NSW edges ahead with digital strategy but must keep promises, says expert

NSW Finance Minister Victor Dominello at CeBIT last week. Pic: CeBIT


NSW is edging ahead of other states and territories when it comes to offering a ‘seamless digital experience’ when people transact with government but it needs to keep the digital journey consistent for users, says an expert.

The new NSW digital strategy, launched last week, promises to focus the state’s efforts on improving the way the government deals with customers, digitalising as many transactions as possible and simplifying processes.

Designing our Digital Future went public at last week’s CeBIT conference where the NSW Finance Minister, Victor Dominello, said the new strategy “represents a bold vision for ICT reform and cultural change within the NSW government”.

“This is not just an upgrade; this strategy provides the backbone for the delivery of next level, improved, user-centric services,” Mr Dominello said.

The aim is to make government services ‘more connected, customer focused and outcomes driven’ and it hinges on three things: customer experience, data and being ‘digital on the inside’.

Digital by default is the name of the game, with a target of 70 per cent of transactions done digitally by 2019. Improving customer experience is also central to the new strategy, meaning services and policies are designed around customer needs and made as simple, integrated and seamless as possible.

The customer is king

Alok Kulkarni, CEO of customer experience company Cyara, which has a number of government clients, said NSW was edging ahead of other states and territories by putting customer experience at the heart of policy making, service design and delivery and making it easier to deal with government.

The state has already had success with its Service NSW, which gathers a broad range of government services and transactions under one roof, both online and via a network of one-stop shops.

So too has NSW been forging ahead with digital identity, allowing many documents to be ported to mobile phones, with NSW driver’s licences the big one set to follow.

But while the state’s successes are stacking up Mr Kulkarni advised cautious optimism.

He said that for the new digital strategy to work, the government must ensure a consistent experience for users, by building across channels including online, phone and apps and across government departments and agencies.

“It may be hard to work out who is responsible for that [customer] journey end-to-end and the accountability, who owns what,” Mr Kulkarni said.

“It’s no longer an agency that you’re dealing with. You’re dealing with the NSW government.”

Making help available across every channel and providing ‘contextualised assistance’, where customers only had to explain a problem once, would also help provide ‘a consistent personalised journey’.

He said the government also needed to make sure it delivered on its promises to maintain public confidence, which had been dented by recent (federal) government disasters, including the 2016 Census meltdown and Centrelink robo debt.

This would demand strong inter-agency communication and this must be reflected in internal cultures.

Other critical factors included ensuring that digital platforms can serve customers properly.

He said it was important to offer people a similar service to what they already got from the private sector, ‘if not more because they [the government] are meant to be working for them’.

 “It’s very much achievable. The key thing for them is to make sure that they are able to deliver this experience to the customer and help them along the journey, holding the customers’ hand,” he said.

“There’s the ability to leverage shared resources across different agencies and to pool resources to deliver on outcomes.”

The task ahead did not have to be attempted all at once. Instead, services and channels could be rolled out iteratively and brought on one at a time.

Mr Kulkarni also suggested making it easy for customers to give continuous feedback about services and their digital experience so that any problems can be fixed and processes improved.

Data dominance

Data is another essential part of giving people a smoother experience when dealing with government.

The NSW digital strategy says that data will be open, collected and able to be shared digitally, as well as published in real time where possible. It will also be used to underpin policies and service design and should make it more responsive.

Mr Kulkarni said collecting multiple data sources into a single store of data about each individual means people do not have to provide data multiple times. This can also extend to authenticating identity once, having single log-ins where possible and more synergy with documents.

Mr Dominello spoke about two data initiatives at CeBIT: NSW Trends, a one-stop shop for public data on everything from hospital emergency waiting times to customer satisfaction with Service NSW; and dMarketplace, where citizens can consult third-party reviews to chose datasets “along the lines of ‘Trip Advisor’ or ‘Wotif’”.

Digital on the inside

Another key pillar of the strategy is ‘digital on the inside’, which means digital transactions are designed around user needs by streamlining processes across agencies and within clusters to eliminate duplication. Using whole of government platforms contributes to this.

Artificial intelligence can be employed, for example through chat bots, to automate routine tasks and free up frontline staff for more complex queries.

Mr Kulkarni said the changes would have a mostly positive impact on NSW departmental staff.

“I think it’s quite exciting for them. They will be able to service the customer a lot better but they also need to change.

“Some things they are in control of now they might not be in control of any more. They will have to come to terms with that. Agencies will have to make it about the customer.”

The NSW digital strategy will be something every department and agency must grapple with, particularly because slippages against goals will be noticed.

Each department must report every six months to the Government Chief Information and Digital Officer (GCIDO), who in turn will report against strategy goals to the Expenditure Review Committee.

Chief Information Officers must provide a progress report every six months to the GCIDO, Damon Rees.

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