Address to the AIIA: Gavin Slater

3 August 2017

The DTA’s Gavin Slater spoke to the Australian Information Industry Association on value creation, customer centricity and building productive relationships in his first address as CEO.

Release Date: 3 August 2017

Speaking remarks (check against delivery)

The first time I thought about technology and how it could enable a better outcome was in 1986 when I started my first full time job as a batch processing clerk in the local bank branch.  

Capturing voucher after voucher with two-finger typing was mind numbing and boring and certainly not much fun…but for the entertaining company of the battle-hardened ladies in the batch-room…Junior was often the subject of their humour.

From those early days I’ve always had this insatiable curiosity for how technology can improve things, automate processes, reduce manual tasks, improve accuracy and ultimately deliver better outcomes.

About 20 years ago I spent 4 years with one of the large consulting firms advising clients about, among other things, transformation — typically business process transformation.  

As part of my tool kit, I used a formula: NT + OO = EOO.  

New technology + old organisation = expensive old organisation

My point was — simply replacing one piece of old technology with new technology would not lead to better outcomes.  

Interestingly, back then, the world “culture” was less used, but no doubt was implicit in the change equation.

Fast forward to today and I have a new formula: CC + CT = VC.  

Customer centricity + connected technology (platforms) = value creation  

I believe it starts and ends with having an obsession with the customer when one is thinking about and designing service delivery outcomes.  

In all the research in this space — across both public and private sectors — four themes consistently present themselves.

People want their information and service interactions to be:

  1. safe and secure
  2. easy and simple
  3. 24 x 7
  4. valued and respected

For any organisation, an important driver of customer centricity starts with the culture of that organisation and the tone that is set from the top. Senior leaders play a big role in making sure they’re getting good outcomes for customers.

For example, do they ensure that the customer is at the heart of policy development?

This constant leadership by example needs to translate into all aspects of the operating rhythm of an organisation:

  • the designing of policies
  • work practices
  • configuration of technology
  • training
  • products
  • communications
  • performance dashboards…basically everything

From my experience, it requires consistency of leadership and focus to deliver long lasting change.

Connected technology

The creation of platforms and ecosystems, the move to open source architectures, access to environments through APIs, increased data analytics and use of artificial intelligence are allowing organisations to do far more than previously.

These new technologies and fresh ways of thinking are breaking down traditional barriers and enabling new business models to come to fruition.  

Uber often gets used as an example — and it’s a good one.

Consider what they have:

  • they have connected technologies, such as Google Maps, a payment system, a booking system and an existing transport system
  • they have no need to buy a fleet of cars  
  • they deliver a safe, secure, easy 24x7 service, which they continue to refine and improve through analytics
  • they have a way to refine their profiles on users with every Uber trip
  • they, most importantly, started with a customer orientation

Compare this to the Melbourne taxi industry, that has the same access to all these technologies, yet delivers quite a different experience for the customer.

If you get customer centricity right, coupled with a platform strategy, the result is value creation, which presents itself in a variety of ways.

Firstly, you consistently deliver a better service outcome that is transparent and measurable for all users of that service. This builds transparency and loyalty, which leads to increased uptake of that service.

Secondly, you deliver better outcomes for shareholders — in the case of the private sector, and better outcomes for taxpayers — in the public sector.

So what is the relevance of this to government? Specifically, the provision of information and services to individuals and businesses.

In 2015, Deloitte estimated there were about 811 million service transactions at the federal and state level each year — it’s probably more now.

Of these, 40% were completed using traditional channels, such as shopfront or counter interactions, and telephone and mail.

Examples of these services include registering details, signing up for benefits, making claims, lodging tax returns, registering a business, passing through immigration, clearing goods that have been imported.

So, using the CC + CT = VC formula, is there value being created for individuals and businesses?

Yes, there is.

I believe the following examples prove that value is being created.


I met with the tax commissioner, Chris Jordan, this week and he said the numbers of citizens lodging their tax online increase from 1.7 million in 2014–15 to 3.5 million in 2015–16.

The ATO’s mission is to deliver a service outcome that’s infrequent, quick and painless — a bit like what a visit to the dentist should be.

My Health Record

My Health Record now has more 10,000 healthcare providers connected and gives them access from anywhere, and at any time, to important information online about medical conditions, treatments, and medicines.

