UK’s Shetler to be Canberra’s new digital chief

Director of UK government digital service Paul Shetler
Director of UK government digital service Paul Shetler

The Federal Government has snared a director of the UK Government Digital Service (GDS), Paul Shetler, to lead its $250 million digital change program, appointing the former tech entrepreneur to be the inaugural CEO of the new Digital Transformation Office (DTO).

Shetler comes to Canberra after a year at London’s Ministry of Justice, where he rapidly built a large in-house development, research and design team and fast tracked a prison booking system, now being used by several other agencies. He was appointed director in charge of digitising service delivery at the UK equivalent of the DTO, the GDS, in January this year.

The DTO is an executive agency in the Communications portfolio. Shetler is expected to start in about two weeks. The agency has been initially set up in Canberra, but Shetler is expected to later establish his office in Sydney to take advantage of the strong start-up community around the inner city.

The DTO is very much the brainchild of Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who has openly said it is modelled on the success of the GDS and its work transforming UK civil service delivery. Turnbull has promised to have all major federal government services online by end of 2017. In the recent budget, he won $254 million over the next four years to build a digital delivery program, including a new digital identity and transactional platform.

GDS has strongly pushed the mantra of “citizen needs first” as a key transformational paradigm and has created a huge government portal called In a little over 15 months GDS brought over 300 different websites into the site, closing down 685 different government agency domains, promising users a far superior web experience.

GDS also undertook a massive retraining of government media and public affairs officials to ready them for the new world of digital engagement. GDS has also pushed against traditional IT vendors with slogans like “no more big IT” and an aversion to large expensive traditional government ICT projects.

Turnbull has also called for the DTO to mimic the start-up behaviour of the GDS, which has pushed the idea of exemplar projects, agile project delivery and a series of sprints.

Over the last 20 years Shetler has moved rapidly around the technology sphere, leading or driving several mobile and communication start-ups, in the fintech and social connection space. Shetler has worked in London, New York and on the US west coast, holding different titles including at Microsoft, Oracle and the Republic National Bank of New York.

His domain expertise has been mostly in the financial sector, building complex IT and communication platforms.

Till his recent appointment to the GDS, Shetler led the digital transformation program at the UK Ministry of Justice where he was very public evangelist for digital change in government. As chief digital officer for the 85,000-employee agency, he doubled the in-house digital delivery team from 75 to 165, declaring agencies would get nowhere without in-house capability. He has also railed against slow public service timelines, describing them as “glacial” and promoting prototyping and iteration, rather than large scale transformation

Since joining the UK government January last year, Shetler has fast become an advocate for the public sector, openly declaring he looked for people who “make a difference and affect people’s lives”:

“We look for their motivation and ask them why they want to join the government. Of course we also want to understand what their qualifications are and to ensure they are the best person from a technical skills standpoint.’

“Generalists don’t really have an allegiance to any business; they are going to leave the first chance they get. We don’t compete that way, we don’t want to bring in people that would leave tomorrow when given the chance for more money, we are interested in having people who have a real interest in public services and want to work here for the different type of culture.”

Shetler is a savvy media player, frequently appearing in the press. He has also been a strong social activist and in 2011 organised a kiss-in as protest, after an inner-London pub ejected two men kissing, allegedly claiming it was obscene.

Read more at The Mandarin: Tom Burton: Shetler’s challenge in the court of the mandarins

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