Pia Andrews brings big ideas back to NSW, plans trans-Tasman partnership


The New South Wales Department of Finance, Services and Innovation has lured enthusiastic government IT expert Pia Andrews back to Australia from New Zealand, where she has been leading efforts to deliver simpler, joined-up public services at the Department of Internal Affairs.

Andrews starts in new role as executive director for digital government on September 24, reporting to the chief information and digital officer, Greg Wells. One of her first tasks will be to set up a partnership between the innovation lab where she currently works and a broadly similar outfit in the NSW government.

Heartfelt farewells and congratulations flowed to Andrews on Twitter following her announcement on Friday afternoon, posted concurrently on her own popular blog and that of her current employer. The NSW department’s secretary, Martin Hoffman, also broke the news and was “enormously pleased” to welcome his newest executive.

The DFSI statement describes Andrews as “a proven and inspiring innovator and advocate for genuine change in the public sector” and noted she was recently listed among the world’s top 20 most influential people in digital government by Apolitical, an international public sector networking group:

“She brings a long history of working with technology in private, public and community sectors, and a focus on transforming governments for better public services, and enabling innovation through digital public infrastructure.”

Perhaps what she brings most of all is a penchant for discussing big, radical ideas about changing the structure of government — sometimes to the point of making other public servants nervous about what she might say.

Friday’s announcement was no different:

“Personally, I have a vision for a better world where all people have what they need to thrive, and I feel a constant sense of urgency in transitioning our public institutions into the 21st century, from an industrial age to the information age, so they can more effectively support society as the speed of change and complexity exponentially grows. This is going to take a rethink of how the entire system functions, especially at the policy and legislative levels.”

On her LinkedIn profile, Andrews has called herself an “open government and open data ninja, working within the machine to enable greater transparency, democratic engagement, citizen-centric design and real, pragmatic actual innovation in the public sector and beyond”.

Her latest statement explained what she has been doing in NZ.

“By taking a ‘life journey’ approach, government agencies have a reason to work together to improve the full experience of people rather than the usual (and natural) focus on a single product, service or portfolio,” Andrews writes.

“The Service Innovation Lab has a unique value in providing an independent place and way to explore design-led and evidence-based approaches to service innovation, in collaboration with service providers across public, private and non-profit sectors.”

At federal level, there has been resistance to this kind of joined-up approach, which aims to look at government as a whole, from the perspectives of citizens, organisations and stakeholders, and less as a series of separate fiefdoms operating independently under the power of their respective ministers, which is how it can look from inside.

Hoffman said DFSI had begun “building a world class digital team to dramatically improve services for the people of NSW” and that “experience, passion and drive” made Andrews a perfect fit for the executive director role.

The department has also been busy recruiting other leaders for its push towards more joined-up digital service delivery, including people to coach public servants in agile development.

“Pia is well respected worldwide and brings decades of experience in open data, open government, digital transformation and government as an API,” said Hoffman. “She brings a unique and effective blend of systems thinking, technical creativity and vision.”

In her contribution to the NSW department’s extended announcement, Andrews also heaped praise on her new bosses and said the innovation labs in the two respective departments would form a trans-Tasman partnership.

“The leadership from Martin Hoffman and Greg Wells is extraordinary and provides a unique opportunity to work in a senior executive team that is committed to systemic transformation,” she said.

“I learned much from my short time in New Zealand and found there a way of connecting and being open that will always keep my family anchored there, so I’m particularly delighted that we will be forging a partnership between the New Zealand Service Innovation Lab and the NSW Government Digital NSW Acceleration (DNA) Lab to collaborate on this important work.”

Andrews was well known among open source software developers and began moving in government circles as an IT policy advisor before joining the federal Department of Finance in 2012, initially working on what was then called “government 2.0” and later on the open data program.

She moved with open data to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and did a stint with AUSTRAC before the high-profile job in NZ, which allowed her to exercise an obvious talent for publicly communicating the goals of digital government transformation projects.

“One of the valuable lessons from New Zealand that I will be taking forward in this work has been in how public services can (and should) engage constructively and respectfully with Indigenous communities, not just because they are part of society or because it is the right thing to do, but to integrate important principles and context into the work of serving society,” Andrews added in her blog post.

“Our First Australians are the oldest cluster of cultures in the world, and we have a lot to learn from them in how we live and work today.”

Top image: Pia Andrews with Statistics NZ chief executive Liz MacPherson. Photo: Twitter.

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