More than 5 million people now have a My Health Record.


There’s terrific innovation coming out of the Department of Immigration. They are upgrading the technology used to process people at Australian international airports.

Travellers will eventually be able to pass through immigration without needing to produce their passport — it will all be done through facial recognition technology.


myGov now has about 9 to 10 million active accounts and almost 290,000 transactions are completed on a daily basis.

We’ve been working with the Department of Human Services to make continual improvements to myGov.

From these few examples — and there are many more — I do believe value is being created.

Perhaps a more pertinent question is — is enough value being created and is it being created fast and significantly enough for the public to notice?

Based on some industry surveys, and comparisons to other sectors, it’s probably reasonable to conclude that more can be done:

  • the Boston Consulting Group research last year showed that 46 percent of Australians had trouble while using online government services (2016)
  • and a UserZoom study last year found that users attempting to find information on federal government websites achieved success only 2 out of 19 attempts (2016)

The Government’s digital transformation ambition

In taking on this role, and through various conversations I had, across government and the public service, it was made clear to me that the government has three clear objectives in relation to its digital transformation ambitions.

  1. To see continued migration of government services to digital channels.
  2. To significantly improve the experience for individuals and businesses.
  3. To get improved outcomes from taxpayer’s money spent on ICT.

These outcomes are what attracted me to this role — they are why I signed up.

Delivering better service outcomes for Australia is important, and it matters to me.

So how have I been spending my time?

I’ve been using my two ears and one mouth — used in those proportions — to listen and to seek to learn and understand the history and the context of the DTA, and its role in delivering on the government’s ambitions.

I have met with hundreds of people, in government and the public service — including secretaries, CIOs, advisers and ministers — businesses, vendors, industry associations and advisory firms.

These multiple conversations — including those I’ve had with many of you in the room — have allowed me to repair relationships, and importantly, build new ones.

People are appreciative of being treated respectfully, being heard, being listened to and being involved in our work and helping to come up with solutions.

The value from these conversations is that they’ve also helped me to shape the priorities of the DTA going forward. I would like to share these with you now.

The DTA’s priorities

In outlining these priorities, it’s important to keep in mind that while the DTA will play a pivotal role, we alone can’t deliver them — we’ll need the help and support of all agencies across government.

Priority 1

The first priority is to develop a clear digital service delivery roadmap for the whole of government to ensure our money is being invested in the transformation initiatives that will have the biggest impact on people using our digital services.

For example, being able to register a company more easily, onboard staff, or sign-up and receive welfare payments.

Getting this right is important to increase the pace of of value creation I referred to earlier.

Priority 2

The second priority follows on from the first.

Having identified those initiatives that will have the most favourable impact, we now need to focus our collective efforts across the public service to improving the core platforms that support these big service transactions and life events.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise. This means there needs to be ongoing regular delivery of increased functionality and improved user experience across platforms, like myTax, myHealth, myGov and business-facing platforms.

Related to this, there is a strong case to rationalise and simplify the thousand-odd government websites and millions of pages of content that users have to navigate and understand. Let me be clear, I’m not saying one website is the answer.

A key initiative underpinning all of this, and in my view, directly linked to the significant creation of value, is solving for how individuals and businesses identify, verify and authenticate themselves through our online channels.

Our ambition must be to provide a quick and easy way for people to prove themselves online, so they can access government services in a simple, easy and secure way.

Priority 3

Our third priority is to continue building out our capability to effectively monitor the performance of the whole-of-government ICT project portfolio.

In my view, it’s important that we approach this with a mindset that I’m familiar with in the private sector. For example, venture capitalists would treat this portfolio of projects as a portfolio of businesses they’ve invested in.

They would be constantly scrutinising the performance of the portfolio to decide which projects they have low levels of confidence in — in terms of benefit delivery — and others that require an intervention to increase their chances of success. They would be constantly scanning the marketplace for opportunities to invest in new business and ventures.

I can’t see why we shouldn’t adopt a similar mindset when considering the government’s entire project portfolio.

I see this work as vitally important to ensure the taxpayers are receiving the appropriate benefit for this investment.

This ongoing monitoring allows us to identify successful initiatives, key delivery risks, areas of duplication, provide advice on remediation, and opportunities to leverage common platforms and cloud services.

