Immigration welcomes digital services divison, farewells biometrics boss

By Stephen Easton

Tuesday January 12, 2016

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection has restructured to dedicate more resources to its part in the federal government’s nascent digital transformation agenda.

First assistant secretary Phil Thurbon has taken charge of the new digital transformation and channels division, responsible for DIBP’s contribution to the government-wide search for quick wins using digital channels to make public services a little more citizen-centric.

The department currently has two projects on the go in collaboration with the Digital Transformation Office. Like all of the DTO’s early work with federal agencies, they aim to make small, quick changes that make specific transactions with government more convenient.

The first attempts to improve the booking system for citizenship tests by allowing prospective Australians to manage their appointments online and the second project is to cut red tape for importers. Perhaps unremarkable on their own, the plan is for federal bureaucrats to work on a constant stream of such projects with the DTO so they eventually combine into a significant overall improvement in service delivery.

Thurbon said his new division would accelerate that shift in DIBP and back up a “commitment to design better and more meaningful experiences for the individuals and businesses who interact with us” in a post on the DTO blog. He adds:

“Of course we know that digital transformation is not a one-off endeavour for any Department. This effort must be embedded in our day-to-day business.”

Thurbon enthuses about the “great progress” with the two projects and says the new Citizenship Appointments Service is now in the beta phase, where a working “minimum viable product” is built and rolled out for use by the target group so it can be improved based on user feedback. The DTO website confirms the beta version is expected to be released publicly in March.

DIBP’s new digital division head adds that he wants to create “a new digital culture and mindset” in the mega-department around the belief that “there’s always room for improvement” in service delivery.

Executive shifts

Gavin McCairns
Gavin McCairns

As Thurbon starts his new job, another DIBP division head has moved on. The long-serving Gavin McCairns, most recently head of biometrics and identity, has moved into the deputy CEO’s spot at AUSTRAC, leaving four FAS roles open at the department.

McCairns led the research and innovation division from December 2014 until last October, and before that spent five years at the helm of the risk, fraud and integrity division, one of the four vacant roles and one that comes with the added title of chief risk officer.

The career public servant has worked in the Commonwealth and New South Wales governments since 1991.

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