Digital transformation kickstart: Turnbull brings in US star

By Tom Burton

March 23, 2015

The first step in the Communication Minister’s audacious 500-day ambition to have all major government transactions digitally delivered by 2017 kicks off this week with Sydney and Canberra launch events for the new Digital Transformation Office.

A special guest will headline a closed-door meeting of the APS200 — the 200 top leaders of the Australian Public Service — this Wednesday in Canberra as part of the introduction of the DTO to the top tier of the public sector.

Former US government CIO Vivek Kundra is the star attraction in a series of public and private meetings, where he is expected to talk about his digital transformation experience and the concept of connected government, as President Barack Obama’s first digital service delivery czar.

Kundra was responsible for the rolling out of Obama’s promised early in his first term and a series of initiatives to enable greater community engagement with government. He also launched a high level dashboard to give greater visibility around IT projects. He’s now back in the private sector, as vice-president of emerging markets for Salesforce, the behemoth enterprise cloud provider. Service NSW recently adopted the company’s platform to support the rapid roll-out of a single-service portal for all citizen interactions.

Since it was quietly announced late January by the Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the DTO has gathered a small implementation team in the Department of Communications, ahead of an announcement of its CEO. Turnbull has committed to have all major government transactions completed digitally end to end by 2017, an ambitious two-year, 500-working-day program.

Turnbull is also hosting an event Friday at UTS Business School in Sydney for industry and others interested in digital transformation and its role in driving innovation in government. Billed as a launch of the DTO, Kundra is also speaking at this event alongside other industry figures, Telstra’s Kate McKenzie, Westpac CIO David Curran and the head of McKinsey’s digital practice, Sahil Merchant.

The DTO is modelled on the UK Government Digital Service, and more lately its US equivalent, the USDS. The GDS has revolutionised much of the UK government’s digital engagement, creating a single site as the entry point for all citizen and stakeholder interaction. It has adopted a start-up style disruption approach, creating a series of “sprints” and embracing the methodology of small, agile digital firms to break through the deep process culture of traditional public sector delivery.

Turnbull has said he wants the DTO to behave similarly, focusing on giving users a consistent and simple user experience. Government web sites are typically conservatively designed for desktop usage and struggle to maintain a consistent information architecture and quality end-to-end user experience.

Kundra is best known for his roll out of the portal, where the US houses much of its government data sets for use by developers and innovators. The US’ famously secretive agency culture has made significant progress towards open government and is now leading much of the thinking around government use of data.

The Australian government has over the last year radically increased the number of data sets on the portal, with a ten fold increase to 5000 data sets.

The government earlier this month announced a collaboration between the Australian government and GovLab, a team of researchers at New York University. The Open Data 500 project is a survey of Australian companies that use public datasets to generate new business, develop new products and services or create social value. The study aims to provide a basis for assessing the social and economic value of open government data sets and identify the types of data most valuable to businesses.

The DTO is being keenly watched by many public sector agencies to see what influence a small, modestly funded outside group can have, when pitched up against some very big digital players such as the Department of Human Services and the Australian Taxation Office.

The previous Gov 2.0 movement failed to create a strong impetus for change in the federal government sphere when it lost its ministerial patron, then Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner.

Since then there has been a lack of top level political support in Canberra for the types of all-of-government digital initiatives in the UK, US, South Korea, Estonia and New Zealand.

Turnbull’s enthusiasm for the digital space has led to a series of decisions such as the launching of the new open source publishing platform, GovCMS, the development of the myGov portal as a single sign-on for government services, as well as the mandating of cloud infrastructure unless there is a good reason otherwise.

Strong political leadership is seen as critical for rapid roll-out of digital services. Currently at the federal level the digital leadership play is spread between the Department of Communications, AGIMO within the Department of Finance, and the big delivery agencies such as Centrelink and the ATO. In the UK the GDS is part of the Cabinet office. In NSW, Finance Minister Dominic Perrottet has led much of NSW’s rapid catch-up in the e-government space.

More at The Mandarin: Accelerating the digital transformation of government

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