Address to the AIIA: Navigating Digital Government Summit 2017

At the outset, I will reiterate that the government’s ambition for simple, fast and easy government services remains central to its Digital Transformation Agenda.

Release Date: 5 April 2017

Speech transcript

Firstly, I wish to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet today. I pay my respect to their elders past and present, their continuing culture and contribution to the life of this region.

I also acknowledge and welcome other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who may be attending.

Thank you to the Australian Information Industry Association for the opportunity to speak to you today about:

1. What users are telling us about government services.

2. What we are doing to address their concerns.

3. How Stage 2 of the government’s Digital Transformation Agenda will further drive reform.

I have chosen to discuss these issues with you this morning as they will each influence what the Australian Government will expect from your industry now and into the future.

At the outset, I will reiterate that the government’s ambition for simple, fast and easy government services remains central to its Digital Transformation Agenda.

As you well know, last October, the government agreed a significantly expanded role for the new Digital Transformation Agency.

The government has, effectively, put all relevant levers into one central agency to accelerate the delivery of its Digital Transformation Agenda.

Creating an agency that is involved end-to-end across the lifecycle of ICT and digital projects across government.

This means the DTA will be working with departments and agencies to make sure there is a coordinated and seamless approach taken to user research, design, development, procurement, policy and implementation.

These changes reflect the government’s impatience at the pace of change and inconsistent outcomes for major projects. All of you know that sub-optimal outcomes on ICT and digital projects have the potential to dent public confidence in your industry as well as government.

And we commonly hear these concerns replicated by the users of government services.

What users are telling us about government services?

Increasingly, there’s an expectation by users that government will deliver the same level of service as the private sector.

According to Roy Morgan research, the satisfaction level of the big four banks’ personal customers in the six months to January 2017 is at over 80% (a near record).

And, over the years, banks have increasingly shifted services online — demonstrating that well designed online services present an attractive alternative for many of their customers.

Government has success stories of its own to point to where its online service delivery is improving.

The ATO’s myTax project is a good example. In 2014, improvements to myTax meant a significant reduction in the time and effort needed for people to lodge their tax returns.

A new system was delivered that is safe and secure, and is accessible on smartphones, tablets and computers. The year following the launch of myTax saw a 70% increase in the number of people lodging their tax online.

But collectively, government has struggled to meet public expectations.

The AIIA’s recent research has shown that almost all Australians surveyed (in fact, 99% of respondents) believe they would benefit if government used the latest technology for service delivery (Australian Information Industry Association Technology and Government Study, 2016).

However, they ranked government the lowest of all industries at using technology to deliver services across commonwealth, state and local government.

DTA’s own research also gives terrific insights about the preferences and needs of the users of the government services. I would like to share some of these with you today as they go to what we may be asking of you to deliver in the near future.

We know that users want to be able to customise their online experience to meet their lifestyle or personal needs.

For example:

  • People living in regional or rural areas want the option to do more of their business online and avoid travelling long distances to a shop front.
  • Parents with children want to avoid queues in Centrelink and have the option of doing their business online in the evenings (when the children are in bed).
  • People with additional needs tell us they want to be consulted earlier by government so that when we design our services, we do so with them in mind, from the very start of a project. A user can’t use a screen reader application on content that hasn’t been authored correctly and marked up in the right code.
  • Transgender people say they would prefer to do their business online as they don’t want to face the stigma or judgement they sometimes experience dealing with people face to face.

Another common message we hear is that users want information, instructions and messaging that is consistent, clear and easy to understand…across all channels.

For example:

  • A user’s transaction journey may consist of some steps online, some calls to a call centre, and then a visit to a shop front. Users tell us that this type of user journey can often be complicated by different terminology being used and different instructions being given.

And how well do we really understand a user’s journey?

Understanding a users’ journey determines the language, the amount of information, and the level of information that’s provided at a particular point in a journey.

It’s not uncommon for each different element of a user journey to be designed and delivered by different areas of an organisation or in some instances, a different organisation all together.

