles of good assurance to ICT operations

The System Assurance team has developed a set of principles for good assurance practice based on our lessons learned. When applied, these principles support good practice assurance planning.

Figure 2: Principles of good assurance

Principles of good assurance

Detailed description of diagram

A honeycomb pattern with each hexagon labelled as follows:

  • Assurance by design
  • Flexible
  • Informs key decisions
  • Risk and outcomes based
  • Independent and impartial
  • Accountability.

In moving to a principles-based framework, assurance becomes less about compliance and more about demonstrating good assurance thinking based on a clear understanding of ICT risks and their potential impacts on business outcomes.

You should tailor the principles to enable a fit-for-purpose assurance approach based on the risk and complexity of your organisation’s ICT operation.

A principles-based approach provides confidence in the delivery of business outcomes without resulting in excessive levels of assurance.

5.1 Assurance by design

Assurance is not a one-time activity. It’s the way we do things here…

  • Budget for assurance activities over the areas of greatest risk to service delivery.
  • Make sure assurance is integrated and operating effectively across all ‘3 lines of defence’.
  • Analyse the root causes of ICT risks and issues, implement responses and incorporate them into the assurance plan and approach going forward.
  • Undertake risk assessments when designing new systems, processes and policy, including for core delivery partner activities.
  • Adopt data-driven approaches to risk management and assurance – for example, use continuous auditing and monitoring techniques, based on operational management processes and data.

5.2 Flexible

Assurance is adaptable to meet changes in the operating environment, service delivery approach, or risk profile.

  • Regularly review the operating environment, both internal and external, to make sure risks remain current and that any significant changes trigger a review of the assurance plan.
  • Tailor assurance to the service delivery approach – for example, continuous delivery through Agile / DevOps approaches require greater reliance on assurance activities embedded into day-to-day operations.
  • Make sure that assurance extends beyond the boundaries of your organisation to include key dependencies on core delivery partners, cloud providers and shared capabilities that support inter-agency, sector or AoG outcomes.
  • Establish metrics to monitor key ICT risks and, where possible, integrate into existing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to provide early warning of changes to the risk profile.
  • Use the results of assurance activities to inform the forward assurance plan.

5.3 Informs key decisions

Assurance provides timely, credible information to inform key decisions.

  • Make sure there is a clear relationship between planned assurance activities and key decisions. For example:
    • obtain assurance for business cases for all significant ICT investment decisions
    • perform due diligence on new vendors to identify risks to delivery, such as capacity, capability, over-reliance on key people, and location of vendor (offshore, onshore)
    • make sure reviews performed at project handover include ICT operational readiness and acceptance of residual risks.
  • Be clear about the purpose of assurance reviews. Avoid a long list of objectives and make sure terms of reference are framed around specific areas of concern, including those raised by key stakeholders.
  • Consider the organisation’s risk appetite when making key decisions – that is, the amount of risk an organisation is willing to accept in the pursuit of its business objectives and outcomes.
  • Formalise the process for integrating ICT risk management into the strategic planning process, including capturing risks that threaten the achievement of strategic business outcomes.

5.4 Risk- and outcomes-based

Assurance assesses the risks to successful service delivery and their impact on business outcomes.

  • Make sure assurance is risk based – in other words, there is a clear link between planned assurance activities and key ICT risks including:
    • information security
    • service continuity
    • service portfolio management, including legacy ICT risk
    • vendor management
    • capacity management, including resource capacity and capability constraints.
  • Engage with Business Owners to make sure they understand their key ICT risks, potential business impacts and assurance needs.
  • For top ICT risks (that is, those rated Critical or High), conduct a deep-dive analysis to embed accountability and gain a better understanding of the nature and scope of the risk, as well as the sources and strength of controls and assurance activities.
  • The ICT Leadership team regularly reviews the top risks to make sure they are being managed in accordance with the organisation’s risk tolerance level.

5.5 Independent and impartial

Assurance is performed by competent people independent of the operation of the process or control who are not unduly influenced by key stakeholders.

  • Proactively engage oversight functions such as Finance, Human Resources, Procurement, Security and Risk, and Privacy teams to make sure assurance activities are fit-for-purpose and timely.
  • Make sure third-party assurance providers have the right skills and experience for the risk and complexity of your organisation’s ICT operation.
  • Follow formal procurement processes to engage third-party assurance providers. Note: Where appropriate, use the GCDO Security and Related Services Panel and/or the GCDO Assurance Services Panel for third-party assurance reviews.
  • Make sure any conflicts of interest are clearly identified and managed, including:
    • making sure personal relationships between government organisations and providers don’t threaten independence and objectivity
    • performing an assurance review where the provider has or is currently providing design or implementation services for the process or controls under review
    • fixing issues identified during the course of an assurance review.

5.6 Accountability

Risk management and assurance roles and responsibilities at the governance level are clearly understood.

  • Clearly document ICT risk management and assurance roles and responsibilities in role descriptions and/or ICT governance body terms of reference.
  • Establish a formal process for risk acceptance and escalation to make sure ICT risks are managed and owned at the right level within the organisation.
  • Make sure top ICT risks are escalated and monitored by the Executive Leadership Team.
  • Make sure an integrated assurance plan exists for key ICT risks which is approved annually by the Chief Executive and/or an appropriate ICT governance body.
  • The ICT Leadership team regularly reviews the assurance plan to make sure it continues to be fit-for-purpose and that the agreed assurance activities are undertaken.
  • The ICT Leadership team regularly reviews the status of issues raised in assurance reports.

6. Engaging with the System Assurance team

While the GCDO no longer requires government organisations to submit their annual assurance plan to the System Assurance team, we are happy to provide advice to support government organisations in managing their ICT risks. We encourage you to contact us if there has been a significant change in your ICT operations or key leadership roles.

6.1 Digital Assurance Roadmap tailored engagement

As we rollout the Digital Roadmap, it will help us understand how much collaboration and engagement we will need to have with government organisations. For each initiative we will develop a tailored engagement approach in consultation with government organisations.

If we need additional information from government organisations to enable our independent assurance oversight role, we will make the purpose and value of the data collection clear to you and – where possible – we will use existing data sources.

6.2 How to contact us

Contact the System Assurance team for ICT risk management and assurance advice.


Guidance and templates

For a full list of guidance and templates, see:

Guidance and templates for ICT Operations Assurance


This table lists definitions of terms used in this guidance.

Term Definition
Business owner A Business Owner is responsible for making sure any ICT system they own is fit-for-purpose based on the business outcomes they support.
Functional lead Functional leads are assigned by the State Services Leadership Team to chief executives to drive performance across the state services in functional areas such as policy, finance, data and analytics, communications, procurement, digital, property, human resources, health and safety, legal, and investment management and asset performance.
ICT governance body A governance body that oversees the overall direction of ICT and makes sure ICT risks are effectively managed.
Risk appetite Risk appetite is a high-level (usually narrative) expression of the amount and type of risk that an organisation is willing to take in the pursuit of its business objectives and outcomes.
Three Lines of Defence model The 3 Lines of Defence model is used as a clear and effective way to strengthen communications on risk management, assurance, and control by clarifying essential roles and duties for various parts of governance, management, and day-to-day operations.
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