Taylor charts new digital direction

James Riley
Editorial Director

The Prime Minister’s point-man on digital government Angus Taylor will today unveil a re-engineering of the Digital Transformation Agenda – one of Malcolm Turnbull’s signature policies – that will provide new incentives for departments and agencies to get on board.

The changes include a re-design of the Digital Transformation Office to include a beefed-up program management capability to drive a more coordinated whole-of-government change management effort.

Mr Taylor says this next stage of the Digital Transformation Agenda was about “the need to shift from being a disrupter … to be able to manage change right across government.”

A small, high-calibre team set up inside the DTO would form a new program management office to apply change management principles and drive the government’s digital agenda in a more co-ordinated and collaborative way.

Speaking at a technology conference in Canberra this morning, Mr Taylor will also outline a new funding scheme that will let departments and agencies to share the savings that these digital projects deliver, rather than having those savings tipped back into the general revenues.

This will be the first of a series of set-piece speeches Mr Taylor will make between now and the end of the year that will outline substantial changes to the way the Turnbull Government structures its digital service delivery projects.

He will outline a structure for co-creating digital business plans with government agencies, setting clear targets – with incentives – for delivering on those plans, and then a program for relentlessly measuring and tracking the benefits and deliverables.

“It is absolutely appropriate that there be some sharing of benefits between the agencies that deliver them and the government,” he said. “That’s an important principle we need to apply to drive change quickly.”

“The notion that you can drive a major whole-of-government agenda by just telling people what to do and expecting them to do it without providing incentives is clearly wrong.”

“We need to provide those incentives, and that means sharing. It also means a sharing transparency across initiatives.
“If we are to get common platforms across government, if we are going to make sure that we avoid duplication, then we have to make sure than we get line of sight on the business plans,” Mr Taylor said.

The incentive scheme for agencies will have a Back to the Future feel about it for public servants. Under former Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner’s administration during the first Rudd years (and as part of recommendations of a review by UK bureaucrat Sir Peter Gershon) departments and agencies were able to keep 50 per cent of the savings wrought by from ICT efficiencies, which could then be applied to other projects.

But as federal budget pressures began to bite under Gillard Government, those savings were wiped from the departments’ forward estimates and tipped back into general revenue.

Mr Taylor says the new incentive scheme would be similar in its intention, and that more detail would be made available today.

He said the new program management office inside the DTO would provide better oversight of each government agencies digital plans, and would be working to coordinate the whole-of-government digital roadmap, which the Coalition pledged to release by the end of November as an election commitment.

While the DTO had already been working toward this capability, the creation of a small powerful team to set targets, measure results and apply incentives was critical to driving change inside agencies and, collectively, more broadly across government.

“That means having a team that can set economic and non-economic targets for each of the digital projects and can help put together – working with the agencies obviously – really succinct, realistic business plans and make sure that the incentives are right,” Mr Taylor said.

“That means that agencies and departments will have an incentive to want to pursue these projects because at least some of the savings and benefits will accrue to them, [but also] that there are very clear milestones in these projects which you can measure and manage to,” he said.

“This is something the venture community has understood for a long time, but which we haven’t instilled in government as much as we should have.”

Mr Taylor said the reengineering of the Digital Transformation Office’ efforts was aimed at retargeting the government’s focus on to projects that deliver the highest benefit to cost ratio.

While the Digital Transformation Agenda would require upfront investment, it could be mitigated by a relentless focus and re-focus on the projects that have very high benefits relative to the cost spent.

“The key is really line of sight. If you are constantly looking for these high benefit to cost ratios in your projects, then the investments are paid back very quickly,” he said.

“As long as you’ve got a lot of those high-benefit to cost projects [ongoing], then you can really get a lot done.
“It doesn’t mean there is no net cost. But it does mean that you can deliver a good flow of benefits quickly.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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