Evidence-based policy has never been more important as Australia fights off a pandemic-induced recession with solid data. Software leader SAP has a candid look at what’s worked so far.
When Australia’s two biggest supermarkets temporarily suspended their online orders and deliveries amid panic buying in March, it was a nationwide signal that proficiency in digital service delivery had been catapulted from desirable to existential.
Despite solid returns to investors and a loyal and satisfied customer base, there simply weren’t enough trucks, drivers, or fulfilment capacity to manage the flood of incoming online orders triggered by the rapidly evolving response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
In an unprecedented market dislocation, rationing of many critical consumer goods was swiftly imposed to maintain equity of access for vulnerable citizens and parts of the community who might otherwise be left stranded.
At its heart, this was a technology paradox like no other; Australia’s biggest retailers pumped the brakes on their digital offerings – not because they had online processing problems – but because logistics of the physical world just couldn’t keep up.
Virtual meets reality
Millions of orders a day could be processed online and in the cloud. Yet the supermarkets just couldn’t source the tinned tomatoes fast enough.
As supermarket chiefs pleaded for public patience, those at the coalface of government and the public service were fast learning the realpolitik of managing rapidly shifting expectations, both for the public and policymakers – as well as their own staff and stakeholders.
With the world turned upside down, swift access to operational data to inform decisions became the vital element in making serious judgement calls, knowing which way to move and keeping control of a fluid and volatile situation.
Australia’s new digital landscape
The customer experiences of online commerce and the so-called ‘Amazon effect’ are often held up as the beacon the public sector should aim for, with public services sometimes criticised for lagging the private sector in terms of technological proficiency and customer satisfaction.
In less than three months, the Australian public, government and businesses big and small learned what they could send digital overnight – with potentially long-term ramifications on service delivery systems and processes, as we adjust to the ‘new-normal’.
Technology developers and providers like SAP have also risen to the COVID-19 challenge and are asking how they can support governments in augmenting a broader, faster and stronger economic recovery.
Many solutions and initiatives will need to be collaborative, especially around re-employment and workforce participation.
Collaborative policy design that takes account of what new and existing systems can do necessitates conversations that can capture insights from multiple public and private sector organisations.
So, how do we get there?
The essential foundation – good data
A solid starting point is to ask what lessons have been already learned across public and private sectors, and how we can apply them elsewhere.
The very nature of work, where and how it is performed, has changed for the foreseeable future to eliminate COVID-19 infection vectors.
We now know that people, the bedrock of organisations, and their leadership can rise to epic challenges when the right tools to deliver are at hand. An undeniable learning from Australia’s lockdown is that resilient digital services matter like never before.
Conversely, enterprises and organisations that had put off the transition to the cloud (public, private or hybrid) and a digital footing often struggled to make the switch or seize the moment to innovate in a crisis.
The one really big lesson Australia learned was that digital proficiency created by flexible, scalable and rock-solid core enterprise systems often made the difference between making a successful pivot to absorb disruption and simply struggling to survive. Digital transformation is no longer an option. It is a must.
More times than many appreciate, third-party software and systems was keeping essential government and corporate systems humming, even as they were throttled-up hard with demand doubling or more in a matter days. Digital resilience, flexibility and visibility over processes, people and output became critical to effective service delivery, for both public and private sectors.
See – and know – the tipping point
A clear tipping point is timely access to accurate critical data. Especially the ability to model scenarios and their outcomes, to keep service delivery up-and-running even under immense pressure.
In government, waiting months to access crucial information has necessarily given way to immediate – often real-time snapshots of key data sets – to rapidly inform decisions.
More often than not, that’s meant drilling down into core systems executing transactions, financials and ERP (enterprise resource planning), and customer satisfaction and feedback tracking.
Core system strength
What’s less known is that core systems suppliers like SAP, which has been providing enterprise data architecture and processing capacity for government for nearly 40 years, are not just the foundational bedrock of many present systems but a springboard to faster, better and more efficient public services moving forward.
The same can be said of private enterprise, with SAP also powering core systems at banks, manufacturers, tier one retailers and key services providers across economies, from the likes of Coles to Boral, Lion or AGL Energy.
The Commonwealth Bank of Australia has not only demonstrated an ability to pivot in the face of massive challenges, but is now providing vital economic insights thanks to its ground-breaking core systems renewal powered by SAP more than a decade ago.
Real time visibility of its transactions, and how and where they are flowing are now best-in-class economic indicators, right when the need for good data fast is imperative.
Importantly, it’s never to late to start. While organisations that had invested in strong digital systems have generally proved to be more resilient, profitable and sustainable during Australia’s recent crises – including the bushfires and pandemic – the latest disruption has also seen technology adopted at unheard of speeds, helping businesses and governments mitigate against the challenging operational and economic conditions caused by the pandemic.
The road ahead
It’s no secret Australia is entering an economic recession; or that arresting rising unemployment has become a top order priority.
With limited stimulatory firepower, the real challenge for those forging new policy is how to swiftly measure the success, or otherwise, of new initiatives.
It’s fair to say new policy responses will have to be ‘agile’ from the outset – or, to be blunt, be able to be modified as needs and circumstances change. But to empower that response some basics are required.
- Access to authoritative data with clarity of quality
- Removal of barriers from data silos
- Knowing how to swim to the surface in a data deluge.
Employment is the burning bridge
Whether it’s federal, state or local government, no elected representative or public administrator benefits from an increase in welfare claims, let alone the claimants themselves.
The question now for bureaucrats and their ministerial masters alike, is how to make policy initiatives translate to success, not just at the administrative layer, but as visible proof.
For government, in many respects, conspicuous action must be matched with measurable outcomes. People need not only to be heard, but be seen to be heard.
In this regard, private sector benchmarks for customer experience quality must, at a minimum, be matched.
It’s no small ask, but the proof points already exist for those willing to look.
A collegiate conversation
At a time when Australia is facing a Herculean task in limiting the ravages of the COVID-19 induced recession, dialogue on policy between government, industry and the public needs to transcend traditional boundaries.
Good ideas, backed by the knowledge of how to make them work, especially at a systemic level with public proof points, are needed to forge a new consensus to bolster Australia’s recovery.
Proving what’s possible
For that reason, SAP has drafted a key Public Policy Paper to inform policy discussion and help shine a light on the opportunities ahead, even as many jobs and economic growth remains under threat.
The Public Policy Paper traverses, at a data and digital level, what is necessary and possible across jurisdictions and their agencies to help restore Australia’s economy and the prosperity of its people. The paper segments challenges into six key themes.
- A Data-Driven Policy Response to Unemployment
- Digitising Small and Medium Enterprises
- A More Responsive Public Service
- A More Efficient Public Service
- Applying Digital Engineering to Infrastructure Projects
- Smarter Borders
Knowing where to start, what to ask
Productive conversations between government, industry and suppliers come when everyone brings something to the table.
In this spirit, SAP has illustrated opportunities and innovation using case studies with real life customers that are as candid and as they are referenceable alongside recommendations.
Only by bringing together expertise from public and private institutions and using the full range of digital tools and technologies at our disposal will the country be able to minimise the costs of Covid-19. By sharing its ideas and experience on digital service delivery, using data more effectively, and focusing on user-experience to improve outcomes, SAP’s Public Policy Paper is a strong first step in understanding some of the ways we can ‘Get Australia Back to Work’.