The DTA’s role is to create a platform for digital transformation, not to promote individual projects. The projects belong to individual departments and agencies, argues Darryl Carlton.
Of overriding importance when reading the ‘Vision 2025’ strategy is to consider the role of the DTA.
Is the DTA the custodian of projects, or is it responsible for creating the conditions that will allow agencies, businesses and citizens to perform the actions that would be of value to them? This is unclear when reading the DTA 2025 Strategy and Vision document.
I am going to argue that the DTA has the role of creating a platform for digital transformation, and not for promoting individual projects. The projects belong to individual departments and agencies. The idea of building a platform is common to the successful internet companies. You build common and shared frameworks which can scale through open, published APIs. You create scale that, in this case, the departments can leverage.
Concentrate on capability building“Australia has consistently rejected the adoption of a universal identifier for citizens. There has never been a consistent and single identifier for citizens to do business with government agencies.”
We only need to go back to the 1990s and Michael Porter’s ‘The Competitiveness of Nations’, where his team examined what made countries successful. Porter argued that countries should not be trying to “pick winners”; rather they should concentrate on capability building.
Some of the projects discussed in the Strategy and Vision paper are capable of creating platforms. In the main, however, they would be considered “quick wins” or, in the parlance of business, “low hanging fruit”.
The dominant project, or projects, revolve around the idea of creating and leveraging a digital identity. Australia has consistently rejected the adoption of a universal identifier for citizens. There has never been a consistent and single identifier for citizens to do business with government agencies.
My understanding is that this has not been a failure of the bureaucracy, rather this has been by design and upheld in several legal battles with civil libertarians.
From an IT perspective, I accept and get the idea of a single digital identifier. But there was nothing in the DTA proposal that addressed Australians’ opposition to this concept and how that was going to be dealt with.
An IT version of the Australia Card
In effect, these proposals for digital identity are an IT version of the Australia Card, first proposed in 1985 and abandoned in 1987.
The Australia Card debacle was a significant contributor to the double-dissolution that followed. The final report of the Financial System Inquiry (2014) considered the benefits of a digital ID but, citing the Australia Card, rejected the notion as unworkable.“What is needed is leadership in creating the common and shared platforms that can be used by all departments and agencies to deliver innovative solutions.”
I would also point out that Australia Post, a wholly government owned business, has spent years creating a digital ID, which has been launched and is available now. The DTA proposal for a digital ID is built upon the assumption of utilising the Australia Post network as a key delivery agency for the creation and registration on an individual’s (voluntary) digital ID. The DTA proposal appears to be duplicating expenditure that has already produced a workable solution.
The Senate completed its inquiry into the “digital delivery of government services” in June 2018, and made seven key recommendations. These were not explicitly addressed in the DTA Strategy and Vision.
The Senate inquiry noted that “it has become clear to the committee that digital transformation is a policy area beset by soaring rhetoric and vague aspirations by government, largely unconnected to the actual policy activities actually undertaken”.
Paul Shetler, the former CEO of the DTA, referring to the new DTA strategy has said: “The federal government’s just-released digital transformation strategy offers no real strategy or path towards achieving its lofty aims.”
It is easy to be critical and to find fault. But the history of digital transformation and IT project delivery for the government is paved with good intentions, high rhetoric and failed projects. What is needed is leadership in creating the common and shared platforms that can be used by all departments and agencies to deliver innovative solutions.
The Digital Transformation Agency has the opportunity to provide whole-of-government transparency and oversight. To shine a light on poor practices. To create the tools that can be used inside and outside the public sector to improve the delivery and reliability of government services. This document does not achieve that aim.
As the Senate inquiry opined: “Digital transformation represents one of the best opportunities to deliver more to those who pay for government, those who work for government, and those who government works for”.