At the end of March, Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull spoke at the Digital Innovation Forum in Sydney on the Australian government’s newly launched Digital Transformation Office (DTO).
Turnbull talked of “the most exciting time in human history”, saying that digital technology means there had never been a more disruptive or subversive period to be living in.
The potential for disruption is rife with an E-Government policy that aims to collate most government services into one single myGov digital platform by 2017 (although this date, says Turnbull, is just a guide.)
The DTO’s aim is to operate more like a start-up than a government agency, supporting the process and progress of digitisation.
The customer, Turnbull says, is key. The critical focus for the DTO is customer centricity: a deliberate drive to break away from an inward-facing culture and focus on what the citizen, as a customer, needs to be able to interact with government “seamlessly, compellingly and enjoyably”.
For offering its guidance to the DTO programme, Turnbull thanked the UK Government – one of a number of countries setting examples in this space.
As Australia begins to define what it means to provide end-to-end digital government services for its citizens, there are a number of opportunities to explore:
Connected interactions: a familiar and streamlined one-stop shop for users
The UK’s gov.uk initiative has so far transitioned 350 government sites into one website on a single domain.
By putting the user at the heart of design, breaking down informational and transactional silos to deliver connected and seamless services focused on customer needs, the Australian government can simplify common transactions and life events.
One central interface would make it quicker and easier for users to navigate and for government staff to administer, improving productivity for service providers.
For example, when registering a birth, the UK’s ‘Tell Us Once’ service enables the user to notify multiple government organisations in one transaction, linking the online notification process to the physical assessment process.
Here in Australia, Turnbull has used the example of grant administration. Almost every leg of government administration offers a grants program. By breaking down the silo mentality and building a common grants platform regardless of department, users could access a familiar system with all relevant information in one coherent place.
A unified, digitized citizen identity
E-Government could mean a central access point for a citizen’s information and documentation – such as birth and marriage certificates, health records, passports and driver’s licences. It could grant each citizen with a single ‘digital identity’ meaning easier cross-departmental collaboration and potential applications beyond basic government transactions.
One of the world’s most digitally innovative countries, Singapore issues its citizens with a compulsory National Registration Identity Card, which links to SingPass, an ID that allows them to access the government’s online portal but also wider services such as the national job seekers’ service. New Zealand has RealMe, which aside from being for government access, is used for banking.
Estonia’s Electronic ID Card enables citizens to vote, access bank accounts, pre-pay for public transport in some cities, and pick up prescriptions. In emergencies, doctors can use the ID to access critical information such as blood type.
Involve citizens in politics and community
Electronic voting is already in place in some parts of Australia. The iVote system assists citizens (such as the blind or those who live remotely) who face difficulty in voting at a polling station. This could potentially be rolled out across the country – although online voting is not without its concerns. Countries that vote online as standard include Estonia, Belgium and Brazil.
Social media could be used to facilitate an open government position that encourages dialogue with its departments and staff. It is a fast, economical and user-friendly method of communicating with citizens, and can be harnessed to canvass citizens’ real-time opinions of important public issues, leading to a greater sense of community engagement.
A digital platform could be used to allow citizens to become better involved in the running of their government and communities.
The DTO website itself will be a “digital platform for us to engage,” announced Acting CEO David Hazlehurst. “We will be blogging and […] putting up prototypes of the services we will be working on and seeking feedback.”
Disrupting traditional government service models by digitising processes and services
As Turnbull and former White House CIO Vivek Kundra noted in The Australian, “The approach of governments to date has been to tell citizens ‘there’s a form for that’. Well, it’s time they start saying ‘there’s an app for that.’”
In Britain it was recently announced that end-of-year paper tax returns in the UK would be replaced by ‘digital tax accounts’ by 2020, enabling individuals and small businesses to submit paperwork online throughout the year and tax to be paid at any point – meaning no more end-of-tax-year rush. The scheme is expected to be rolled out to 10 million users and five million small businesses in early 2016.
In Estonia, citizens can file their tax returns within minutes on their mobile phones. In 2012, over 94% of the nation’s income tax declarations were filed through its e-tax system.
In judiciary matters, the UK is looking at setting up an online court for small claims (Civil Justice Council report recommendation, Feb 2015), the idea stemming from how eBay manages its disputes using interactive guides, online facilitators and electronic transmission of paperwork.
Collaboration between public and private sector
Turnbull has floated the idea of finding ways to work with the private sector to solve problems. The move to E-Government is an exciting opportunity to use government transformation as an economic development tool through not just exposing open data but also opening up to the private sector the ‘problems’ that the government is trying to solve.
This concept has been demonstrated by open innovation events run in Sydney.
In conjunction with Transport New South Wales, in 2013 PwC launched App Hot House, a program that invited developers to conceive real-time bus apps in 48 hours. And in September 2014, the NSW Government in association with Google Australia, the University of Western Sydney and PwC, ran the Western Sydney Open Innovation pilot, which invited teams to tackle crises impacting the region. Results included a platform to connect people with disabilities with independent practitioners that could offer the health services they need.
The Australian government has the opportunity to embrace a digital change that will empower both citizens and the public sector to transact with information and services in truly innovative ways.
With government services making up approximately a third of the national economy, the end picture will indeed have far-reaching effects.
The hope is that this vision is not solely reliant on its charismatic champion Malcolm Turnbull, but that such a ground-breaking new direction of digital government is championed – and seen through to full deployment – by the entire system.
This article first appeared in Technology Spectator.