Better analytics, better policy: first spend initiatives from APS Modernisation Fund

By Harley Dennett

Tuesday May 9, 2017

Mathias Cormann

The 2017-18 Budget will fund a new body, the Data Integration Partnership of Australia, more shared services, and enhanced capability in user experience, nudge, and evidence-based policy.

Data sharing across APS leads Modernisation Fund’s first projects

Departmental secretaries and chief executives across the Commonwealth have been given the blessing (and the onus) to stop data silos, start sharing, and make analytics core business.

Convinced that better analytics will bring better policy, the finance minister has carved out a portion of the APS Modernisation Fund’s first payouts to kick-start co-ordination and better practice across government.

A new body, the Data Integration Partnership of Australia, will co-ordinate these efforts inside the government, dipping into a pool of $161.5 million over the forward estimates. The rest will go to line portfolios and infrastructure to support these efforts.

The DIPA’s first task, after bringing all these disparate parts of government to the same table, will be to scope how it will achieve social licence for data sharing – particularly inside the bureaucracy itself.

“Integrating data from across government and providing access via a single entry point will reduce duplication, encourage efficiency, and lead to long-term reform in data collection and use,” writes Finance Minister Mathias Cormann in the 2017-18 Budget.

“Through enhanced data analytics, the government will be able to design better-targeted and more effective services in education, social services, health and aged care.”

See also: Public sector underpins Turnbull’s new pragmatism

Astute readers of this publication will remember the government asked the Productivity Commission to look at the economic value of data use and availability last year. That report, handed to the government in March, was released on Monday, urging the same general push as the budget provides.

Critically, the PC was adamant the data sharing could not be decoupled from a consumer “comprehensive right” to know and control data about them. Such a right was essential for public acceptance of opening data for richer commercial and government use, the PC argued.

The government, however, will tackle concerns about privacy and identification in a different way; by having the DIPA also look at how to improve de-identification in public datasets.

The Digital Transformation Agency also has a role, developing a secure federated data exchange platform. This shared infrastructure will remove the need to build and maintain bespoke point-to-point data exchanges between agencies, while still complying with privacy and security requirements.

Connected to the public: improved user experience

Some 41-odd agencies will directly benefit from the first $350 million payouts over three years from the Modernisation Fund. The data piece may be the jewel in the fund’s crown, but the other initial priorities could have a greater impact on more agencies’ bottom line.

The fund, siphoned from Morrison and Cormann’s earlier budget cuts and efficiencies in public service organisations, will also fund another one of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s pet projects: improved user experience of government services.

This $64.6 million initiative is the ‘if not digital, why not digital’ capability enhancement fund for the Digital Transformation Agency’s expanded remit after absorbing much of Finance’s IT functions in last year’s machinery of government change.

More than just fresh lipstick, the emphasis will be on streamlining and removing duplication — like ‘tell us once’ systems to reduce the need to report similar information to multiple agencies, and allowing users to choose how they receive notifications from government.

Focus on core business, or how shared services got its groove back

After last year’s MoG that brought the Shared Services Centre into Finance as one of six such providers inside the APS, the push to let agencies focus on their core business is being ramped up.

The Modernisation Fund will support an additional 60 agencies to buy their corporate services — like financial, human resources and ICT — from one of these six ‘hubs’ as part of Finance’s Shared and Common Services Program.

The 2017-18 Budget has set a target of 97% of the applicable APS (measured by average staffing level) will be receiving services from one of the hubs by June 30, 2021 (minus a few agencies that can’t divest those functions for various reasons, eg national security).

See also: Small enough government

Similarly, grants expertise are also being centralised through the Community and Business Grants Hubs. The new target for that shift is 74% of existing grant programs will be delivered by one of the hubs by June 30, 2019.

These shifts will be accompanied by a re-investment in core workforce capability to the tune of approximately $123 million over the forward estimates.

A few areas of priority capability Cormann has identified include evidence-based policy skills and behavioural insights — where the PM&C’s Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian Government (BETA) will come in handy.

Digital identity – back from the dead

The Commonwealth’s digital identity framework was not in good shape last year. Accused of being the Australia Card 2.0, the APS and digiterati rumour mill had it on the verge of being cancelled, despite the funding in MYEFO for a second pass business case.

The DTA soft-launched the project’s revival earlier this year under its new name: GovPass.

“GovPass will provide a trusted digital identity framework for use by people needing to provide secure proof of identity to use government services online,” the 2017-18 Budget confirms.

“In the future this is expected to expand to be used by businesses.”

Biometrics, through facial recognition, and existing third-party document verification services will be used to establish identities.

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