Quick win: DTA shows how it’s done with open-source notification platform

By Stephen Easton

Friday November 1, 2019

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Four people, eight weeks, and $150,000.

That is what it took for the Digital Transformation Agency to deliver a working prototype of a bulk email and text-message notification system.

There was no need to build notify.gov.au from scratch. The DTA adapted an open-source product developed by the Government Digital Service in the UK, and invited public servants in any level of government to try it out free of charge.

“More than 100 users from 47 agencies were trialling the service within three months of its launch. For smaller organisations in particular, it represents a major saving as they do not need to invest in establishing their own platform,” says the DTA annual report.

Now the system has 99 government agencies using it: 65 federal bodies, 26 from the states and territories, eight council administrations and two others.

Chief executive Randall Brugeaud told a recent conference that the troubled My Aged Care service run by the Department of Health was manually grinding through a bulk send of 13,000 emails every month in batches of 250, iTNews reports. This took several days; now it takes an hour using Notify and this cost the department nothing.

The system is still in the beta phase and pricing remains low. It is free for agencies to join and allows them to send unlimited emails as well as up to 25,000 text messages a year before it’s time to pay up. Additional texts currently cost $0.06 per message to Australian mobiles and double for overseas, but that could change.

“If your organisation offers multiple services, each service will get its own free message allowance,” says the DTA price sheet.

The DTA’s work on Notify is closely linked with the development of a Tell Us Once platform that allows people to update all government agencies at the same time about changes in their circumstances. “The private Beta stage [of Tell Us Once] is now complete and we are looking at next steps,” the agency reports.

The agency sees the notification platform as a success story befitting one of three brief case studies in its annual report, which explains how the UK version was modified:

“We made changes to the product to suit the Australian context. For example, changes to the time zones, currencies and phone number formats, and ironing out related bugs in the code. Notify is aligned to the Digital Service Standard and runs in cloud.gov.au.

“Leveraging the success and years of learnings from GOV.UK Notify significantly reduced the time and effort required to set up the product. We were able to bring it to Australian users within months and quickly demonstrate its value. With all three levels of government using Notify, our next step is to finalise guidance on consistent branding and templates. Feedback collected during the trial will also help to shape and improve the product.”

The federal agency says its digital research showed people wanted more “immediate text or email updates on non-sensitive information, with small snippets of useful information” from government bodies, like appointment reminders, application updates, and advice on looming expiry dates.

Notify has earned the DTA a considerable degree of praise including from its former CEO, Paul Shetler; “and there should be more services delivered this way, sharing open source with and from other governments,” he said on Twitter.

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