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Digital disruption in government

Tom Burton: Welcome to the Mandarin. Vivek Kundra is our guest today and he’s the former CIO for the Obama administration and now Vice President for Salesforce. Welcome and we want to talk today about digital transformation. For our Australian audience, could you describe your experience with digital transformation in government?

Vivek Kundra: Sure. First of all, Tom, thank you very much for having me here today. When I reflect on my journey and the focus on digital transformation it actually begins at the local government level where I started my career in public service then went on to work at State Government and eventually at the Federal level for the President. And one of the biggest areas that we focused on throughout in our federal State the local government was really putting the citizens at the heart of government operations and if you think about the journey when it comes to technology and the public sector.

In the 1960’s the past was very much about system of record so there’s massive amount of investment that went into building databases and ERP system and supply systems. And then over the last decade we moved into an area which was very much about systems of engagement where you’re able to negate whether it’s through Facebook or through Twitter or LinkedIn and now we’ve entered an era of systems of intelligence. And so, throughout that whole journey I spent a lot of time making sure that whichever era we were in that we were engineering systems very much focused around the citizens.

How do you make sure that they’re interaction with government is frictionless? Most people only think of government today, they look at it and they say you have to wait in line, hold on the phone or submit a three part paper form. Yet, in their everyday consumer life there’s an app for that and it is this gap in information technology in today’s world that we’re seeing that’s creating a bigger drive towards digital transformation across every level of government.

Tom Burton: The engagement piece is obviously impacting across the economy. What other disruption would you say digital is causing in government besides that engagement piece?

Vivek Kundra: I think the biggest one today is this notion of the system of intelligence and what I mean by that is the average Australia today can pick up their smart phone, they can tap or swipe to literally have a car shop and pick them up, they can tap or swipe and order something that will appear on the doorsteps the same day or the next day, they can tap or swipe and book their flight anywhere in the world. Yet, when you’re looking at government that isn’t happening today, so what’s happening in some part of government like in New South of Wales is the fundamentally redefining customer service and what it actually looks like.

So, you can actually anticipate the needs of your citizens when you go on Amazon and you buy a product there are other products that are recommended or when you’re watching a movie on Netflix and you like the category of thrillers there are other thrillers that are recommend to you. That is where the government is headed now and we’re seeing this in terms of the leadership in New South of Wales where they’re using technology to create end to end digital processes, but more important than that actually recognizing that the best experience in a government office is the one that you don’t have to set foot in the government office.

Tom Burton: This is the Service NSW model.

Vivek Kundra: Absolutely.

Tom Burton: Where they’ve taken four hundred government services, brought them all together in one unified system and obviously there’s a backend that supports the whole process.

Vivek Kundra: And they actually went beyond technology, right? So, the other thing they did is they went in and they said well, one somebody has to walk in and for one reason or another into the government office. How do you make sure that that experience is the most excellent experience? So, one of the thing they did is they went out and they recruited people who were focused solely on customer service. So, whether it’s receptionist, bank tellers, and they brought them in to make sure they’re providing world-class service to anybody that walks into a government office and that is extremely powerful. That’s one of the reasons they have a 99 percent customer satisfaction rating.

Tom Burton: So, it’s a good example of digital transformation leading to a much bigger change. When you reflect on your own experience with digital transformation in government you had this really unique experience of three tiers of years of government, watching it. For a country like Australia would you have any observations we could pick up or learn from. I think the UK and USA are a little bit more advanced than we are in digital transformation in government are there lessons we could learn from?

Vivek Kundra: Well, I think that there are lessons that need to be shared around the world because I don’t think there is one clear leader because you have pockets of excellence around the world. So, when you look at the UK, for example and the focus on digital services by actually engineering every experience and user interface with the citizens in mind, that’s extraordinarily powerful. When you look at Japan what’s happening as far as investments are considered around identity management and creating platforms that will enable you to easily interact with their government. Or you look at the US context where a lot of work is happening right now as a result of 18F around making sure that the same innovations that people are used to from silk and value are being applied in the conscience of government services. Or whether you look at the amazing leadership that Minister Turnbull is applying to actually the digital transformation office and reimagining the future.

There are some amazing things that are happening that just need to be scaled and I think for too long what’s happened is government leaders in capitals around the world has focused purely on systems of records. It was easy, it was comfortable and they’re still stuck in the 1960’s era of the technology model, but their customers have leapfrogged, the citizens have leapfrogged and what needs to happen now with any of these initiatives is actually to meet your citizens where they are.

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The Mandarin

The Mandarin staff journalists.