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Paul Shetler: the DTO will be ‘with you, not to you’

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The Digital Transformation Office won’t transform the federal government itself, its chief executive warns. Departments and agencies must come to the table.

“DTO is doing it with you, not to you,” Paul Shetler said at a conference last month, describing the fledgling agency as an “incubator”. “We want to work with every department and agency, we want to work with the start-up community, with SMEs and other suppliers and vendors, because we know we can’t do it all ourselves.

“This is going to have to be a team effort. Digital transformation is definitely a team sport. We’ve all got to be in this together.”

“We have a prime minister who is absolutely dedicated to this …”

Shetler was appointed head of the DTO in July, after then-communications minister Malcolm Turnbull set up the agency to drive technology change in government administration and services. Turnbull retains responsibility for the DTO within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

“I think Australia has a chance to lead in this, we have a prime minister who is absolutely dedicated to this, not only a prime minister but other ministers,” Shetler said.

Shetler, formerly an executive at Britain’s Government Digital Service agency, made his offer of help to technology leaders at The Mandarin/IBM event Public Leadership In The Digital Era at the University of Canberra. His advice was to think big — and small.

“It’s not going to happen overnight. You can’t do a rip-and-release. You can’t take out legacy systems. We’re brownfield. We’d shut down for a year,” he said.

Be ruthless about delivering projects in tight timeframes, Shetler offered. Build an alpha site, open a beta site to the public then launch. Deliver something useful, short of a complete solution, and continue researching to understand the problem better and adapt the platform. It takes discipline to “not allow ourselves to be sucked into scope creep”.

“That is how we gain trust and transform the public service more broadly,” he said.

Shetler cited research that one in eight Australians over the age of 14 will access government services online in any four-week period — but more than half (55%) face a problem while doing it.

“The steady drip of poor services leads to public distrust,” he said. “We have to do a lot better than that. We must do a lot better.”

People are generally accessing government services in times of stress. Public servants, Shetler says, “have an ethical obligation to make it as simple as possible”. Users have to be put first. Identify the pain points in the process.

The cost of systems has decreased, he says, and the scale of the task — compared to projects in the private sector — is actually smaller than many think. The opportunity, he says, is huge.

Author Bio

Jason Whittaker

Jason Whittaker is managing editor of The Mandarin based in Melbourne. He has written for and edited political, business and culture publications for a decade. He spent two years as editor of sister Private Media publication Crikey.