Malcolm Turnbull has the most impressive ICT track record yet seen in a Prime Minister.
It commenced with his role as a founding investor of OzEmail – one of Australia’s first ISPs – and continued through to his role as Communications Minister where, among other responsibilities, he advocated strongly for digital government.
As Prime Minister, Turnbull has already demonstrated that he will continue to be a driving force in the digital transformation of government services by ensuring that the Digital Transformation Office (DTO) remains under his auspice.
Following swiftly on his appointment as Prime Minister, Turnbull pushed through an Administrative Arrangements Order which placed the DTO within the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) portfolio.
Turnbull has also appointed Mitch Fifield the Minister for Communications and placed him in the newly-created role of Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Government.
The DTO’s move into PM&C, a central and important policy generating agency, along with the direct interest of this technologically savvy PM, will significantly strengthen the DTO’s ability to drive digital enablement across the Australian Public Service.
Agencies with extensive citizen-facing roles including the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), Department of Human Services (DHS), and the Department of Health (DoH) are likely to be subject to additional pressure and scrutiny regarding their contribution to the digital agenda.
Importantly, they may well benefit from additional or accelerated funding in either the upcoming mini-budget, or in subsequent budgets, especially where a business case indicates the quantum of savings that can be made from enhanced levels of digital services.
Launching Deloitte’s Digital Government Transformation report in July, Turnbull said that the most important thing that a government can do to encourage an innovative economy is to lead by example: “because everyone is engaging with government all the time, they will see the power of the government’s digital engagement and they will then emulate it and copy it in their own lives and in their own work.”
The report found that the cost of citizen interactions with government conducted entirely online is on average 2.4 per cent of what a face-to-face interaction costs, and a model of government where 80 per cent of interactions occur online would save the public sector $16.2 billion.
Modelled on the United Kingdom’s Government Digital Service (GDS), the newly established DTO is responsible for digitising federal government services – making them more accessible, convenient, user-centric, and ensuring that there is a common look and feel across government. The DTO has already published a Digital Service Standard, intended as the foundation for design of agencies’ online presence.
The DTO is being led by a Chief Executive Officer in Paul Shetler who held an executive role in GDS and is a former Chief Digital Officer of UK’s Ministry of Justice. Turnbull praised Shetler for his “20 years of experience in leading complex IT and business transformation projects” upon his appointment.
Other Whole of Government ICT reforms may now either come out of total dormancy or be accelerated now that Turnbull is Prime Minister.
A refreshed WofG ICT Strategy, swifter action on some of the as yet unimplemented components of the August 2013 Policy for eGovernment and the Digital Economy (released while the Coalition was still in Opposition), and the resurrection of some of the 2014 Commission of Audit ICT recommendations could all be candidates for attention within the next six to 12 months.
Each of these could contribute to a reinvigorated Federal ICT market. According to Intermedium’s analysis of contracts data, the market (excluding Defence and the Defence Materiel Organisation) has experienced a series of contractions over the last seven years, commencing with the impacts of the 2008 Gershon Review of ICT costs.
Contrasting this expectation of accelerated ICT reform with Abbott’s Prime Ministership, it took 18 months from the election and the bringing down of the Coalition Government’s second budget before Turnbull succeeded in establishing the DTO.
In this period, Mathias Cormann, as Minister for Finance with responsibility for both the Chief Technology Officer function and the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO), was consistently silent on all matters pertaining to ICT.
With Turnbull’s ascendancy, either Cormann, no longer needing to adhere to Abbott’s directives, will become more active with regard to his ICT responsibilities, or he ceases to be responsible for such functions and there is a further rationalisation of the ICT related functions of Finance and DP&C.
Moving the DTO (which includes a significant number of staff from AGIMO) into PM&C is in line with recent trends in other jurisdictions. In NSW, the fledgling Service NSW was ‘incubated’ during its pilot phase in the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC). Following the election of the Andrews government, the WofG ICT function is now located in the Victorian DPC (along with the embryonic Service Victoria unit) and in South Australia, the Office of Digital Government is located in its DPC.
It also remains to be seen as to how strong an advocate for the digitisation of government the new Communications Minister Mitch Fifield becomes in his first Ministerial role.
Despite the roles that Cormann and Fifield play in the newly configured government, much will still depend on the leadership of the new PM.
Craig Tomler – Gov 2.0 advocate and commentator – has written of Turnbull on his blog: “Rudd & Gillard could work the Twitters. Abbott understood the need to engage digitally… However Australia has never before… had a digitally literate Prime Minister”.
In his first speech as PM, Turnbull emphasised the role that a digital world would play in Australia’s future.
“The Australia of the future has to be a nation that is agile, that is innovative, that is creative… We have to recognise that the disruption that we see driven by technology, that volatility in change is our friend if we are agile and smart enough to take advantage of it.”
Turnbull could move on a number of outstanding issues arising from the Policy for eGovernment and the Digital Economy as well as from the National Commission of Audit. They include:
- Increasing ICT transparency via the ongoing collection, reporting and analysis of data on ICT costs, assets, performance, utilisation and availability;
- Implementing an ICT dashboard to report ICT spending and the progress of projects;
- Facilitating ongoing external review for large ICT projects;
- Moving all “major services and interactions with individuals online” by 2017;
- Establishing an Australian Government ICT Advisory Board; and
- Promoting procurement from SMEs.
Unveiling his new ministry, Turnbull said: “[We] have to be more nimble in the way we seize the enormous opportunities that are presented to us.
“We're not seeking to proof ourselves against the future. We are seeking to embrace it.”