Social services just the beginning for SAP’s digital institute

By Stephen Easton

Wednesday October 28, 2015

The National Disability Insurance Agency has joined two Australian universities as founding members of a new privately funded research institute that aims to explore revolutionary models of public service delivery underpinned by big data and digital transformation.

The $150 million SAP Institute for Digital Government, launched yesterday at the agency’s NDIS New World Conference in Brisbane, is a collaborative project led by the big German software maker with five founding partners: the NDIA, Australian National University, Australian Catholic University, and two international bodies representing social service providers. And it’s hit the ground running with its first discussion paper ready to go at the launch.

Brian Lee-Archer
Brian Lee-Archer

The paper looks at the use of predictive analytics in attempting to improve social outcomes and some of the potential pitfalls that can arise with the application of big data to social services, including the emergence of moral hazard and ethical considerations.

The institute’s research director Brian Lee-Archer explained it had been focusing on the topic of “social protection” for the past year and would expand to cover other areas including national security and “future cities” next year.

“Social protection is one of the highest touch points for a government with its citizens and innovation through digital transformation will contribute to improved social and economic outcomes,” he said.

The aim of the game is “innovation, deeper policy insights and improved service delivery” through a collaborative approach, according to SAP’s global general manager of public services, Isabella Groegor-Cechowicz, who came from Germany for the launch. She urged other public sector players to get involved with the new think tank to bring a diversity of perspectives to its research.

Marie Johnson
Marie Johnson

The NDIA’s top technologist Marie Johnson says the National Disability Insurance Scheme is “grounded in technology innovation as the catalyst for driving the contextual participant experience”. The agency recognises that enabling technology is integral to giving the extremely diverse community of people with disabilities choice and control and keeping it all financially sustainable.

“The NDIA recognises that the SAP Institute for Digital Government will stimulate cross-sectoral collaboration that will yield insights and thought leadership into the spectrum of opportunities and challenges that arise in the digital era,” Johnson added. “We are very pleased to be recognised as a foundation member of the Institute, and we look forward to collaborating on a broad range of themes.”

The agency’s conference has a strong focus on the role technology will play in the empowerment of people with disabilities, which is the concept at the heart of the NDIS. NDIA chair Bruce Bonyhady told the audience the scheme would be “a platform for innovation” and stimulate a billion-dollar market for enabling technologies.

Bruce Bonyhady
Bruce Bonyhady

“Our expectation is that the better we use technology, the better the NDIS will be,” Bonyhady said. The NDIA has not decided if it will host more conferences in future but its executives say they have been hearing a lot of good feedback and there is strong interest in making it a regular feature of the NDIS system.

Speaking at SAP’s private launch during the conference lunch break, IT industry analyst Kevin Noonan lamented the fact that some public sector agencies, both in Australia and overseas, have not yet caught on to the transformative possibilities of digital government.

“The world has changed,” said Noonan, who leads Ovum’s global government team. “We are now looking at digital government in a different way.”

Having just finished a speaking tour of Australia, New Zealand and the United States as well as parts of Asia and Europe, Noonan said that while some public sector leaders saw digital government as an opportunity to transform and revolutionise the whole model of public services, others were still lagging behind.

“But one of the big differentiators as you start to look at agencies that get it and those that don’t, is … we’re talking in some agencies still about digitising processes,” he explained. “Now we’ve being doing that since the 1960’s, OK?”

Noonan, who worked in IT in the Australian Public Service from before the adoption of personal computers until 2005, said digital government should be about creating new processes, not just performing the old ones with computers.

“But also, those who are really thinking quite laterally are now starting to think about new models for government,” he added. “And we’re now starting to think about new ways that government can operate within its own ecosystem, and the way it can offer better services for citizens with that line of sight, clearly, through the ecosystem out to the citizen, rather than just throwing things over the wall.”

Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan

The challenge is to think of government as part of various different “ecosystems” like that which the NDIS would create, Noonan said.

“We now need to start to think about ways of interacting with analogue human beings in that different way,” he added. “We need to start to use the intuition of real people to supplement digital services.”

According to education professor Claire Wyatt-Smith, director of Australian Catholic University’s Learning Sciences Institute Australia, predictive analytics will be a key area of research for the new Canberra-based institute.

“Linking education, social and health outcomes is amongst the highest priorities in innovative research,” Wyatt-Smith added.

Australian National University professor Shirley Gregor, the associate dean of the College of Business and Economics, said ANU academics would bring cutting-edge expertise in data science to the table.

“We have depth of expertise in data analytics, digital support for decision making and complex service delivery that we will harness for this collaboration with SAP as it works to support the development of digital government processes relating to social protection,” Gregor said.

Two other founding partners are the European Social Network and the International Social Security Association.

The author of this article was in Brisbane for the SAP Institute for Digital Government launch as a guest of SAP.

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