There is a reason why New South Wales has streaked ahead of its peers in the delivery of digital platforms across government and the transformation of the state’s public service infrastructure.
Actually there are many reasons, but the one that it is most visible right now is the state’s obsession with data. What data do we hold? Who is the keeper of that data and how is it structured? How can we collect it more efficiently?
If there is an author of that obsession, it is the Finance Minister Victor Dominello. He spends his waking hours, he says, encouraging and cajoling all who cross his path on data issues.
In this podcast, Mr Dominello details the data strategies the government is driving, and maps the infrastructure built around its collection and use. This has been a tough sell over a long period with some colleagues and many public service Mandarins.
But the change is starting to take hold in NSW has got to a point where you can see just how very different “government” will become, with a much tighter and responsive connection between the frontend of service delivery – including services delivered by NGOs or private sector operators – and policy-makers.
It seem somewhat ridiculous make the point that digital transformation involved actual transformation. In NSW over the past four years or so, the government has done a lot of heavy lifting around its back-end tech infrastructure, like the consolidation of data centres, the leveraging of platforms, and the redevelopment of financial management and delivery governance systems.
For citizens, most of this stuff was invisible. There simply weren’t many people getting exciting about the government’s (admittedly impressive) new digital fishing licences, for example.
But the creation of a digital driver’s licence and the effective digital ID that it will deliver is a whole different thing. This is slated for early next year. When people are carrying their driver’s licence not in their wallet but in their phone, and when they can use it not only as ID to get into a pub but also to access an online government service, then “digital government” is a lot more visible.
During this interview Victor Dominello spells out some of the other pilot projects that have delivered early returns, and driven the direction of new policy.
It is worth noting that Mr Dominello is a massive fan of former UK Government Paymaster General (an equivalent to an Australian finance minister) Francis Maude, the architect of the UK’s Government Digital Service which is credited with vastly improving government performance.
And Francis Maude was nothing if not single-minded and obsessive during his time overseeing the GDS. He provided the political cover among Cabinet colleagues and departmental secretaries that enabled the digital team to get on with what in hindsight are now seen as massive changes to the UK bureaucracy.
No surprise that Victor Dominello and Francis Maude have been in contact and swapped notes.
“We both agreed that the hardest thing to change is the culture,” Mr Dominello said. “It’s not the legislation, it’s the mindset.”
“You can get the legislation right and that might show people that you’re serious, but that just changes the mind and not the heart.
“To change the heart [of an organisation] you have to change the culture, and that’s really, really difficult.”
That’s where the obsessive is useful. You have to be slightly crazy to drive a transformation project (this is one area where government shares some traits of successful startups). The change is hard, but you just have to keep engaging, keep cajoling and never stop.
“What Francis Maude said to me – and I completely agree – is that you need crazy people involved in this space .That’s people like him in the UK and I consider myself slightly crazy here,” he said.
“Unless you have the right person at the front driving it. Without driving it hard, you’re not going to get the break through.”
Mr Dominello won’t talk about digital progress of other governments, and of the Commonwealth will only say “the feds have got their own challenges and we’ve got our own challenges.”
But if there is one area where he is looking forward to some coordination from the Commonwealth, it’s on digital identity. The pay-off will be huge – such that it should enable a “sensible conversation” about things like privacy, security and biometrics.
Even leaving aside efficiency and productivity improvements that better digital ID could deliver, Mr Dominello says ID improvements would be a huge boost in for crime fighting.
“We are living in an age where the most significant (finance-related) crimes of our era are cybercrimes. And when you speak to the experts, they will tell you the best way to tackle cybercrime is to bed down identity,” Mr Dominello said, “because cybercrime is essentially a fraud on our identity.”
“But we’re all over the shop [in Australia] in relation to identity, and that makes it really hard.”