myGov is a ‘huge disappointment,’ key architect despairs


Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

A key architect of myGov says he “despairs” at the lack of progress on the platform and that the outsourcing of the development of a new version to private consultants was a “huge mistake”.

Labor last weekend promised to launch an audit of the myGov program if it wins the looming federal election, saying the platform is “not up to scratch”. Former Australian Government chief information officer Glenn Archer, who played a lead role in the launch of myGov nearly ten years ago, agrees.

Mr Archer, a visiting fellow at the Australian National University, was the inaugural national manager for e-government at Centrelink in the early 2000s, and was responsible for putting the first four transactions online, the first time services had ever been delivered via the internet by the Australian government.

Ten years later in 2012, Mr Archer drove a government proposal to undertake a significant upgrade of Centrelink’s online services, in what would become the birth of the myGov platform as it is known today.

Mr Archer was the Australian government CIO in the early 2010s, and was a member of the myGov steering committee, advising Cabinet on the 2013 upgrades to the myGov platform.

“I was right at the centre of that. It was an opportunity to see its establishment of Centrelink online then almost precisely a decade later to help the Cabinet make the decision to invest in an expansion of that and to support a better integration across multiple government agencies – that is the myGov concept as it exists today,” Mr Archer told InnovationAus.com.

Bennography / Shutterstock.com

But Mr Archer said he is disappointed with what has become of myGov in the near-decade since he launched it, with a lack of progress and improvements, and a reliance on outsourcing putting its effectiveness in jeopardy.

“I despair over the lack of progress. Having literally in November of 2002 turned on the very first four transactions, having watched that and having received multiple awards for that, to have watched its failure to continue to grow and develop is quite distressing,” he said.

The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) began working on a new version of myGov in early 2020, and immediately brought in consulting giant Deloitte on a near-$1 million contract – through a limited tender – to build a prototype via a “90-day sprint”.

Deloitte was then handed a contract eventually worth more than $30 million to turn this prototype into a working beta.

Responsibility for the “enhancement” of myGov was transferred from the DTA to Services Australia in late 2020, and a four-company panel was established to continue works on it, featuring Deloitte, Accenture, IBM and Arq Group.

These companies were paid a further $10 million last year for work on the new version of myGov, while Adobe also landed a $32 million deal to provide tech components. Deloitte has also been working on a myGov smartphone app on a contract worth $5.5 million.

But more than two years after the project launched, the new version of myGov is still in beta, with a limited number of services available on it.

Mr Archer questioned the slow progress of this project, and the lack of major changes in the beta version of myGov.

“How in God’s name has it taken two years to make some fairly minor improvements to the user interface and user experience?” Mr Archer said.

“What’s so hard about making these improvements? I don’t understand why it has taken that long and cost so much money to do that. We’re supposed to be adopting an agile development methodology. If we’re two-plus years into this thing and we’ve got nothing to show for it, that’s hardly agile.”

And the reliance on outsourcing much of the work on myGov to private companies is a “huge mistake”, Mr Archer said.

“Agencies are somewhat compromised by no longer having lots of these skills in-house. Their capacity to move quickly to make changes to their own systems to support a joined up and tightly integrated myGov platform has clearly been compromised by that,” he said.

“The argument has been that you employ consultants and commercial providers to do this sort of work based on the fact they have skills you don’t, but had it not been for the fact we’ve lost so many skills we wouldn’t have needed to do that.”

The main goal of myGov was to integrate a range of government services from different departments seamlessly on the one platform. But the new beta version of the platform still doesn’t do that effectively, he said.

“If you look at the myGov beta program as it exists today, it certainly shows some improvements but it’s still a bit of a hodge-podge as to how it does integration with other agency services,” Mr Archer said.

“The transition to the tax office or Medicare is a bit clunky, it’s still quite obvious to end users that these aren’t integrated in any way at all. They’ve attempted to give some user interface but the actual navigation systems are still broken in the beta site.

“Individual agencies continue to do their own thing but citizens and businesses in Australia don’t see organisational boundaries, they just see government. They expect government to be tightly integrated, they don’t expect to have to understand navigating across different agencies’ responsibilities and such.

“That’s one of the aspects of the transformational agenda that’s failed – I don’t think it ever started. That’s personally a huge disappointment.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

15 Comments
  1. Adam Young 1 week ago
    Reply

    They change the Mygov website and suddenly i’m not receiving my sign in codes…and the help desk tried to put it back on me, saying it’s a problem with my mobile service provider even thoe they found no scheduled drop outs with my provider. What amazes me is even with being able confirm my identity, they didn’t have a option in place where they could send me a code via email. So the poorest demographic now has to fork out money it doesn’t really have because some suit ponce in charge of building this new website said ” don’t you know ? everyone buys a new phone every year ” .

  2. Bruce 5 months ago
    Reply

    Utopia Season 3 Episode 3: Government IT system that had “ongoing operational deficiencies, capacity and capability constraints, architectural issues, costs blowouts, delays, poor oversight, was vulnerable to DOS attacks, had data insecurity, potential for ID fraud and it wouldn’t stop crashing”. Reality copying fiction, again!

  3. Lisa 5 months ago
    Reply

    As a user of mygov it is not a user friendly app and if you have limited computer skills it would be even harder, was this not a consideration in the development of mygov and you are very restricted with trying find information on anything and using the search engine is useless. I hope someone does something to fix this ridiculous app soon. People wonder why they don’t use it because it is faster to walk in and talk to someone then it is use mygov.