For example, a user will be asked to provide a number of details in an online form that they have just provided in an online registration step. Little consideration has been given to where the user has been and where they will go to next in their transaction journey.

Perhaps the most common message we hear in user research is that users shouldn’t have to understand govt to use a service.

Users don’t distinguish between governments or government departments. Local, state, federal…DTA, DHS, ATO — we’re all simply government and they don’t need, or care, to know the difference.

Users want a simple and seamless experience, where the onus isn’t on them to read and learn endless details and explanations about the tiers of government and who is responsible for what.

It’s the government’s job, as the designers and providers of these services, to build processes and systems that deliver that simple, seamless experience.

And finally, we hear users say they want more transparency.

A common piece of criticism is that when users submit applications or request information, the requests go into a black box and there’s no visibility of progress.

Users tell us they need to see something that lets them know what’s happening — whether that be a timeframe or a status update. Some users tell us they’re fearful that if they make contact to find out where things are at, it may influence the outcome or determination.

These are just some of the things we learn through doing user research.

So the take away message is:

A service is for everyone — it must do its best to meet the needs of everyone.

So with this in mind, it’s fair to ask:

What are we doing to address it?

The government is spending more on technology than ever before, and this must drive better outcomes for users, by being strategic and agile in our approach.

We need to do a lot more than spend more money. A major component of our work at the Digital Transformation Agency is:

  • changing how government does ICT and digital
  • genuinely putting users at the centre of project design, and
  • focusing on making it easier for people to use websites, platforms, applications and digital channels.

By working in close partnership with government agencies we can share our expertise in making these changes happen.

DSS

Last year, we published the Digital Service Standard, which sets out world best practice for delivering a digital service — government agencies are required to meet the Standard when delivering new public-facing services.

Platforms

We are working in close partnership with agencies to design, build and deliver new platforms that are reusable across government.

This avoids duplication, is more cost effective and allows better integration of services across government — which ultimately, means better services for users.

Govpass

An example of this is our Govpass platform, which aims to make it easier for users to prove who they are when using all government online services.

This will address the criticism from users that proving themselves to government is overly complicated and needs to be done every time they want to interact with a different government service.

The user journey

In terms of recognising the extent of a user’s journey, new technology is helping to remove the problems of inconsistent information.

The Australian Tax Office’s virtual assistant “Alex”, responds to queries about personal tax, understands conversational language and learns from questions to improve answers.

Alex is now used by IP Australia and learns how clients ask questions, assessing syntax and grammar, to deliver the correct information and refining her information when clients indicate she’s wrong.

The Department of Human Services has “Roxy”, based on Microsoft Cortana technology, who uses machine learning to answer more than 78% of questions raised by claims processing staff.

The NDIS virtual assistant “Nadia”, will give users a clear idea of what it means to join the scheme, whether they are eligible and what it will mean for the future.

Agile

Government also needs to change how it works behind the scenes.

Flexible project delivery in government ICT has traditionally been poor, so this means overhauling the risk averse culture of government — a difficult, but ultimately, necessary task.

It means transitioning away from waterfall project management and bespoke software to a more flexible, agile approach.

It means continuous improvement and the flexibility to change with changing circumstances, technologies and user research.

It also means building small multidisciplinary delivery teams to deliver services and breaking up large projects into smaller deliverables.

The Standish Group’s 2016 CHAOS Report presented some interesting statistics on the success rate of projects based on their size and methodology.

It found, the smaller the team and the shorter the timeframe for delivery, the more likely the project was to succeed. Only 1% of grand projects and only 6% of large projects were successful in comparison to 59% of small projects.

Across all sizes of projects, agile projects (40% success rate) outperformed waterfall projects (13% success rate) by a significant margin. And small agile projects performed the best (55% rate of success).

We currently have DTA experts embedded in multidisciplinary teams within other government agencies to help them implement agile project management, build skills capability, undertake user research, provide content design expertise and ultimately, deliver better services to the public.

