Jane Halton: achieving the goal of ‘collect once, use many times’

By Jane Halton

Monday November 16, 2015

Jane Halton
Jane Halton gets a promotion

Information is a vital government asset, and while we progress more and more into the digital world, we need to ensure this asset is managed and managed well.

The Australian government is committed to effectively managing information and transitioning to entirely digital work processes and service delivery – with interoperable digital systems and processes enabling the delivery of efficient services to all Australians.

The broader challenge for all of us is to also transition and transform the APS so that we are faster, more agile, innovative and collaborative. We need to be ready to embrace the opportunities and challenges the future will present.

We are creating an environment where we continually question what we are doing and how we are doing it, whether we can do it with others or others can do it better.

We are doing away with the old ways of working and building something new in their stead. We need every public servant to contribute their unique skills, abilities, knowledge and professionalism to successfully reform the APS.

The Digital Continuity Policy 2020 is about helping agencies do just that through its principles based focus on digital information governance.

The benefits of integrating digital information governance into our business are many — but three stand out to me as Finance secretary:

  1. it optimises the delivery of government programs and services;
  2. it enables information reuse for economic and social benefits with better informed public policy and debate; and
  3. it promotes accountability and protects of the rights and entitlements of Australians.

So how will this policy help?

By setting an interoperability target for government information by 2020, this policy will assist in all manner of government activity, so we can more easily manage, find and migrate data and information to better advise government, and to manage such things as machinery of government changes, legal discovery and freedom of information requests, just to name a few.

It will also support a more joined-up approach to the delivery of government services. This is something that the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 places a positive duty on accountable authorities to support.

I am happy to note that while the policy has broad application, aimed at promoting a consistent approach to information governance across the Australian government, and within individual agencies, it is not a prescriptive framework.

Portfolio secretaries have been looking closely at regulation that applies to the public sector, a lot of which is unhelpfully prescriptive, to see how much of it is really required, and how much is getting in the way of transforming the public sector in support of government’s agenda of innovation and productivity.

The current state of regulation imposed on Commonwealth entities is an obstacle to the public sector making the transformation to a more agile body able to respond quickly and expertly to the increasingly complex and dynamic issues facing this country.

We’ve found evidence across the public sector of over-regulation, inefficient regulation, unclear and inaccessible guidance and a culture of risk aversion.

Some regulation appears to have been put in place to respond to perceived issues of governance, transparency and capability that arose from single or few instances of failure, but resulted in system-wide red tape, even for well-functioning and appropriately governed entities.

While some regulation and process is required in order to meet the government’s objectives or the needs of Parliament, a lot of the current stock of regulation is no longer useful, and most of it could be done a lot better.

To be more agile, we need to invest fewer resources in old, cumbersome ways of doing things and put more energy in the ways of the future. This includes being smarter about the demands for information we place on agencies – we need to work across the public sector to turn the “collect once, use many times” philosophy into action.

Consistent with good regulatory practice, this policy’s principles based approach allows agencies to respond in a way that reflects their purposes and maturity levels. I know the Archives intends to work with you to help improve digital capability with supporting pathways, guidelines, advice and training. It is also proposed that the policy will be implemented over time as part of your normal business review and renewal. This is refreshing.

The Digital Continuity 2020 policy is an important step in the right direction for information governance.

It has, at its core, three key principles to guide agencies:

  1. that information is valued. That ultimately agencies are able to manage their information assets for as long as they are required – this requires good governance and people who have the skills and expertise to manage that information.
  2. that information is managed digitally. So by 2020, rather than the inefficient digital replication of analogue or paper-based processes, we have truly digital interactions, processes and authorisations in place.
  3. that information, systems and processes are interoperable, so that by 2020 we have a consistent approach across government, based on format and metadata standards for information governance and interoperability.

The policy encourages a major cultural change for entities in treating information as an asset to be actively invested in and managed for optimum re-use, key to improving efficiency and avoiding waste.

It seeks to respond to the digital era by helping agencies to think smarter about the use of their staff time and resources, to plan for integrated solutions and sound governance as part of investment decision-making, and stop using duplicative manual, hard copy processes.

Many agencies are working in this space already.

The Federal Court’s electronic court files and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s ImmiAccount were recognised in this year’s Awards for Digital Excellence run by the Archives to acknowledge the great work being done in the digital delivery and work area.

Finance is examining how we can better manage our record keeping function across government, working in partnership with the Archives and a cross-section of agencies to determine whether there is a business case to move agencies to a single, or reduced number, of digital records management solutions.

In conclusion, we need to continue to work together, assisted by the Archives, to develop and refine approaches to information governance that support efficient and effective delivery of government business. The Digital Continuity 2020 policy is an important step towards achieving that objective.

This is an edited version of the presentation Jane Halton delivered at the National Archives of Australia in Canberra for the launch of the Digital Continuity 2020 policy.

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