  4. Michael Scott 5 months ago
    Reply

    Consultants ask for your watch and tell you the time!

    Public servants are consultant fodder, should have subject matter experts to conduct peer reviews

    If you want to create/further develop a System: model your requirements; develope and integrate a work breakdown structure then (project) manage it.

    ~ or let the consultants use their post-it notes and goo it together with red sticky tape.

    • Laine 5 months ago
      Reply

      If you want SMEs to work in the public sector, you have to pay them private sector wages *and act on their recommendations*. Otherwise they’ll keep working for the consultancies, thankyouverymuch.

  5. quinn_noel@yahoo.com.au 5 months ago
    Reply

    Recently I received an SMS to say that I had a message on MyGov. So then I logged in, waited for another SMS and looked for the message. There was no message. Meanwhile in the real world I have an email address that MyGov refuses to use. Think about the mentality of the people who programmed this nonsense.

  6. Aimi 5 months ago
    Reply

    Look across the ditch at NZ and you will see more of the same. Money is being thrown at the consultancies, but nothing gets done. It’s all time and material based. Nobody needs to deliver anything.
    They loose permanent skilled staff and hire them back via consultancies at 3 times the rate – only this time they are not committed to delivery. They answer to a new boss. One that harvests money by the hour, on a business model that gets no benefit from early delivery, but from never completing.

  7. Jon 5 months ago
    Reply

    Was Deloitte approached for comment about this story?

  8. Mark Lillywhite 5 months ago
    Reply

    Talk of methodology or governance is completely beside the point, and everyone involved knows it already.

    A high quality implementation of the core of MyGov could be easily built by a small, appropriately incentivised and empowered team in a reasonably short time. Considering the tiny population of users that is Australia, this is hardly rocket science. I know a number of crews who could do this work.

    The problem is simply politics: a bunch of entitled senior managers and their must-have features, a disdain for efficiency, a perfect-is-better-than-done approach, and the revolving door to the consulting circus: none of this is going to be fixed by the latest methodology fad.

    Until the politics can be set aside, Australian public government IT services will remain a joke.

    I’m not going to hold my breath.

  9. Armorlog 5 months ago
    Reply

    Governments in Australia have continually failed to engage with Australian Developers of the appropriate technology to protect the community from Cyber attacks.

    The Government has built an overly complex device dependent high risk centralised authentication that is open to phishing attacks that even their own architect now admits is deficient.

    We have had available since 2008 a simple device independent decentralised authentication that prevents phishing attacks.

    Successive Governments have colluded with the Judiciary & foreign Multinationals in this Country to prevent our developments being made available for the benefit of the community it is a National disgrace.

  10. Ambarish 5 months ago
    Reply

    One of the major reasons why policy is hard to implement is because IT technical experts are not running the show. We have administrative managers and Management that is trying to decide how technology should work, these people hire project managers and IT project staff drawing plans and roadmaps (like a sales team) when the technical people have not a clue of what they have to deliver – when the person on the desk starts doing the job – he says the ‘sales’ team have oversold the idea !

  11. Mark Nottingham 5 months ago
    Reply

    It is indeed frustrating and sad. We had an opportunity to mirror what GDS did in the UK — drawing in talented, civic-minded tech people (which Australia has plenty of) to improve government services — but instead we once again went down the outsourcing path. IBM, Accenture and the rest are masterful at roping in big contracts and delivering awful, error-prone tech that requires endless support contracts. When will we learn?

    • Stephen Wilson 5 months ago
      Reply

      Actually GDS wasn’t much better. Their grand(iose) plans for federated digital identity — Verify GOV.UK — fizzled out, long after its leaders boldly declared digital identity was “easier done than said”.
      Australia is caught sadly between the under-specified MyGOV and the over-specified Trusted Digital Identity Framework (TDIF) which is cast from the same mould as Verify, that is, the canonical Laws of Identity. The Laws have been a market failure. They predicted a free market of general purpose “identity providers” which never came about. It turns out that identity is not the sort of stuff that can be “provided”. Each digital identity is a proxy for a relationship, and all business relationships are different.
      Now the best digital identity thinking is morphing into verifiable credentials. The focus is shifting from WHO someone is to WHAT they are, in the particular context in which we are trying to transact.
      The federal government has not kept up with Verifiable Credentials, nor with edge cryptography, digital wallets, the FIDO Alliance and passwordless authentication. Instead MyGov (and MyGovID) remain an under-specified single sign-on system, single factor by default. It doesn’t even provide citizens with the all-important ability to digitally sign transactions. That was something Australia was prototyping even before Glen Archer’s time, with the Medicare PKI and the smartcard pilot.
      A tragic missed opportunity indeed, stretching over twenty years.

      • Mark Nottingham 5 months ago
        Reply

        Digital identity is probably the least interesting (and potentially most problematic) of government services. GDS in the early was able to gain huge efficiencies by serving as a one-stop shop for government web content creation and maintenance — previously, outsourcing to big consulting firms meant not only huge amounts of wasted money, but also useless content that wasn’t user-focused.

  12. David 5 months ago
    Reply

    First there needs to be a consistent framework for how internal and external providers build for government.

    There also needs to be an overarching governance committee that any revision of expansion works comply with that framework at various stages of the lifecycle.

    Finally, the government need more competent people who are empowered and, probably most importantly, accountable.

    Until then, tens and hundreds of millions of dollars will continue to be wasted.

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