Digital Transformation Agency chief executive Gavin Slater has delivered his first public speech since taking on the vexed role three months ago, outlining his five key priorities for the government’s transformation program and seeking to rally the support of the Mandarins.
Speaking at an Australian Information Industry Association luncheon in Canberra on Thursday, Mr Slater singled out the thorny issue of digital identity as the most fundamental of problems that government “must solve” in order to make significant improvements to digital service delivery.
Mr Slater outlined plans for the creation of a whole-of-government transformation roadmap with a 12 and 24 month horizon, as well as an entrenched performance monitoring regime to keep it on track.
He heralded an overhaul of ICT procurement – including additional work on the DTA’s digital marketplace – and promised to make it easier for small and medium sized companies to get better access to government contracts.
Unsurprisingly for a man who has come into an organisation that was in upheaval following a radical restructure of the former Digital Transformation Office, Mr Slater says his upfront focus has been building and nurturing relationships across the APS.
He has urged the most senior executive levels of the public service to drive transformational change by example – by role-modelling an “obsession with the customer” to ensure citizen-centricity is at the heart of everything departments and agencies do.
And while heaping praise on the under-recognised value-creation of government platforms like MyGov, MyTax and MyHealth, Mr Slater urged APS leaders to “up the work rate” – to redouble efforts and accelerate the rate of improvement to the services.
A culture of customer-centricity added to connected platform technologies would drive new value-creation for government in the form of better services being delivered more cost efficiently.
“I believe it starts and ends with having an obsession with the customer when one is thinking about and designing service delivery outcomes.”
“All the research” across both public and private sectors highlight four themes – People want four things from there information and service interactions; They want the service to be safe and secure; easy and simple; available at any time 24/7; and they want to feel valued and respected.
“For any organisation, an important driver of customer centricity starts with the culture of that organisation and the tone that is set from the top,” Mr Slater said.
“Basically it’s how the senior executives turn up and how they role model that they genuinely care about customer outcomes. For example, do they ensure that the customer is at the heart of policy development?”
The first priority for the DTA would be the creation of a “clear digital service delivery roadmap for the whole of government to ensure our money is being invested in the transformation initiatives that will have the biggest impact.”
The 12 to 24 month horizon would be a “pragmatic picture” on which to base decisions about where to direct government’s multi-billion dollar technology budget.
“You got to have a view on this stuff, to inform the investment choices that government has to make,” Mr Slater said.
“Government is no different from the private sector. Capital is scarce. You just can’t keep spending taxpayers money, or shareholders money, you have to make choices and you need to have a basis on which to make informed choice.”
The second priority, having identified initiatives that would have the most positive impact for citizens would be to “focus our collective efforts across the public service to improving the core platforms that support these big service transactions and life events.”
It’s all very well to have roadmaps and KPIs and agreed outcomes and performance monitoring – “that doesn’t help if you don’t work on it,” Mr Slater said.
“This is where we are a collective – going back to that value-creation piece – we have to up the work rate of change.”
A singularly important key to delivering on the government’s digital transformation agenda is the creation of a functioning digital identity regime across the whole of government.
“One thing we have to solve, and the DTA has a really important role to play in this regard … is for individuals and businesses to be able to identify who they are, and be verified and authenticated online,” Mr Slater said.
“There is no silver bullet to [solve] identity, but all of my heart-head-gut tells me if you want to significantly improve the experience, we have to solve [the issue of] digital identity. We must solve it.”
“This will require cross-agency collaboration and it will require help from the private sector,” he said.
“The role of the DTA is to work with all of those parties, to be very clear on what we’re trying to achieve and what success looks like and how we go about it.”
“If we can do one thing only, I think this is the one thing that matters [most],”
The third priority relates to continuing to build the DTA capability for performance monitoring of the whole-of-government ICT project portfolio.
Mr Slater favours his ex-banker private sector background on this, measuring everything. Venture capitalists, he said, would treat this portfolio of projects as a portfolio of businesses they’ve invested in.
“They would be constantly scrutinising the performance of the portfolio to decide which projects they have low levels of confidence in – in terms of benefit delivery – and others that require an intervention to increase their chances of success.”
Mr Slater’s fourth priority is to continue to level the playing field for small and medium Australian businesses looking to do business with government. This will include a program to help change some of the cultural cringe and risk-aversion issues that have kept governments from buying from smaller local suppliers.
“I want to see the DTA continue to support and encourage a marketplace so Australian companies can fairly and transparently compete for business.”
Finally, Mr Slater said his fifth priority for the agency would be in building a program and infrastructure to help uplift the digital capability of staff across the public service in the face of market-wide skills shortages.
“In support of this, I plan to set up innovation labs in our Canberra and Sydney offices that will provide the environments to bring in staff from across the APS, and to work with them, and impart knowledge in solving old problems in new ways,” Mr Slater said.
“It will be where they can learn how to approach issues with a fresh perspective and with customer-centred design thinking, rapid prototyping, building alpha and beta versions, launching, measuring and iterating.”