Senior Partner & Managing Director
The Australian government recently announced the establishment of its Digital Transformation Office (DTO) to advance the national e-government agenda. At the time, the prime minister and communications minister said that the DTO would operate “more like a start-up,” bringing together developers, researchers, and designers to put customer needs and user experience front and center. The idea of public services being as well designed and easy to use as Airbnb or goCatch sounds attractive, but just how feasible is it to create a digital start-up inside government?
Supporters point to the UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS), a unit established inside the UK Cabinet Office in 2011 to implement the government’s “digital by default” strategy. Denmark’s MindLab and Agency for Digitization have been around even longer and have helped make Denmark a world leader in digital government. Although the U.S. is behind in this space, it is quickly catching up. In 2014, it established the U.S. Digital Service, and this year it launched 18F, a new digital government-consulting unit inside the General Services Administration (GSA).
There are now more than a dozen similar digital government offices around the world. The Boston Consulting Group has looked at the initiatives in the UK, the U.S., and Denmark, as well as similar efforts by e-government leaders such as South Korea, Estonia, and Singapore; high-tech countries such as Finland, Norway, and Israel; and innovators such as the United Arab Emirates, New Zealand, and Malaysia. When we look at what is happening around the world, we can see clearly that governments need to consider five building blocks to create the right conditions for a successful “digital office.”
Digital identity and assurance is another critical focus. Although there is a public perception that easier access to digital services is less secure and more susceptible to fraud, the reverse is true. Smarter analytics in the back end are better at picking up potential fraudulent activity using algorithms and behavioral triggers. Despite varying cultural attitudes toward privacy, there is clearly a role for government to facilitate the development of identity services and trust frameworks to grease the wheels of the digital economy. The digital team of New Zealand’s Ministry of Internal Affairs is developing an authentication service known as RealMe, which will be open to the private and public sector, and Sweden’s BankID model allows people to access government services using their existing banking credentials.
Last, but not least, most digital offices play a central role in leading government data initiatives. Making government data sets available to the public through centralized portals such as data.gov improves transparency and has the potential to create economic value. But the bigger opportunity is in using data and analytics platforms to optimize policy, program, and service design. For example, input and outcome data is used in areas such as education, health, and social services to determine the most effective interventions and areas of overservicing and underservicing.
Australia is hardly a laggard. In 2014, it ranked second in the world on the UN E-Government Development Index, and, notwithstanding the high-profile of the GDS, in many ways Australia has been more successful in moving services online and tackling the challenge of digital identity in the absence of a unique citizen identifier. Despite recent criticisms about the usability of the Department of Human Service’s Express Plus apps, it is hard to find examples of any other country with real-time transactional mobile apps for welfare payments. Similarly, the myGov service—for which the Human Services CIO, Gary Sterrenberg, recently won an award from iTnews—now provides secure online access, secure electronic correspondence, and tell-us-once services for more than 6 million people.
The DTO is an exciting development not because of what it is likely to achieve in the short term but because of what it might lead to in the long term. It has the potential to be the digital disruptor that recasts the future of government’s workings. Rather than just digitizing paper forms and letters, we should embrace the chance to build a new and truly digital government. Don’t get me wrong though. Fixing the front end of government is good. It’s better for citizens, and it’s good for taxpayers, but that kind of change is still largely at the periphery, not the core. The DTO could be the best opportunity we have had in a long time to reset and reimagine the business model of government for the digital age. But we must hurry. Technology continues to evolve and user expectations are constantly increasing. We need to accelerate the pace of digital transformation across the Australian economy, including the public sector: digital transformation is the key to unlocking productivity growth and increasing our global competitiveness.
This article was originally published by The Mandarin.