2015: The year in government ICT pt.1


In Intermedium’s end-of-year review, we run down the trends and transactions, and movers and shakers, that shaped the year in government ICT.

In part 1, we’ll look at the tremendous reforms in the field of Digital Transformation that began with the announcement of the Digital Transformation Office, as well as the top stories in Shared Services, Data Analytics, Open Data and eHealth.  

Digital Transformation:

Digital transformation defined 2015, and one of the year’s biggest events was the creation under Malcolm Turnbull of the Digital Transformation Office (DTO). Announced in January, the DTO was funded for $95 million in the Federal budget (as part of a $255 million Digital Transformation Agenda), and moved with Turnbull to the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio when he became Prime Minister. Since its creation, the DTO has developed an index measuring citizen satisfaction rates with digital government, begun the task of standardising the Commonwealth grants administration process, implemented a three-stage assessment process for online services, dipped their toes into streaming online services, and gone on a recruitment drive. More, they promise, is on the way, which is good news, as the savings inherent in digital government are enormous: A Deloitte report estimated that the cost of transacting with government online is 1/16th the cost of a phone interaction and 1/42nd the cost of a face-to-face interaction.

Not to be overshadowed, NSW made significant strides in digital transformation in 2015 – to the extent that Intermedium placed them first on our Digital Government Readiness Indicator. The development of Service NSW continued apace, with physical storefronts rolled out throughout the year and more funded in the budget ($362 million went towards the new stores and to improve the agency’s digital services). The state has also created a combined Department of Finance, Services and Innovation, announced the introduction of digital licenses (beginning in 2016), published a wait-time monitoring app for Service NSW, introduced ‘tell us once’ digital accounts, and has announced its intention of moving 70 per cent of all transactions between citizens and the state government online by 2018-19. It’s not all roses, however – an audit found that state agencies’ failure to report metrics was making it impossible to properly track productivity gains from investment in technology.

Elsewhere, Victoria announced Service Victoria, modelled on Service NSW; the planning phase was funded for $15 million in the state budget. The state’s digital services have received poor reviews this year from its Auditor-General. South Australia has replaced its whole-of-government CIO with a Director, Digital Government, which is becoming something of a trend nationwide – with the exception of Queensland and WA. WA created an Office of the Chief information Officer in July (and appointed acting CIO Giles Nunis to the position on a permanent basis in September).

Shared Services:

Shared services continue to retreat into the mists of history… Or are in the process of making a stunning comeback. It depends on who you ask. Newly elected Labor governments in Victoria and Queensland were quite definite about keeping their shared ICT services providers (CenlTex and CITEC, respectively), while reviewing and potentially expanding their functions. Meanwhile, the Federal Department of Finance has finished their internal consultation regarding other departments’ shared services needs, and has now released a discussion paper requesting feedback from the market with a view to potentially consolidating ICT, HR and financial services across the Australian Public Service through a private sector partnership.

New South Wales, on the other hand, has contracted Unisys and Infosys to take over service provision responsibilities of ServiceFirst. The state budget included $167 million for shared services, but came with the option of contracting private providers rather than spending it all in-house.

Open Data & Analytics:

This year’s “open by default” mandates have come from Western Australia and – at the last minute – from the Federal Government, after a joint study with New York University found that open data measures hold enormous potential for private industry growth. However, 2015’s most enthusiastic jurisdiction with regards to open data and analytics has been NSW: It announced the country’s first whole-of-government analytics hub, considered shaming dodgy traders by publishing accumulated complaints data, unlocked public transport information for use in real-time transport apps, and gave the new Data Analytics Centre legal authority to require datasets from local councils and government agencies.

There were also some major developments at the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). A suggestion that previous cuts to the ABS might endanger its ability to carry out the 2016 census was quickly laid to rest with promises of funds for a once-in-a-generation overhaul of the bureau’s IT capabilities – amounting to $235 million in the 2015-16 Budget.

Increased data analytics capabilities are also being developed at the Australian National Audit Office, ASIS and ASIO, and the ATO. The Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) gifted Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, the ATO and the departments of Human Services (DHS) and Social Services (DSS) additional funding to perform ‘income data matching’ to target welfare fraud and tax evasion. DHS will inject just over $50 million into the program to 2018-19.

Additionally, two major mergers of data-centric institutions have been announced for 2016: CrimTrac will merge with the Australian Crime Commission, and National ICT Australia has been combined with the CSIRO Digital Productivity and Service Flagship to create a digital innovation entity named Data61. As part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda, the government has allocated $74.6 million to Data61 to further develop the government’s ‘open data’ platforms, strengthen industry cybersecurity, establish the Data Research Network, and improve data literacy skills in industry.

eHealth:

Australian governments are spending big on eHealth, a field that continues to be prone to cost overruns and other forms of risk. The single largest ICT initiative in any of the 2015-16 budgets was a $485 million overhaul of the beleaguered Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record – now re-branded as myHealth Record. In addition to swapping its opt-in status for opt-out in the hope that the change will reverse the program’s very low adoption rate, Health is also preparing to establish an Australian Commission for eHealth to reform its governance arrangements. Initial trials of the revised system will begin in early 2016.

Meanwhile, the Northern Territory is catching up to the rest of the country by investing heavily in eHealth electronic records and procurement systems, and adopting a Supply Chain Management System for healthcare procurement that is compatible with national standards; the Federal Department of Health and Queensland Health have both appointed new CIOs; and the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital in Brisbane has been allocated an additional $5.8m to support the rollout of an integrated electronic medical record initiative.

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