Priority 4

Our fourth priority is to continue to level the playing field for small and medium Australian businesses looking to do business with government.

There is no shortage of Australian companies with the capabilities and solutions that government needs.

I want to see the DTA continue to support and encourage a marketplace so Australian companies can fairly and transparently compete for business.

The current Marketplace initiative has made a good start in this regard with:

  • 655 buyers
  • 533 registered sellers
  • 217 opportunities posted
  • more than $33.7m contracts awarded

These stats show me that more needs to be done.

As I said earlier, I have been spending some of my time meeting with small business owners to hear about their experiences in dealing with government and trying to grow their businesses. There are a number of common themes coming from these discussions.

Firstly, there is a view that greater transparency is required around what various vendors are charging for their services, particularly as it relates to system integrators.

We have transparency with our grocery prices, our housing prices, cars — it enables us to make choices and seek out the best value deal.

Secondly, another piece of key feedback I’ve received is the lack of willingness on the part of government to move away from large entrenched supplier relationships, and being willing to give a smaller company a go due to the perceived delivery risk of doing so.

A third bit of feedback relates to the level of upfront investment smaller companies have to make to achieve the necessary security clearances for their staff and their product solutions before they can work with government.

Clearly these are not easy issues to solve, but I am committed to the DTA doing everything possible to address these barriers to entry.

Priority 5

Our fifth priority is to establish a sustainable program focused on helping uplift the digital capability of staff across the public service.  

It’s well known that there’s an ever growing shortage of digital skills across the Australian economy.

In support of this, I plan to set up innovation labs in our Canberra and Sydney offices that will provide the environments to bring in staff from across the APS, and to work with them, and impart knowledge in solving old problems in new ways.

It will be where they can learn how to approach issues with a fresh perspective and with customer-centred design thinking, rapid prototyping, building alpha and beta versions, launching, measuring and iterating.

There’s real opportunity here for us to partner with the public, private and educational sectors.

Relationships with the private sector

As I think about these 5 priorities, I have an overall ambition to see a significant step up in public–private partnerships and participation.

I’ve spoken a couple of times now with the AIIA about how we can formalise a partnership with them — how we can work more closely together to find solutions, share knowledge and ideas, and uplift skills capability.

The reality is that within the APS we do not have all the capability and capacity that is needed to deliver.

Partnering effectively with the private sector will be key to our collective success.


So, in conclusion, there is much to be done if we are to increase the value creation for individuals, businesses and taxpayers.

I don’t underestimate the task ahead — particularly in the context of a large, complex and decentralised organisation such as the federal government.  

To be successful, there are a couple of challenges and obstacles that will need to be overcome.

The first is collaboration.

A lot of our big federal departments are complex businesses — and they’re incredibly busy — it’s easy for all of us to get into our own swim lanes and keep our heads down. In reality, it’s hard to lift up your head and swim looking left and right for any length of time.  

What’s been most encouraging is that from the many conversations I’ve had with departmental secretaries and CIOs over the past three months, they’ve indicated to me that they’re all up for increased collaboration on the things that could have the biggest impact.

And this is where the DTA can play an important role and act as a facilitator on the things that matter.

The second challenge relates to thinking differently.

We are all a product of our environments and it’s human nature to rely on the thinking, skills and experience that have made us successful.

It’s easier said than done, but vital that we maintain a curiosity and appetite for learning new things, approaches to old problems and leverage more widely the capability of others. And the shift in thinking needs to transcend all levels of our departments and agencies.

It’s really important that the most senior leaders in the organisation — through their role modelling — foster an environment that encourages new ways of thinking, experimentation, and collaboration.


My vision and passion for the DTA is that we become known and respected as an agency that delivers disproportionate value relative to its size.  

That we’re seen as a friend and go-to place for other agencies for help, and to provide guidance and advice.  

That we’re seen as a dynamic, fun, but outcome-oriented agency that attracts the very best talent from within the public service and from the private sector.  

Ultimately, our success will be judged in the eyes and words of others — including all of you in this room.

I’m confident the DTA can play a critical role in ultimately delivering on the government’s ambitions of improving digital service delivery and uptake for individuals and business, and that taxpayers see the benefit of more effective ICT spend.

Thank you for your support and listening today. I will be delighted to take any questions you may have.

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