How to create connected government for improved service delivery
- Posted on September 20, 2022
- Estimated reading time 5 minutes
“While agencies continue to create digital silos, with their own disconnected apps and websites, ordinary Australians will remain rightfully frustrated,” Bill Shorten, Minister for Government Services.
Minister Shorten’s recent comments as he charted the vision for linked-up digital government services was on the money. Australia’s current public sector ecosystem provides customers with a disjointed experience as they navigate between agencies and third parties to complete transactions.
At a recent Avanade/Microsoft roundtable, public sector leaders and digital experts discussed the challenges to and potential pathways for improving this situation.
They started by acknowledging the tension between citizens demanding that government experiences are fluid and digital, while also wanting them to be stable, reliable and risk free. Technology itself is not a blocker to seamless government services. Secure frameworks and identity models exist to enable data to flow securely across and between governments. The hurdles are often political appetite and the challenge of breaking down silos.
To this point, the roundtable noted the difficulties presented by disparate sets of networks (even within the same agency), a lack of agreement around data governance, the risks around sharing sensitive information, different authentication services and multiple front doors.
Ironically, the rapid digital advances made by governments during COVID only served to increase the fragmented digital landscape. The pandemic forced Australia to develop elements of a digital economy. But many of the results emphasised the disparity between states and their agencies. For example, despite efforts to create a single COVID-safe check-in, each state ended up building and operating their own QR code systems.
Solve the human problem
Sometimes, services seem to be designed to suit the agency, with little thought given to the user experience. But good digital solutions should solve the human problem. The technology industry tends to ‘bring a hammer and look for nails’. Before buying a solution, agencies should ask the question: If it doesn’t serve a citizen outcome, is it worth it?
Digital teams need to work to remove the political lens and cluster around the common thread of the citizen experience by using human-centred design to make government interactions as simple, easy and fast as possible. Otherwise, people engaged in a poor digital experience will be forced into more expensive channels such as phone and service centres.
Aim for ‘agile-ish’
Human-centred design has elements of agile, encouraging the incremental delivery of small pieces of work to test and iterate with users. But, while having an agile mindset helps to create services that align with people’s needs, government doesn’t have to move at the pace of the tech industry, where big players are making thousands of changes in their environments every day. That level of iteration is neither tenable nor necessary in government.
Even when agencies have solid development testing pipelines in place, approval pathways and policy issues will always slow the process down – and that’s OK.
The ‘get rights’ for connected government are in back-end systems – in taking an enterprise approach and having sharable data and interoperability between agencies. And in continuing to offer a blend of physical and digital experiences, so all citizens can engage with government on their own terms.
Encourage the use of common APIs and platforms
Technophiles across the public service understand the imperative to build reusable, common and shared APIs and platforms as much as possible. This will encourage the re-use of services, simplify existing environments and de-risk implementations.
But agencies are still proposing digital solutions without being aware of opportunities to leverage common platforms. For example, despite the Australian Government having developed a National API Design Standard to promote interoperability between systems – and online resources that agencies from all levels of government can use when building and launching APIs and integrations – many digital teams and the product management community in state and local government are unaware of them.
To achieve the widespread adoption of standards, the Australian Government it was discussed that it might be better to take a ‘carrot’ (not ‘stick’) approach. Rather than trying to impose standards, a better option would be to use small control exercises to demonstrate the business value of using common platforms and standards.
Educate leaders and create champions
Having a digitally literate leader who can create a burning platform is a major enabler of interoperability and human-centred services.
To get leaders on board, digital teams need to convert IT imperatives into policy imperatives, linking the value of technology strategy and innovation to political outcomes and agency goals. In this regard, elected officials need something straightforward to engage with. That means leaving detailed technical descriptions at the door and focussing on simple concepts. The only question teams need to answer is: How will this technology improve the citizen’s experience?
The accolades following the retirement announcement of NSW Digital Government Minister, Victor Dominello, highlight the benefit of leaders who are vocal advocates for easy-to-use, joined up digital services. With a passion for redesigning government around residents, rather than agency portfolios, Mr Dominello made it possible to reform how services are both delivered and funded in NSW.
We hope to see many more leaders following in his footsteps to create the interoperability needed for citizens to get the joined-up services they deserve – without having to grapple with the machinery of government.