Gallagher sets expectations for govt in new digital strategy

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Joseph Brookes

Government agencies will need to align their digital strategies and future investment with a new whole-of-government plan that introduces a mission-based approach, hard metrics on success and a stronger emphasis on in-house capability.

The Data and Digital Government Strategy to be launched by Finance and Public Service Minister Katy Gallagher on Friday sets out a 2030 vision to deliver “simple, secure, and connected public services” through “world class data and digital capabilities”.

It does not introduce the new funding model many in Canberra had been expecting after a series of costly, underperforming projects were scrapped, but commits the government to “exploring new models” and notes agencies will need to align with the government’s “investment direction”.

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Building up the capability of the Australian Public Service (APS) is also a sharper focus in the new combined strategy compared to the separate data and digital strategies of the Morrison government released in 2021.

At that time, an APS ‘shadow workforce’ included almost half of the federal government’s digital and ICT workers being contractors, service providers and consultants, with an annual cost of $2.1 billion, $1.1 billion and $200 million respectively.

“Digital and data are skills are no longer a nice to have, they’re essential in the modern workplace,” Ms Gallagher said.

“We’re bringing back core public service skills and building the APS’s data and digital capabilities with a focus on supporting more women and those from diverse backgrounds to succeed in digital roles.”

The in house focus also comes with a commitment to be a better partner with other stakeholders like state governments and suppliers, including offer more opportunities to SMEs in line with the Albanese government’s ‘Buy Australian Plan’.

Steering the strategy are five missions, each with several explicit outcomes like embedding co-design of services or deploying scalable architecture.

An accompanying implementation plan has also been released providing a non-exhaustive list of individual digital and data projects, their timelines and metrics for success.

For example, the ‘Simple and Seamless Services’ and ‘Government of the Future’ mission have outcomes of services being digital by design, deployed on scalable and secure architecture, and users only having to provide their information once.

These outcomes will be measuree with metrics like the share of services that are started digitally and their completion rate, the number of users accessing the service with interoperable architecture like the myGov platform, and the share of users reporting the need to input information multiple times.

Where these metrics already exist today, they are recorded in the action plan as a baseline to compare to every 12 months. Where they aren’t, they will be actively collected for the first time starting in 2024.

The outcomes and metrics are all aligned to the 2030 vision and intended to bring accountability to Australian government service delivery that has slipped in global rankings and been rocked by scandals like Robodebt.

“We want to provide better services that are easy to use, that save people time and money, and that are safe and secure,” Minister Gallagher said.

The new plan comes without significant new funding, with this week’s MYEFO update having only small allocations to the central myGov platform.

The Albanese government is yet to formally respond to an audit of myGov completed almost a year ago that found the platform still fell “well short” of the vision of a digital front door and called on the government to commit long-term ongoing funding of more than $100 million a year.

In this year’s Budget, the government set aside $134.5 million to give myGov “certainly and stability” for another 12 months, but it has only provisioned ongoing funding for the platform in the Contingency Reserve.

One of the audit team and public service digital stalwart David Hazlehurst was this week named chief executive of Services Australia, the government’s main technology and service delivery agency.

Ms Gallagher has been considering calls for a new approach to funding digital services, including one based on the New South Wales Digital Restart Fund.

The new Digital and Data Strategy’s ‘Government of the Future’ mission includes an outcome of modern investment approaches.

“The Government will explore new data and digital funding models and strengthen oversight and contestability during development and implementation,” the strategy says.

“It will increase cross-agency collaboration, assurance, benefits management, prototyping and experimentation practices. This will enable phased delivery to provide opportunities for new ideas and feedback to inform project changes mid-flight.”

This aligns with the low-cost, agile investment and development approach flagged by Services minister Bill Shorten in October.

But the only stated commitments in the new strategy are to continue exploring the investment models requiring all government entities to develop and submit digital and ICT plans as part of the Digital and ICT Investment Oversight Framework process.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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