DTO is the incubator and government is the start-up

It’s no secret that the Digital Transformation Office (DTO) is a small agency with a big, important job ahead. We carry the whole-of-government responsibility for making sure Australian government services are simpler, clearer, faster and more humane for everyone who uses them.

DTA staff presenting to people sitting on a couch.

Of course, we can’t do it alone.

Governments need to meet the challenges of the digital era, and quickly. If we’re going to have any chance of speeding up the transformation of government services, and start to make a difference to the Australian public, we have to ensure agencies are front and centre of the process.

Last week we were excited to announce our new work programme - our first steps toward improving online government service delivery. We know that many agencies are improving their services individually, but we can still improve our approach to design and delivery overall, so it’s consistently focused on users, not built around government structures.

This programme will show how the public sector - at the Commonwealth, state and territory level - can work quickly together to transform services and deliver a better experience for Australians.

Starting small, these projects will prove how government can be digital, agile and focused on the needs of the people who use them. We want to prove that services, even though they won’t be perfect, can be transformed in 20 weeks or less and demonstrate how rapid transformation can be achieved across government.

Around the time the DTO was created, there was a lot of talk (including from us!) about how we’d operate like a start-up. But in fact we see the digital teams in the agencies we work with as the start-ups - they’re the ones that own the products and services, and are ultimately responsible for the users’ experience.

Instead, we see ourselves as the incubator: providing momentum and helping to develop the environment (including the method, culture and the talent) that supports rapid service transformation.

For example, the DTO is committed to building the digital service delivery capacity across the Australian Public Service. We’ll support the development of digital talent by embedding digital specialists in delivery teams and helping agencies to meet the Digital Service Standard. We’re also building a community of digital practitioners and building up skills across agencies.

We are assisting agencies to focus on the needs of users - not internal government structures and processes. Users don’t generally “choose” to use government services; most of the time they have to. So it is our responsibility to improve and develop digital services that are easy and convenient. We want users to continue dealing with government online because they experience the value and benefits of doing so.

While some agencies have experimented with agile methodologies, the focus for the DTO will be supporting agencies to make the transition in a way that helps to break down some of the traditional barriers and building multi-disciplinary teams to deliver, and deliver quickly.

And we’re building a digital delivery hub in Canberra so that nascent digital teams can learn from each other and share lessons learnt throughout the process of digital service delivery. We’ll share our experiences through blogs, our communities of practice and regular catch-ups with agencies to report on our progress.

It will be tough. But, it’s great to see that agencies are really keen to get onboard, to partner with us, and learn more about designing great public services.

I’ve been overwhelmed at the reaction we’ve had so far - people are enthusiastic to work with us and that’s heartening because digital transformation is a team sport. Better public services is a whole-of-government responsibility. Our opportunity is immense, but we also need to remember this is just the beginning.

We know it’s going to be hard, we’re going to have to challenge the status quo. But I really do believe if we can do that, government can be the best digital start-up in Australia.

Dan Searle is Head of Strategy at the Digital Transformation Office. @DanielSearle3