Senate tech inquiry now underway

James Riley
Editorial Director

New technology alone is not enough to deliver on the promise of digital transformation in government, the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) says in its submission to the Senate inquiry into digital delivery of government services.

Many government agencies had not yet addressed the antiquated business process underlying the technology – a key to delivering better services to citizens at lower cost.

“The efficiency of moving a service online is, in most cases, only realised where the business process that supports the service is re-engineered….this has still not been addressed by a range of government agencies that deliver outward facing services to customers – while the technology is new, the underlying processes remain antiquated,” the AIIA said in its submission.

What a mess: Delivery of government services under Senate scrutiny

The AIIA says the way forms are completed, submitted and complied in government is an example of how old processes and an “old ways of thinking” still exists.

The Senate’s Finance and Public Administration References Committee has been accepting submissions since August as part of its review into whether government agencies can deliver services that uphold privacy and security, are reliable and usable, and are value for money.

The AIIA’s submission also criticised the internal government politics between departments and agencies “vying to protect their own self-interest and/or internal investments” had continued to undermine the whole-of-government service delivery model.

“This continues to hamper the speed of digital adoption, typically at the expense of customers,” the AIIA says. “Examples include approaches to digital identity, the proliferation and lack of interoperability of content between websites and agency specific procurement practices.”

The lack of whole-of-government digital roadmap, combined with fragmented activities and investment across government, had forced agencies to compete for investment and skills to deliver digital capability.

Meanwhile, Australian Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim has warned in a submission from the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner’s (OAIC) that privacy concerns need to be addressed as part of digital delivery programs. It cannot be considered an after-thought.

“The automated nature of digital service delivery has the potential to create new privacy concerns or amplify existing privacy issues,” Mr Pilgrim wrote.

“As with all government initiatives, agencies delivering digital services should consider whether the use of personal information strikes an appropriate balance between achieving the objectives of the project and any impact on privacy.

“Agencies should also ensure transparency in relation to their information-handling practices, so that individuals know how their personal information will be managed.”

Mr Pilgrim also recommended that agencies need to take a “privacy-by-design” approach from the design stage onwards to minimise risks to an individual’s privacy, while making the most of using data.

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet echoed this, pointing out in its submission how security needs to be embedded in software and apps, the underlying network layer, as well as end-point systems accessed by the public.

In particular, the department warned there is a “prevailing tick-box compliance culture” that needs to change to ensure good security hygiene.

“Digital literacy and security awareness, including security risks and consequences, needs to be a core part of agencies’ toolkits to deliver services in a modern online economy,” the department wrote.

“Not all agencies, especially smaller ones, are equipped to deliver technology outcomes at scale. Agencies will need to consider alternate service options, such as cloud service provision.”

The Australian Taxation Office seems to be one agency that understands this.

It said in its submission that improving identity and security will be one of its priorities through the delivery of voice biometric authentication, cloud authentication, improving third party authorisations and access to government services.

At the same time, the ATO said it will refresh some of its core IT infrastructure as part of plans to reduce the number of unplanned outages – a frequent occurrence for the agency – and reduce planned maintenance downtimes.

“Our old hardware assets will be refreshed and will continue to be kept up to-date as required, so that hardware and software do not become obsolete and introduce vulnerabilities,” the ATO said.

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