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Paul Shetler: ‘no other government is as ambitious’ for seamless service integration

Seamless digital services from three levels of government is the dream, and Digital Transformation Office chief executive Paul Shetler is confident it can become a reality.

“Technology is now abundant and we should and will take advantage of that to redesign our services, such that the user can have a relationship with government as government,” he told a packed room at the National Gallery of Australia this morning.

“Not this department, not that agency, not that particular state, not that particular locality or some government subdivision within it, but with government, because in fact that’s how people think of it.”

Shetler, who was announced as the inaugural CEO of the $250 million federal Digital Transformation Office earlier this month, made the comments at his first public forum — hosted by IPAA ACT during Innovation Month — since arriving in Australia from the UK.

[pullquote] “There is no other government in the world that has the ambition and the drive to do this.” [/pullquote]

Less than two hours before he spoke, the news broke that the New South Wales government is launching a new online “digital profile” service similar to the Commonwealth’s myGov system later this year. NSW Finance Minister Dominic Perrottet will make the announcement today, with an anticipated launch of initial features in September.

In light of this, Boston Consulting Group’s Miguel Carrasco asked Shetler for his views on creating an “interoperable identity framework” rather than several separate ones.

“I think the most important thing is the principle of designing for user needs, so making sure we understand what is the user need, as opposed to what is the government need, and making sure we meet the user need first,” the DTO chief replied.

“That was a key item in the development of Verify in the UK, and clearly any work going forward here will be very similar in terms of how we analyse the problems.”

Speaking at the launch of a new report on digital service delivery on Monday, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said there were “a lot of good discussions going on and a fair bit of progress” in relation to the government’s desire to get state and territory governments to link their own agencies to myGov.

“I think it’ll take some time to achieve that goal, but the policy that the government has is to make the myGov platform available to state and local governments for free, subject to their own on-boarding costs, but we’re not seeking to cost recover from it,” Turnbull said. “And that’s quite deliberate because we want to get more people on it. We see this whole exercise as being a very important part of our productivity agenda.”

Federation silos ‘kind of crazy’

Shetler could not offer any further comment related to Service NSW’s newly announced offering. He has only been in the role for two weeks but is spending his time learning as quickly as possible, or “drinking from the fire hose” as he put it.

He described his new role as “the best digital job posting in the world right now” and the DTO as part of a global movement. But no other government in the world is as ambitious in its plans for a digital service delivery revolution as Australia, according to Shetler.

[pullquote] “They force the person using them to keep a map of government and how it works in their own head so they can get the services they want … that’s kind of crazy, isn’t it?” [/pullquote]

He admitted it would not be easy making it quicker and easier for citizens to interact with all three levels of government wherever they are in Australia.

“The biggest challenge is going to be … creating a framework where we can have states and other localities working with Commonwealth government to provide that consistent view of government to the users,” said Shetler. “That’s not a trivial problem. That’s actually quite serious and that’s going to take some time.”

He was also very frank about the current state of affairs. Companies like Amazon would go out of business if they served their customers in the way government does, he said, pointing out that there is no consistency between the websites and service offerings of most entities.

“They force the person using them to keep a map of government and how it works in their own head so they can get the services they want,” Shetler said. “And if you think about that, that’s kind of crazy, isn’t it?”

More than half of those using government digital services aged 14 or over report a problem drove them into other channels like shopfronts and call centres.

Can we even afford traditional service delivery?

According to Shetler, the most interesting factoid from the Adobe/Deloitte report that Turnbull released yesterday is how much this costs the taxpayers, who are also the ones experiencing the frustration of digital service delivery failure.

“Face to face interactions cost $16.90 per transaction, postal: $12.79, and telephone: $6.60,” he said. “Those are about 20 times what you would pay for a digital transaction.”

According to Shetler, this is not a policy problem but a service delivery issue, and one that contributes to eroding public trust and therefore the legitimacy of government itself.

“We’re public servants in this room; our job is to serve the public, and we’re failing. And that failure is running up additional costs, and that is one of the lessons of the age of austerity.”

DTO in the centre

Drew Clarke
Drew Clarke

Communications Department secretary Drew Clarke explained the DTO’s remit was very wide. “In essence the DTO owns the user interface between government and users of government services, be they citizens or businesses, and whether that user interface is digital, telephone or over the counter,” Clarke said. “The DTO owns that interface.”

Clarke pointed out that Shetler had been given a very powerful position in the federal public service but a fairly small budget. This means the little agency will lead, support, demonstrate, co-ordinate, and help other entities, but the actual service delivery transformation itself will, of course, be done by the whole public service.

While the UK Government Digital Service has won widespread praise and so has Shetler for his work there, he said the DTO had an even more power.

“In the UK, we did great work at the central level but it was all very departmentally centred and when it came to integration with huge swathes of the public sector, like the [National Health Service] or the local government, that was just off the agenda. All we did was focus on central government,” he explained.

“When it came to things like actually deriving economic benefit and driving channel-shift, that was very difficult because we didn’t own the other channels. But the beauty of what we’re doing over here in Australia is that we do own the other channels.

“We’re developing a strategy for user experience across all channels and across all tiers, and I think that’s absolutely fantastic. It’s incredibly ambitious, and it’s incredibly great.”

Read more at The Mandarin: Digital transformation: now is the time for leadership and vision

Author Bio

Stephen Easton

Stephen Easton is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's previously reported for Canberra CityNews and worked on industry titles for The Intermedia Group.