Australia’s first minister for customer service – the NSW government’s Victor Dominello – has pulled back the curtain on the internal reforms driving the state’s digital obsession, revealing new structures for approving tech projects, infrastructure to enable real-time feedback, and a renewed focus on building internal capability.
The reforms include new structures – yet to be tested – for diversifying the state’s technology supplier base and to make it easier for small and medium sized companies to sell to government.
NSW embarked on a grand experiment six years ago when it launched it new digital strategy. With its re-election in March, Premier Gladys Berejiklian has doubled-down on its digital drive with an internal reform agenda that has put service delivery – and the technology behind it – at the centre of public administration.
In a headland speech to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello said the state was focused on digitisation because issues of service delivery were central to trust relationship between government and citizens.
“When government services fall behind citizen expectations from the other services in their everyday lives, their trust in government falls and disillusionment in politics rises,” Mr Dominello said.
“Politicians are generally high on the rhetoric, big on the money but poor on the delivery,” he said.
The machinery of government changes that followed the election have been dramatic, with a new Department of Customer Service sitting as one of three whole-of-government agencies alongside Premier and Cabinet and Treasury.
Mr Dominello outlined a streamlining of the Committee processes that ultimates run government, and which will have a profound impact on the way that government tech projects will be funded.
The restructure in NSW has radically consolidated the number of ministerial committees that run the state to just three – the Cabinet, the Treasury committee (or the expenditure review committee) and a newly-formed, customer-focused committee called the Delivery and Performance Committee (DaPCo.)
DaPCo is chaired jointly by Mr Dominello and the Premier, and includes as a members the Treasurer, the Deputy Premier and the deputy leader of the Nationals. The committee is a radical departure from the way in which large IT projects have been traditional funded in government.
Mr Dominello says it is an opportunity for the most senior ranks of political leadership to ask “the hard questions” on delivery, before heading off to the ERC to get budget approval.
“If you want money, then show me that you’ve mapped out the data architecture, show me that you understand your customers’ needs, and show me that you’re following the Digital Design Standard. I want to see working prototypes of services, not big business cases<” Mr Dominello said.
“In the past, most IT projects got started by taking a big business case to the Expenditure Review Committee of Cabinet, asking for hundreds of millions of dollars upfront and reams and reams of paperwork to back it up,” he said.
“Now for IT projects – and for that matter any other project that has a delivery aspect, which cover most proposals before government – they first have to come to DaPCo.”
The new committee has three primary questions: What is the data architecture, what is the digital design, and what is the customer lens. If these are adequately covered off and approved, only then can the project leaders go off the Treasury committee and ask for money based on a ROI or cost benefit ratio.
“This reform – is cultural and it is whole of government – it is the hard stuff, the messy and complex innards of government that nobody likes to talk about,” Mr. It’s not shiny but it’s one of the biggest enablers for digital transformation and service delivery – which is why we’re committed to getting it right.”
He said NSW had also embarked on a new capability-building effort, both in investing in people inside government, as well as making it easier to small businesses to work with government.
“We are not just talking about capability inside the public service. We are diversifying our technology supplier base, making it easier for small and medium businesses across NSW to bring their skills to government.
“Through the buy.nsw platform, we’re simplifying the processes that have long–inhibited small businesses from selling to government – and creating an open procurement marketplace that demonstrates that government is open for business. “
The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, of course. But it is fair to say for all of the work that the state has done in driving digital-based service delivery improvements, engaging with the local industry has not been a priority.
Mr Dominello has also outlined the state’s plans for improved Privacy, Security, Transparency and Ethics.