Gladys Berejiklian’s structural overhaul of the NSW public service is underpinned by a radical rethinking of how the state allocates resources and how it delivers services. It is a true data-led transformation that marks NSW as one of a very few global leaders in digital government.
The restructure is very, very interesting, the culmination of years of work. There is no other government in Australia that has had remotely close to the ambition of NSW in relation to data and digital, nor demonstrated the nerve to push through.
The creation of the Department of Customer Service marks a fundamental change in the way government operates. This is not just about the delivery of digital services, although that’s an important component.
The Customer Service portfolio could just as easily have been named the department of KPIs with Victor Dominello being named Minister for Benchmarking. Or the Minister for Service Analytics.
The new model measures outputs, plain and simple. And this changes everything (not least the formulation of Budgets, which will use outputs as the guiding star, rather than inputs).
When former finance minister Victor Dominello was named Minister for Customer Service last Sunday, the collective reaction of political watchers was “Huh, what??”
But now that Gladys Berejiklian has signed off on the Administrative Arrangements for the new government, things have become a lot clearer.
Together with the Department of Premier and Cabinet and the Treasury, the newly-formed Department of Customer Service is one of three departments with horizontal, while-of-government oversight. (The Finance department, in the meantime, has atrophied, and is now part of Treasury.)
The Customer Service portfolio has taken the best parts of the digital delivery and data analytics infrastructure from across government.
The Administrative Arrangements set out the following. Service NSW moves from Finance to Customer Service; the Data Analytics Centre moves from Treasury to Customer Service, while the Office of the Customer Service Commissioner and the Behavioural Insights Unit moves from Premier and Cabinet to the Customer Service Portfolio.
Parts of Revenue NSW moves from Finance to the Customer Service department, which also takes responsibility for Liquor and Gaming from the Industry department.
The Innovation and Better Regulation portfolio under new minister Kevin Anderson also moves from Finance into Customer Service as a junior ministry.
This is a formidable collection of powers, which includes the whole-of-government responsible for ICT and digital. The successful digital delivery programs that grew out of Finance under Mr Dominello – think Green Slip auto rebates, Active Kids vouchers and the like – should now probably be viewed as pilots to a far grander, whole-of-government delivery vision.
Digital in NSW has graduated. It is central to everything the state government does. And the new department of Customer Service will measure everything across the delivery portfolios of health, education, transport, and family and community services.
The changes in the Treasury portfolio are also interesting (just as it is worth noting that Treasurer Dominic Perrottet and Treasury secretary Mike Pratt have been key drivers of Service NSW and digital strategies across government.
The industry development parts of the former Industry department move to Treasury – including Jobs for NSW, and NSW Trade and Investment. Treasury also takes the NSW Procurement board as well as the Office of the Small Business Commissioner.
The Deputy Premier John Barilaro will now operate as Minister for Regional NSW, Industry and Trade from within the Treasury portfolio, which is now the centre of industry development power in government.
The restructure of the NSW Government is quite easily the most ambitious thing going on in the public sector in Australia right now. It is incredibly gutsy, and puts the state at the forefront of digital thinking in public administration in the world.
It is the culmination of years of work that started under former Premier Barry Unsworth and has been continued under successive premiers since that time.
Victor Dominello has proven himself over a long period to be the most important advocate for digital government in Australia. The re-election of the Berejiklian government and the appointment of Mr Dominello in this Customer Service portfolio is the next big stage of a transformation project that has been underway for at least six years.
If there is a single concern about the new arrangements, it is that NSW has yet to fully embrace procurement as an engine for industry development. If the state truly is a world leader in digital government, then it should be producing world leading tech companies on the back of that world leading work.
There is a cultural cringe in Australia among public servants about engaging with smaller Australian technology leaders. Preferential treatment is given to the large multinational tech providers. Despite procurement theatre like the Pitch to Pilot, the government has not yet seriously leveraged its purchasing power.
This is something the new Minister for Customer Service might consider. Because you can bet that Microsoft and Salesforce will be referencing their public sector work with the world leading NSW government.
It would be great if more Australian tech companies were able to do the same.