What else needs to be done?

Digital transformation is not just about addressing the public facing aspects of a service — it requires changes to fundamental, behind-the-scenes operations and infrastructure.

The way to do this is to ensure government is investing in the right technologies.

This brings me to phase 2 of the Digital Transformation Agenda which began in October.

This is about improving how government does ICT procurement.

ICT procurement, policy and delivery will in coming months become the responsibility of the DTA.

It positions us to have greater strategic oversight of ICT procurement across government.

Early involvement in proposals

From the very early stages of a technology project proposal, the DTA will have a role in working with agencies to ensure the right decisions are being made about the type of technology and project methodology being considered.

This ensures that a project builds in realistic milestones in a staged approach, that allows adjustments to made where needed and reduces the risk of an unrealised investment.

The DIMO

The DTA’s new Digital Investment Management Office will provide ongoing oversight of significant government ICT projects to gauge how a project is tracking and how likely it is to deliver on its promised public policy benefits.

It’s first task is to review all major government ICT projects of more than $10 million in value or major public facing transactional services. The review will look at the costs, benefits, risks and status of these initiatives.

We will deliver this review to government in June this year.

ICT Procurement Taskforce

In addition to the review, the ICT Procurement Taskforce, which has moved across to us from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, is investigating how to make it easier and cheaper for ICT businesses to secure contracts with the Australian Government, and to deliver better government services at a lower cost.

The Procurement Taskforce had the opportunity to hear from many of you during its public consultation earlier this year.

It heard:

  • that it’s hard to get innovative ICT solutions into government
  • that there appears to be little strategic coordination in government procurement, and
  • that procurement practices are especially burdensome on smaller businesses.

We expect the taskforce will complete its work in the coming months and will identify ways to deliver benefits for business and government alike.

On that last point, traditionally small-to-medium enterprises have faced considerable costs in time and money to participate in panels.

Last year, 49% of ICT procurement contracts the government entered into were done via panel arrangements and standing offers, with only 27% done via open approaches to market.

Unsuitable and lengthy approval and procurement cycles have meant many small-to-medium enterprises have not been able to access opportunities to help transform government service delivery.

All of these changes are designed to address the ad hoc approach that government has historically taken to ICT procurement.

AIIA interest

I’m sure the need for this change in approach comes as no surprise to AIIA members.

The AIIA submission to the Inquiry into ICT Procurement and Contract Management in 2015 highlighted a number of issues needing to be addressed by government.

This included:

  • government tenders requesting specific technology improvements and products rather than allowing industry expertise to provide the best solution
  • the lack of flexibility in government program management processes to allow for agile digital solutions, and
  • small to medium enterprises facing significant costs in terms of time and money when tendering for government work.

Digital Marketplace

Our Digital Marketplace is making good inroads to delivering benefits to small-to-medium enterprises by offering a new approach to procuring digital services.

The Marketplace brings together sellers and buyers, making transactions easier and faster, and levels the playing field for small-to-medium businesses.

It has enabled more than $12.5 million in transactions and small-to-medium enterprises have accounted for 78% of all transactions on the platform.

As well as providing most of the small tenders, smaller businesses have also been tendering for major services and are now responsible for 91% of the total value of transactions on the marketplace.

Conclusion

Today I have outlined some of the things we have heard from users and from the private sector about how we deliver services and manage ICT procurement across government.

Inevitably, we must continue to work together if transformation is to happen at the pace users need. The DTA is working to improve issues like risk, procurement, flexibility and agility.

This should make it easier for AIIA members to harness opportunities and help us get on with the job of delivering better services for users.

By working together we can build 21st century ICT and digital services and put ICT at the heart of making people’s lives easier and more productive. And we can do that in a way that enables local industry to grow and thrive.

The DTA welcomes our continuing engagement with the AIIA and its members as it progresses the Australian Government’s Digital Transformation Agenda.

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