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‘Australia will be one of the top three digital governments in the world’

Federal bureaucrats are working on a new plan to match the world’s leaders in digital public services by 2025, while opposition and cross-bench senators will offer critical views of recent efforts in a week’s time.

“By 2025 Australia will be one of the top three digital governments in world,” says Digital Transformation and Human Services supremo Michael Keenan, in a speech he plans to read out today at a lunch event hosted by the Australian Information Industry Association.

The “strategy and roadmap” isn’t ready yet. Keenan expects to publish it in the third quarter of the year, according to the 3,600-word speech circulated by his office, but he is clear on three key goals of digital uptake in the public sector.

The first two are pretty clear: making “interactions and engagement” with government easier, and using data analytics to inform better or “more innovative” decision-making.

Keenan’s third aim is a more fundamental rethink of “supporting structures and business models” to make the government “fit for the challenges of the digital age by adapting to new and emerging technology, and challenging the mindset and processes of the APS.”

“We will also set out key activities and clear KPIs and measure progress against them throughout our journey,” says the minister’s speaking notes.

“To that end, the strategy will be accompanied by a very clear roadmap which sets out when important milestones on this journey will be reached over the next 12-18-24 months across all areas of focus.

“The roadmap will identify new and improved services delivered to Australian individuals and organisations, from students and welfare recipients to tax practitioners and businesses, from patients and older Australians to overseas travellers.”

The Digital Transformation Agency has met with staff from over 30 other “government agencies” and sought the views of over 500 other “stakeholders” on the federal government’s current digital maturity and where it needs to go from here, according to Keenan, who says IT industry consultation is to follow.

“As a result, DTA has developed the alpha draft of the strategy, which is now being circulated for comments across the public sector,” he will tell members of the AIIA, whose companies recently secured a generous memorandum of understanding with the agency.

In a week’s time, the Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee’s inquiry into the digital delivery of government services is due to report on these issues, and will surely air a range of critical views on recent efforts at digital transformation and the present digital maturity of the APS and views from independent experts.

Web pages taken down ‘for maintenance’

In an example of how far the public service has to go in some areas, parliamentary committee web pages had been taken down “for maintenance” at the time of writing. Few private sector web pages ever go down for routine maintenance but this is commonly seen as acceptable by public servants, as the former CIO of the New South Wales electoral commission, Ian Brightwell, pointed out in one of the inquiry’s hearings.

Keenan wants public services to be like those of Denmark, Estonia and Germany, all of which he recently visited, according to the speech. “I also met with leaders in the global technology sector, and visited businesses that support the creation of tech hubs, provide resources for entrepreneurs and support start-up communities,” he adds. “What I saw in those countries was impressive.”

Keenan says the APS needs to learn from the world’s best practice, “be it from our own start-ups, industry, academia, local and state governments or other countries big and small, close and far away” — but notes that copying is not what genuine leaders do.

“We must do so with a clear vision in mind. That vision is not to simply emulate other countries, but to be a government that is truly world leading in digital transformation for the benefit of Australia.”

GovPass becomes myGovID

The minister says a digital identity system is “absolutely essential” to this strategy, although Australians have proven to be especially averse to the idea compared to the people of other nations like Estonia, which has given every citizen a digital ID card. Estonia even offers to register anyone in the world as an “e-resident”, as Keenan points out.

“In a world where most people can’t remember the last time they physically went into a bank, we cannot expect citizens to put up with multiple logins, outdated paper forms and spending time queuing to access services face-to-face.

“At the moment the government uses over 30 different logins for digital services.

“That is just not good enough.”

The name GovPass does not appear in the speech; in its place is the name myGovID.

Keenan goes on to note some of the ways that Australia’s solution aims to quell fears of a national identity database by allowing multiple “identity providers” accredited through the trusted digital identity framework and a separate identity exchange platform, to be operated by the Department of Human Services.

He says there have been over 1000 pieces of feedback on the first parts of TDIF draft, released last year, and will release a new second component of the framework today for a brief consultation period ending within a month, on July 12.

“Initially, there will be one Commonwealth Identity Provider (the ATO) who will provide the government’s digital identity, which will be named myGovID.

“We are encouraging providers such as Australia Post, and others across the private sector, and state and territory governments, to become accredited. The sooner more identity providers become accredited, the more choice users will have to establish a secure and reusable digital identity with a provider they trust.”

“A separate organisation (the Department of Human Services) will operate the exchange (or gateway) between services and the identity providers.”

This exchange or gateway will employ a “double blind” system. Keenan explains “service providers will not see any of the user’s ID information and identity providers will not know what services each user is accessing” in the speech.

“The opportunities this creates are near endless and results will start to be seen immediately,” he adds.

“By the end of next financial year, we will have rolled-out pilot services to over half a million users of government services, targeting high volume transactions that will make a substantial difference to Australians.”

Keenan says this will reduce the current process of getting a tax file number from about a month to a few minutes. Digital ID will also soon be accepted for other transactions like getting an ABN, applying for various payments, and interacting with the new electronic health records that will very soon be given to all citizens by default.

“In total, these pilots will enable approximately 2.8 million transactions to move from manual to digital,” Keenan claims.

More changes to IT procurement

Keenan’s final announceable today is a new “digital sourcing framework” setting out more changes to IT procurement processes, which have been in a state of flux for the past few years:

“Central to the framework is a set of principles to achieve a fair, effective and efficient ICT procurement process.

“The principles are about: encouraging innovation and iteration; being outcome focused; using open standards and cloud first approaches; preventing platform duplication, and minimising cybersecurity risks.”

This includes a draft “portfolio panel policy” designed to make things simpler for suppliers. “This policy will focus on reducing the number of panels, opening up and simplifying the process to join them, and encouraging more opportunities for collaboration and co-design with buyers and sellers,” Keenan explains.

A “fair criteria policy” is also coming soon. “This policy will include considerations such as insurance, liability, security, and financial criteria,” he adds. “The aim of this policy is to even the playing field for sellers of all sizes and encourage competition.”

The new digital procurement plan also encompasses the existing policy that “major” IT projects should not cost over $100 million per contract, or take longer than three years for the initial goals to be delivered. The minister’s speech also includes an assurance that improvements are being made to the Digital Marketplace platform, based on feedback from the IT industry, and that more iterative improvement is likely in future.

Author Bio

Stephen Easton

Stephen Easton is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's previously reported for Canberra CityNews and worked on industry titles for The Intermedia Group.