Goodbye bespoke systems: Woolcott flags service-wide digital investments

By Matthew Elmas

November 18, 2020

Peter Woolcott. Image: Australian Public Service Commission.

The Australian Public Service Secretaries Board will establish a new digital committee to accelerate development of service-wide ICT infrastructure in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Australian Public Service Commissioner Peter Woolcott says.

The board will also support ‘sensible prioritisation’ of new digital investments in an effort to curtail incompatible and inconsistent systems across the APS, Woolcott told the DTA’s 2020 Digital Summit on Tuesday.

“My view is that the era of bespoke agency level digital systems and platforms has come to an end,” Woolcott said.

“We must take greater advantage of the economies of scale presented by an APS-wide approach to digital investment.”

Reflecting on the digital performance of the APS throughout the coronavirus crisis, Woolcott said public servants distinguished themselves, pulling off a mammoth task under immense pressure and under rapidly changing working conditions.

But the digital demands of the pandemic have also highlighted some cracks that senior leaders must now move to address, Woolcott said.

“Our recent experiences of remote working have highlighted the absence of a common video conferencing platform for the APS,” he said.

“Even something as simple as sharing large video files can be fraught with difficulty, as we discovered a few weeks ago to launch the data profession stream.”

Digital and ICT capabilities have long been identified as one of the thornier structural issues facing the APS, highlighted most recently in an independent review of the public service handed down late last year.

Since then, Woolcott says progress has been made in encouraging digital capabilities across the service, particularly through the digital profession stream, which was launched in April and is now boosting core digital expertise among leaders and the broader workforce.

Equally, the pandemic has also underscored the importance of mobility, and ensuring the APS has systems that enable redeployment of resources on a dime.

“We have demonstrated that success in Crisis Response requires us to work together to mobilise and deploy resources when and where they are most needed,” Woolcott says.

“It is also clear that we need to embed this enterprise approach to APS workforce management into our business as usual, rather than leaving it to the realm of crisis response. A digital profession aims to do this for employees and digital roles.”

Read more: PM&C’s ‘clear-headed’ ICT strategy encourages new ways of working and agility


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