The digital transformation of frontline community services

Wednesday, 2 November 2016  @Business School

There is no doubt that digitisation has changed the way we live and work — even think — and that has influenced our expectations of how easy it should be to deal with both governments and businesses. Making those expectations a reality is now within our technical capabilities, but there are a few hurdles to jump along the way.

MBAX student at the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM), Jacqueline Williams started her career in law. But when she witnessed the power of databases in trial law, she decided to switch to technology to fully explore their potential. That decision lead her deep into the technological world where she is now working at the frontline of government transformation as a Principal Systems Developer with the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services.

Reflecting on the progress technology has made during her career, Jacqueline says, “In the 90s, we had dreams about how businesses and governments could collaborate to leverage everyone’s information, but our technology capabilities let us down. But now, I feel we’ve reached the beginning point of technology catching up with the people’s vision.”

“For the first time, our imagination now has to catch up with what technology can do.”

A commitment to transform

The formation of Australia’s Digital Transformation Office (DTO) in 2015 has made this a priority within government services. The DTO’s mission is to lead transformation of government services to deliver a better experience for Australians, and its Digital Service Standard ensures government services are designed to meet the needs of users, making everything simpler, faster and clearer. [SH1]

The business case for digital transformation is well documented. As well as meeting the needs of citizens and improving general levels of satisfaction, a ‘digital by default’ approach is expected to result in significant administrative cost savings for government, and potential productivity gains for business. McKinsey & Company’s 2015 report [W 2] puts the potential cost savings in perspective, globally, improved operational performance and reduced costs could free up to $1 trillion annually. In Australia alone, we spend up to $6 billion on service administration. A Deloitte Access Economic study [W 3] calculated potential productivity and efficiency savings of $17.9 billion over 10 years if we reduce the number of transactions completed via non-digital channels from 40 per cent to 20 per cent.

Governments are already seeing the benefits. In the UK, a ‘digital by default’ approach has saved more than £1.7 billion per year, and by going paperless the Danish government has saved €270 million annually.

In Singapore, one eCitizen portal provides access to more than 1,600 government transactions. And in Estonia, 30 per cent of the population votes online and 96 per cent of 2015 tax returns were completed online.

Digital supports all touch points

Government transformation is not limited to digital channels. It is about great service design which includes every touch point for the user — shopfronts call centres, and online portals.

Jacqueline says, “Our work in community recovery comes into play following disasters like the Brisbane floods, when our community is facing very difficult times. Instead of several government agencies sending staff out to the field and imposing by asking repetitive questions at a sensitive time, technology has enabled us to coordinate a much more effective response — for the community and for the agencies. We’ve transformed an arduous paper-based process that required people to physically visit a Recovery Centre and then wait up to 10 days for a cheque, to a completely online transaction that culminates in a direct deposit within three days.”

“Having personally witnessed the devastating impact of these disasters on my brother-in-law’s family, I fully appreciate the dramatic improvements this new process brings.”

Cutting the red tape

Now that technology is catching up with our visions, the challenge shifts to one of coordinating the technologies and breaking down the barriers to digital transformation. Jacqueline acknowledges, “We’ve had the ability to make an online payment for a while. But we haven’t had a way of making sure we’ve identified the person properly. Compared with the US, which has Social Security numbers, Australia has a cultural resistance to a nationwide identifier.”

Australians make more than 800 million transactions [W 4] with government every year, which becomes cumbersome without a unique ‘citizen identifier’ and means multiple identity checks may be required. Secure identity verification underpins the provision of the services Australians want to do access online[W 5], such as changing address details, enrolling to vote, voting, ATO transactions, property tax payments, parking permits and Medicare registrations.

According to Australia Post’s 2015 eGov research paper, 83 per cent of Australians don’t mind sharing their personal data if it makes their lives easier. Jacqueline believes one of our biggest hurdles is that “there is a lot of bureaucracy around how much information can we share between government agencies and with whom it can be shared. We’re going to need legislation changes to allow the ball to move forward".

Lead the way

To be able to make real progress, Jacqueline believes we need leaders who understand the complexity of technology, and this is what inspired her to embark on her MBAX with the AGSM.

“It has been quite unusual within government to have leaders with technical knowledge, but this is improving with our focus on innovation. Leaders who understand the challenges of technological transformation will have a better understanding of the time and budget required to deliver a successful solution.”

“Across all the projects I’ve been involved in, over my 18 year career, I’ve learned a lot about the processes behind successful outcomes. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that if someone higher up in the chain had a clearer understanding of what they are actually asking for in terms of technology, then perhaps things would go more smoothly. That’s why I want to step up and take a leadership role.”

Jacqueline is only in her first year of her MBAX, but is opening her mind to new areas of thought. The self-confessed geek admits she found the studies on human resources quite liberating. “I’ve discovered the power of engaging people with a vision, and can see the benefits of that collaboration.”

As we get more technically literate people in leadership roles, the barriers to digital transformation will be quickly broken down, leaving the path open – limited only by our imagination.

[SH1] Digital Service Standard and Digital Economy
[W 2] Public-sector digitization: The trillion-dollar challenge
[W 3] Digital Government Transformation
[W 4] Accelerating Digital Transformation Government
[W 5] Australia Post eGov White Paper.

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