Robert unveils new ServicesAus plan

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

The Coalition will move towards a whole-of-government technology architecture and more “agile” funding models for IT projects as part of what it calls a ‘revolutionary’ new Services Australia department, Government Services Minister Stuart Robert has said.

In a speech to an AIIA lunch in Canberra on Friday, Mr Robert outlined a new model for government digital transformation and the role of the soon-to-be-formed Services Australia.

The new department, unveiled by Prime Minister Scott Morrison following the May election, will see the government “fundamentally reimagining the way we deliver services to Australians”, Mr Robert said.

Parliament House
Robert unveils new ServicesAus plan

A major part of this goal will be transforming how the government sources technology and funds large-scale IT projects. In a bid to tackle “complex structural, whole-of-government issues”, the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) has been tasked with investigating a new whole-of-government technology architecture.

The current “siloed approach” to tech architecture, investment and delivery in government is making it difficult to deliver many of the services that span across departments and agencies, Mr Robert said.

“The lack of a sophisticated whole-of-government portfolio view of ICT projects, capabilities, needs and, dare I say, liabilities makes it difficult to develop scalable platforms and capabilities. This is not the way to get the best value of your, mine and every taxpayer’s money,” he said.

“This is not the way technology and business teams should be constrained when trying to deliver services. This is not the way we will be able to deliver a customer experience that is simple, smart and personalised for the benefit of all Australians.”

The DTA has already formed a taskforce with representatives from the Department of Defence, Home Affairs, Australian Taxation Office and the Department of Human Services to investigate this, looking at identifying critical technology capabilities and a more nuanced view of the strategic capabilities across government.

“For example, if we are already investing taxpayers’ money in developing a digital identity system, or a payments utility, or a voice biometrics capability, we should investigate whether such platforms can be scaled up, rather than simply start doing the same thing again and again, at great effort, time and expense,” Mr Robert said.

The DTA is also working with state and territory governments through the COAG data group to develop a standard government API framework.

“This will enable an open, modular architecture that can evolve over time with the needs and capabilities of governments to enable the delivery of true customer-centric services,” he said.

“It will allow us to connect services, share data in a secure way and deliver a customer experience like that of shopping or banking online.”

Services Australia would continue the government’s intention to move away from long-term funding of IT projects and towards a “much simpler, faster and agile way of releasing funding for digital projects”.

This would enable agencies to “try things, learn and scale up and share learnings before significant amounts of money and reputation capital is sunk into projects”, Mr Robert told the lunch.

The DTA is now working with large central agencies like Department of Finance, Defence and the ATO to explore these different funding models.

“The result will enable us to get a true whole-of-government view of the technology portfolio and make the right decisions around the Cabinet table to achieve our goal of delivering world-leading digital services for the benefit of all Australians,” he said.

The Coalition has already begun to move towards this model, with the DTA inking a $39 million whole-of-government three-year deal with Amazon Web Services earlier this year, giving federal, state and territory agencies and departments access to the services on a pay-as-you-use model.

Mr Robert also provided an update on the progress of launching the new Services Australia department. The Hoffman taskforce has delivered a strategic report on the new department, with deliverables spanning the next 12 months, two to three years and five years.

Seven streams of work have also been launched, many structured as joint agency and private sector taskforces, which are operating in “agile” 90-day sprint cycles. Mr Robert is being provided fortnightly personal updates on each stream.

The streams of work include reimagining the future of government shopfronts, removing the need for call centres, designing customer-centric suites of digital services, transforming the department’s back-end systems and simplifying these processes.

“As the PM said, Services Australia is not simply a rebrand, so we will not be putting this name on services that do not meet the expectations of Australians,” Mr Robert said.

“We are embarking on one of the largest programs of reform undertaken in this country to deliver a world-leading customer experience for Australians.”

Another pillar of this new approach to delivering government services is the highly controversial plan to greatly free up the sharing of data within government.

An issues paper was released last year, and a discussion paper on the Data Sharing and Release Act was published for consultation earlier this year.

The legislation was widely criticised for removing the need to seek consent before data is shared, and other privacy and security issues.

The Coalition has now opted to rename the legislation to the Data Availability and Transparency Act, and plans to introduce it to Parliament by June next year.

“This reflects our commitment to continuing to evolve our framework to get it right, because in this space it is absolutely paramount that Australians have the trust and confidence that we are doing this for their benefit,” Mr Robert said.

Mr Robert also revealed that the ATO’s digital identity offering, myGovID, has now been downloaded 200,000 times on the Apple and Android app stores, with over 120,000 digital identities created.

He confirmed the government would also be introducing legislation to allow private sector organisations to be accredited by the DTA to provide their own digital identities.

The speech marked the one year anniversary of the DTA’s Digital Transformation Strategy, and Mr Robert said that 73 of the 100 key projects and milestones have now been achieved.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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