Federal Budget 2019: shared services and productivity

By Stephen Easton

Tuesday April 2, 2019

The Australian Public Service is expected to save $17.3 million every year from 2019-20 onward through shared corporate services, according to the budget, on top of $72.3m already in the bank.

“Through the use of technology and new ways of working, the Government is driving a public sector that is able to deliver higher quality services, but with fewer resources,” writes Minister for Finance and the Public Service Mathias Cormann in this year’s budget, pointing to the shared services program as a good example.

“There were recently around 170 separate ICT systems in use to deliver corporate services to public servants across 90 agencies, while each agency had its own way of managing these services.

“Through the Shared Services Program, the Government is reducing the number of corporate ICT systems and standardising business processes. Around 30 agencies are already starting to receive corporate services from a Shared Services Hub. The Program has mapped over 200 standard business processes that agencies can adopt.

“This means, into the future, staff will have a common way of managing things like accounts payable and receivable, payroll, credit card management and travel.

“There will be fewer new processes to learn when staff move jobs within the public service, and people can be confident that the processes they use are the most efficient and comply with relevant quality standards.”

Also driving up productivity, according to the Public Service Minister, is the Government Business Analytical Unit, established in the Department of Finance as part of the Data Integration Partnership for Australia.

The GBAU is working with public service commissioner Peter Woolcott “to develop a deeper understanding of public sector productivity” — a key challenge in public administration everywhere. “This work builds on the current performance framework,” says the minister.

“Statistical analysis conducted as part of the project has found drivers of workforce productivity can vary considerably between teams within an agency. Job function (such as policy, service delivery or communications) is often a significant factor.

“The project is exploring the data at a detailed level to develop a more sophisticated understanding of the characteristics of highly productive teams, and the levers of productivity that matter most for different public sector roles. This data will help guide managers at all levels to get the best out of their teams.”

One of Cormann’s favourite attempts to find ways of doing more with less in the APS is the Productivity and Automation Centre of Excellence. This is a project led by the Department of Finance’s Service Delivery Office, one of several shared services hubs in the latest model.

“It is helping to improve productivity and the quality of services using process automation,” he says.

“The Department of Finance and the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science are using process automation to improve productivity and service quality in shared services. Over 15 automations are now running across payroll and finance operational functions, freeing up more than 5,000 hours of staff capacity each year.

“The Service Delivery Office is saving time calculating superannuation entitlements each fortnight. A process that once averaged 17 minutes of staff time per calculation has now been reduced to 2 to 3 minutes.

“This has reduced errors and enabled staff to focus their attention on more challenging activities to better support their clients and deliver frontline services to citizens and businesses.”

The project to improve the administration of grants, which is based on a similar principle of reducing duplication, also gets a mention. Two hubs, for community and business grants respectively, are charged with doshing out about $10 billion a year in total on behalf of 14 agencies.

“In the Business Grants Hubs, for example, there has been a saving of 10 hours per grant application when an applicant completes their second application, and a saving of 43 business days in finalising a contract,” according to the budget papers.

The GrantConnect website, meanwhile, lists all opportunities in one place and aims to increase transparency as a central repository of information and statistics about grants.

“During the period 1 July 2018 to 28 February 2019, GrantConnect shows that the Government published 224 new Grant Opportunities across 29 agencies, and awarded around 21,000 grants worth $14.9 billion, across 71 categories.

“This includes investment in aged and child care, public health services, medical research and Indigenous health. In 2018-19 there have been an additional 15,800 users registered on GrantConnect, bringing the total number of users to around 30,000, with roughly 440 new registrations each week.”

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the Australian Research Council are also working on speeding up the process of administering grants to academics. Using machine learning and automation, the NHMRC’s Grants Management Accelerator has reduced the time it takes to do “complex sorting” from several weeks to a few hours.

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