With nations such as Australia and New Zealand moving towards a ‘New Normal’, longstanding pre-pandemic digital government priorities such as digital identity and shared services reform are beginning to receive attention once again.
Both Australia and NZ rank highly on international rankings of digital government progress. Both nations also share a number of high-level priorities in approaching public sector digital transformation. As a sign of deepening alignment on digital policy between the two nations, NZ Government Digital Services Minister Kris Faafoi attended Australian Data and Digital Council interjurisdictional meetings in 2020.
In New Zealand, the Government Chief Digital Officer (GCDO) is in the Te Tari Taiwhenua | Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), the agency responsible for a broad range of services from births, deaths and marriages to gambling regulation.
In this respect, the agency is similar to the NSW Department of Customer Service. However, it differs as a national agency in a unitary state by taking on responsibilities such as local government oversight and passports.
In NSW and other Australian jurisdictions, Whole-of-Government (WofG) digital transformation operates as a business unit within the Department.
New Zealand’s GCDO Paul James also acts as the Chief Executive Officer for Internal Affairs. The GCDO oversees the creation of digital policy, reviews digital investments, manages services and measures outcomes for digital government programs.
In a pre-COVID-19 2019 interview, James noted the shift from agency-centric models of change to WofG and citizen-centricity. Most, if not all, Australian jurisdictions have committed in name to WofG citizen-centric approaches in digital service delivery and other non-ICT policy areas.
The NZ Government lists three major work programs that form the priorities of its digital transformation. All three can be found in Australian government policy, to varying degrees.
New Zealand’s DIA released the WofG Digital Inclusion Blueprint in March 2019.
The Blueprint identifies four “interdependent elements” of digital inclusion:
- Motivation: This focusses on ensuring citizens understand the importance of using digital in their life and the world.
- Access: Focus on devices, networks and services. Ensures these enabling tools are available, affordable and accessible for those with a disability.
- Skills: Knowing how to use digital technologies.
- Trust: Spans cyber security to privacy concerns. Good levels of digital literacy are key in order to help people avoid falling victim to scams and misleading information on the internet.
These elements also shape the Digital Inclusion Outcomes Framework, which assesses the effectiveness of initiatives that address the digital divide. As part of the NZ Government approach, assessment of these initiatives aims to improve “wellbeing” alongside more traditional outcomes reporting. Similar reporting can be found in the nation’s Wellbeing Budgets.
Although non-government organisations and businesses have shown interest in addressing digital inclusion in Australia, government responses are patchwork. Western Australia, which is developing its own Digital Inclusion Blueprint, stands out for WofG responses, while other jurisdictions run a number of initiatives to improve digital participation.
Improving government payroll systems
Overseen by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and James as GCDO, this project focusses on ensuring value-for-money and proper processes for payroll at a WofG level.
Payroll overhauls have been a staple of many large government digital transformation projects, with the Australian Government undertaking reforms through the Department of Finance’s Service Delivery Office as part of the larger GovERP WofG shared services reforms.
The NZ program is separated into three “workstreams” dedicated to:
- Overseeing risk and expenditure at a WofG level (through the GCDO),
- addressing non-compliance with holiday and nonstandard work pay through technological upgrades, and
- coordinating payroll procurement through leveraging of bulk purchasing and outsourced services.
As part of the final workstream, NZ operates a multi-use procurement list for Payroll Services. The list allows for procurement of Enterprise Software, Managed Services and Business Consulting. Multi-use and ‘always/often open’ approaches to procurement are common in Australian jurisdictions as a way to support innovative and better value-for-money approaches to public sector ICT contracting.
Digital Identity Transition Programme
The Australian Federal Budget 2020-21 revealed a renewed push towards instituting digital identity solutions through the Trusted Digital Identity Framework (TDIF). The significant funding commitment has accompanied renewed government interest in implementing digital identity in Australia. In 2018, the technology was considered “absolutely essential” to public sector digital transformation by then-Assistant Minister for Digital Transformation Michael Keenan in 2018. However, the program attracted criticism around security and privacy concerns and appeared to lose wind until the 2020-21 Budget funding announcement.
New Zealand also views digital identity as an essential part of the digital transformation journey. In 2018 it began a two-year program, the Digital Identity Transition Programme (DITP), to identify use-cases, define the ‘role’ of the technology in government and develop a framework for identifying risks to public trust. A follow-up program to the original two-year DITP was approved by NZ Cabinet in July 2020.