An independent audit of myGov has urged the federal government to commit long-term ongoing funding of more than $100 million a year to the platform to ensure it becomes the “go to” place for online services.
The findings of the much-anticipated audit led by former CSIRO chair David Thodey were announced by Government Services minister Bill Shorten on Tuesday, with the 10 key recommendations now under consideration by government.
The audit, which began in September and took place over the last three months, was promised by the government in the lead up to last year’s election to deliver reliability and usability improvements for users.
It was commissioned after extensive work by Services Australia to improve the platform using the $200 million set aside for upgrades by the former Morrison government in the 2021-22 federal Budget.
Much of the funding has been spent replacing myGov’s underpinnings with a new government digital experience platform (GovDXP) built on Adobe software and hosted on Amazon Web Services — work that Deloitte has led at a cost of more than $80 million.
Independent economic analysis commissioned by Services Australia estimated that completing the program would lead to net benefits of $3.2 billion over 10 years, and direct savings of $158 million to government.
That work has “put in place much needed building blocks for a better myGov”, the report found, noting that the new platform is more scalable, secure, flexible and user-friendly than it has been in the past.
But despite the improvements, the changes “fall well short of the long-expressed vision of providing a primary digital front door to government for Australians” and should be regarded as a “starting point”.
The report found further investment in the platform, similar to the $138 million provided in each of the last two financial years, will be needed on an ongoing basis in order for myGov to “fulfil its potential”.
“Recent investment will deliver some ongoing benefits for Australians. But without a commitment to long-term investment in delivering the contemporary capabilities (such as digital wallets) and new services (such as passport applications), the risk is that myGov will become an empty shell,” the panel said.
Since myGov was introduced in 2013, the platform has “gone from a strategically important ICT system to an indispensable part of the Australian Government service delivery ecosystem”, the panel said, making it a new form of “critical national infrastructure”.
The number of myGov users accounts have grown from 1.3 million in 2013 to 25 million in September 2022, with 13.3 million – or more than half of all new accounts – created in just the last five years.
“The growth in usage of myGov is considerable, especially since 2020 when the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic led to a substantial increase in Australians accessing government services,” the panel said.
The panel was also critical of the government’s decision to invest less in the services provided by agencies like Services Australia and the Australian Taxation Office through myGov than myGov itself, describing it as a “mistake”.
“The connection between the myGov hub and its existing member service spokes is a long way from ideal. Almost 40 per cent of calls taken by the myGov help desk are about linking to member services,” the panel said.
In order to ensure ongoing upgrades to the platform, the panel has suggested the government create a ‘myGov development fund’ modelled on the New South Wales government’s Digital Restart Fund to raise funds from agencies that use the platform.
The fund would “allow for the funding process to take place outside the annual budget cycle, with investment decisions considered four times per year”, allowing agencies to seek smaller increments of money.
It also recommended that the government partner with the states and territories to devise a five-year plan that sets out the timeframes for new services and features, which Minister Shorten appeared receptive to at a press conference on Tuesday.
“What I would like to do in the next four months is to be able to articulate the calendar, when we can start dropping [Medicare, driver’s licence] cards in,” he said, adding that the exact timing is a matter for negotiation with federal and state government agencies.
Governance changes are also on the table, with the panel recommending the creation of four new bodies: a joint ministerial committee, independently chaired advisory board, myGov design authority, and ethics and inclusion committee.
“For myGov to develop as it should, behaviours within government also need to change. Too often in the past, myGov development has been hampered by agencies pursuing their own agendas,” the panel added.
In the medium-term, the panel has recommended the federal government consider emulating the New South Wales government’s governance arrangements, whereby a central department is responsible for policy and an adjoined agency delivers services.
The panel also recommended improvements to ‘tell us once’ functionality, with only half of the myGov services offering the service at present, contributing to the lack of trust people have in the platform.
As many as 40 per cent of people surveyed for the audit also had a negative experience when “accessing information, signing in, having to go to multiple places to access the services they need, linking their services to myGov and the myGov inbox notification”. In total, 75 per cent of people thought government online services needed improvement.
The panel is encouraging the government to “demonstrate its practical commitment” to myGov by publishing its response to the audit and an implementation plan by the start of July.
Minister Shorten said the government will “take some time in coming weeks and months to assess which of the recommendations we can do now, which we can do later”.
He also stressed that the previous government had “effectively booby trapped the budget” by including no funding for myGov beyond June 2023.
“So obviously that’s a question we’ll have to address in the very near future. That’ll be a question for myself and the Government, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer,” Mr Shorten said.
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