Private sector online and technology experts will be parachuted into federal agencies under secondment to intensively coach bureaucrats on how to rapidly improve service delivery, the Coalition’s Digital Services Policy announced today by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reveals.
In a series of measures certain to generate shockwaves across key public service agencies, the Prime Minister’s Department will also seize strategic control of the federal Government’s massive technology purchasing agenda – worth around $5 billion a year – and put it under a new reformist task force if the Coalition is re-elected.
Launching the policy at Qantas’ Sydney headquarters, Mr Turnbull’s big pitch is voters is that a series of short, sharp reforms, backed by an ambitious program of work now underway, will finally deliver “customer focused” services from agencies, including a previously announced $50 million overhaul of the troubled myGov online credential and citizen account.
Having caused persistent headaches across agencies including Tax, Centrelink and Medicare over the last few years, the pledge to “Modernise myGov” scored top billing on the Coalition’s 10 point plan that also featured a raft of other measures that range from pushing more open data to allowing government transaction and facilities to be accessed and embedded into third party websites and applications. (More on those in a moment)
Clearly aware of growing public frustration with online and electronic services, Mr Turnbull again took aim at the pace of public sector online service improvement, a clear warning that acute pressure will be applied to the bureaucracy if he is returned as PM.
“Governments I have to say have been generally very slow movers in terms of technology. There are notable exceptions I hasten to add but generally they have not been as dynamic as the private sector … They have not been as imaginative,” Mr Turnbull said.
The main thrust of the policy is that the impetus of reforms and improvements now underway – including those being pushed by the Digital Transformation Office (DTO) – must be maintained if federal online services are be dragged up to the standard of banks, airlines and online retailers.
“We want to make the Government so accessible that you feel, Australians feel, their government is as easy to deal with as the most efficient private sector online business,” Mr Turnbull said, before having another dig at the bureaucracy.
“That is our goal. A lot of cultural challenges there I can assure you.”
[quote]“This is not a time to hide under the doona. This is not a time to be daunted by challenges. This is not a time to be pedalling a long list of complaints,” Mr Turnbull said.[/quote]
What’s in the Digital Services Policy?
Aside from plenty of already announced initiatives, including rapid development projects being run out of the Turnbull-created DTO, the core message is that leadership surrounding the redevelopment of myGov looks like it will now vest properly with that agency and PM&C.
While there was no explicit mention of the development of a government sponsored or issued Digital Identity – even though one is clearly being created – there is clearly an intention to allow private sector providers to government and other trusted businesses to access the credential.
“This commitment means that the public will only need to update their details once and that information will be shared with all Australian Government agencies, and with linked private sector services,” the policy says.
“Users will have complete control over which agencies and linked services they share personal information with.
“This will enable someone who has moved house to update their address or contact details with government and have that information shared with the private sector services of their choice, such as their bank or insurance company.”
Those statements point to what many anticipate will be a ‘federated’ model for the government sponsored Digital Identity so that banks, telecommunications carriers and other institution bound by proof of identity requirements for customers will get access to the service to verify transactions.
The Australian Taxation Office has already indicated it is prepared to potentially do away with annual tax returns for people with simple taxation arrangements, providing it can have digital access to key details such as pay and earnings remittances that hit bank accounts.
Those kinds of moves could potentially save the government and the public big money, although such a shift would structurally impact services businesses like tax agents and accountants.
Embedding government transactions into business online
A very notable feature of the Digital Services Policy is a commitment for the government to “release web services to approved third party websites to make it easier and faster for people to complete day to day transactions.”
“By default, all new essential government services will be built to enable access by application program interface or web services, enabling them to be integrated and compatible with third party platforms,” the policy says.
The move to provide open up or expose “compatible web services” would allow non-federal entities like “schools, hospitals and community groups” to give their own website users access to federal services and transactions across jurisdictions, with an example of students enrolling at a university being able to apply for Youth Allowance from the one website.
Expert assistance from outside
Perhaps the most controversial element of the Digital Services Policy – at least for public servants and unions – is a bid to bring in “world class digital experts” from “private sector companies” into the public service.
Billed as “an Expert in Residence programme”, the Coalition says the initiative will allow three, six or 12 month secondments from the private sector into the public service “making it easier for government agencies to access specialist digital skills”.
The move would open the door for agencies to reach out to the likes of Google, banks and other online businesses to harness hands-on smarts without going through protracted procurement or recruitment processes that would otherwise be required.
But it could also cut into the lucrative consulting services market to government that has for decades provided rich pasture to big name firms selling policy and reform expertise to public servants.
“Secondments will help increase the level of collaboration between government and the private sector,” the policy says.
“Secondees from the private sector will offer important insights and experience that will support government agencies to deliver services that are simpler and more accessible for customer,” it continues, adding that the DTO will be the first agency to trial the program.”
Tech Procurement shake-up
If there’s one area of government that’s frustrated ministers, public servants and industry alike it’s the often cumbersome and archaic process of procurement which can sometimes take so long specified purchases can be out of date before they arrive.
After decades of the Department of Finance controlling both whole-of-government ICT procurement and the procurement guidelines and system itself, the Coalition’s Digital Services Policy is taking the courageous step both sidestepping and reforming the agency to get improvements up and running quickly.
Pledging to “establish a taskforce in the Prime Minister’s Department to reform government ICT procurement policies” the policy has firm guidance about what will change under a second Turnbull Government.
“The taskforce will identify existing procurement barriers and opportunities to streamline ICT procurement,” the policy says.
Tipping an obligatory hat to small businesses and start-ups who have complained for years about being shut out of government purchasing because of onerous compliance requirements around everything from risk to intellectual property, the message to procurement gatekeepers to get out of the way unambiguous.
“Many digital companies offer innovative ‘off the shelf’ products that are low risk and could be used to accelerate the digitisation of government services,” the policy says.
“It is important that innovative digital companies, particularly startups and small and medium businesses, are not hindered by traditional procurement pathways for minor or standard products, or compliance requirements that do not match the simplicity of the procurement.”
With the DTO already working on a new ‘marketplace’ for digital products, expect wider ICT procurement to get a good shake up if a Turnbull is returned in July.
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