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OPINION: Calling for Digital Disruption - Not Business as Usual

by Marie Johnson •
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The National Commission of (NCOA) Audit Report* says “business as usual” is not an option for Australia. The NCOA Report presented a service delivery transformation agenda characterised by:

  • Digital first;
  • Oversight from a Chief Digital Officer;
  • eGovernment;
  • Use of cloud;
  • Innovation in payments;
  • Closing down duplicated service delivery networks and arrangements; and
  • Leveraging the national economic capabilities as part of the delivery and transformation of public services.

I have been advocating this transformation agenda for many years, as outlined in the article "Before this Decade is OUT… What if the “Giants of the Web” Designed Government Service Delivery”.

What does this transformation agenda mean exactly?  

Not doing business as usual will require the re-thinking of problems, the re-thinking of solutions – and a fundamental re-imagining of what is meant by “public service”.

This is not a technology transformation – although transforming how technology is leveraged is part of the DNA of this historic paradigm shift. It is a transformation of the 60 to 100 year old traditional operating model of government into a digital operating model, a platform of engagement for the future. 

This is about seeking out the capabilities needed for agile and data driven digital operations. Leaders will need to look across the economy for capabilities that can connect to and support the digital operating model of government, capabilities that will not be operated by government. “New” capabilities will be proposed and implemented - such as data and predictive analytics; and innovative targeted, quarantined or micro payment capabilities. 

This new digital operating model cannot be a bottom-up, agency by agency approach. A digital capability architecture will define the model and describe the capabilities of digital government – the people, processes, and principles.  It will provide a blueprint for the whole-of-government digital platform – and how government connects to other digital platforms across the economy.

Importantly, standards will be the foundation of the digital government operating model – data standards; reference frameworks; interface standards and an API architecture that enables government services to mesh with the services of other providers. These standards will not take years to develop, but will be the digital standards already in use across the economy. 

Standards will enable paper artefacts to be eliminated from government administration – driving out costs and red tape – because every paper form has costly manual processes.  Standards already define the assurance framework for online authentication credentials – and government must accept these credentials and participate in this digital assurance framework. 

The Chief Digital Officer will oversee the development of the digital operating model of government that enables “public services” to be delivered through and across other platforms.  This is not a CIO role.  The CDO will have accountability for the client experience and hard ROI – the two measures go hand-in-hand.

Why is ROI so important? 

It is fairly straight forward to cut spending. From my perspective, the issue is that the transformation required to achieve substantial benefits and significant operational cost reductions cannot be gained on a business as usual approach – nor on an agency by agency approach. 

Achieving savings goes far beyond cost cutting – it is fundamentally about transformation. And the time frame for transformation is a big factor in this ROI – a slow and sluggish timeframe will lose momentum, and this is the greatest risk. 

The recent PWC commentary on the NCOA Report was excellent, observing that when facing similar challenges, “…one UK public service leader commented that ‘after years of 5 per cent year on year reductions, it is simpler to tackle a 20 per cent challenge than the next 5 per cent.  It requires us to do different things rather than just do things differently’.”

While “digital” is now just part of business it is certainly not part of “business as usual” as these charts on digital disruption show. The chart for digital disruption in government would show an intersection between rising costs; drastically reduced budget; softening revenue projections; changing demographics; system rigidity; and changing risk patterns. 

Facing such digital disruption, the National Commission of Audit correctly asks - who can deliver government services better and more efficiently?

As we transition from the old operating model of government, a fundamental re-imagining of what is meant by “public service” is needed.  A new approached is needed – inspired by a cadre of “public entrepreneurs” from all sectors of the economy. 

*On Thursday 1 May, the Australian Government released the report of the National Commission of Audit – ahead of the Federal Budget on Tuesday 13 May.  The Report – “Towards Responsible Government” – examined the Commonwealth’s finances and provided “advice and recommendations on what should be done to ensure that spending is placed on a sustainable long-term footing”. 

Marie Johnson, the Managing Director at the Centre For Digital Business, describes herself as a passionate technologist, futurist and innovator with a global perspective on technology, innovation and connectedness.

She has had extensive senior executive experience in technology and innovation, including as a Federal government agency Chief Information Officer, Chief Technology Architect and services transformation strategist. Marie has led major reform programs including at the then Department of Immigration and Citizenship and at the Department of Human Services. In her role at Microsoft, she was the chief strategist for Microsoft’s Public Services and eGovernment initiatives globally.



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