A whole of government approach to digital transformation

| August 3, 2016

How can the opportunities of digital be harnessed effectively to drive innovation and productivity in the coming years?  According to Jon Cumming, Chief Digital Officer at the ACT Government, the answer is a whole of government approach underpinned by a transformation of culture.

The ACT has long recognised the importance of ‘Digital’. In March 2014 we launched the Digital Canberra Action Plan which seeks to establish Canberra as a leading digital city – modern, creative, dynamic and innovative. The launch of this action plan included the establishment of a free citywide Wi-Fi network, CBRfree; faster and more efficient digital services; social inclusion initiatives; digital business opportunities; open data; as well as early Smart City initiatives.

Since then the transformation work has continued with the establishment of Access Canberra; the Digital Backpack for schools to provide a collaborative cloud workspace for all our students; and an ACT Digital Strategy to guide and promote economic development and the delivery of services to Citizens. In April this year, we also launched the Smart Parking trial in Manuka, which uses real-time traffic data to guide drivers to a free car space in this busy precinct.

The 2016/17 ACT Budget also committed $2.7 million over two years for The Intelligent Regulator, a pilot project to review and consolidate current business systems and databases to simplify regulatory approval processes. The Intelligent Regulator is a genuine step towards an integrated government regulator initiative, simplifying and facilitating speedy, accurate and efficient government and business interactions. The project aims to deliver online application and renewal capabilities and the liquor and motor vehicles industries will be targeted first, with the same model eventually applied to other industries such as building, hospitality and real estate.

Whilst this is a bit of a shopping list of activities, it reflects the overarching organisational transformation – the transformation of government culture. We are moving our focus away from bureaucracy and process – to customer focus and operational simplicity and transparency.

Building the skills and internal capability needed to support transformation

It is easy to think of digital capability in terms of technology and STEM skills. But in fact it is far broader than that. For government, the best place to inject Digital thinking is up front in our policy thinking.  Digital is not just about automating existing processes – that is soooo 2008! With digital policy we can introduce a truly citizen oriented experience.

Another important part of lifting our capability is to bring cohesion to government-wide service delivery. This is particularly important in the ACT where we combine traditional state responsibilities with municipal services.

So we are building the capability to just ‘try stuff’ and see if it works out and importantly how it works out. From this we can learn how our citizens interact with the technology and what they want from it. A good example of this is our Manuka Smart Parking trial which combines our Digital and Smart City initiatives into a package that benefits citizens and local businesses alike.

Cross directorate data-sharing is also critical to becoming a truly digital government. To support this we are collaborating with Data61 to introduce a new data lake capability. This is particularly important for a data-driven approach to good government.

We are encouraging our Citizens to be “Digitally Demanding”. It is really important that our customers come to expect great digital services in all aspects of their life. ‘Average’ is not OK anymore.

Strategies to drive customer value, reduce silos and improve agility:

The ACT Digital Strategy has just been released and this provides our guiding principles in three dimensions.

  • For ACT, it is important to work effectively with local businesses.  We have some of the smartest entrepreneurs and innovators in the country right here in Canberra and we want to support their success through our Small Business Innovation Program, which is a new program to help ACT Government Directorates connect with innovative local small- and medium businesses.
  • We will also continue our journey to improve our services to citizens by increasing the effectiveness and inclusiveness of government interactions. Access Canberra is the main focal point but, for example, our exemplar project with the Digital Transformation Office to provide digital services to new and expectant mothers illustrates our commitment across all service types to both citizens and businesses.
  • Thirdly, we recognise that without solid foundations we cannot build a sustainable digital future. Our activities range from the expanded use of cloud technology, through to stronger all-of-government governance to create common digital capabilities we can all benefit from.”

Challenges to date

With any great transformation, changing organisational culture is always difficult. “Culture eats Strategy for breakfast” [Druker] resonates with all change agents. It is an important task to take all the change-willing on the journey – and for those who cannot, to find a path that gives them a positive outcome.

Other challenges are more pedestrian. The use of cloud is not something that was foreseen in legislation of a decade ago. Privacy legislation for example does not always clearly articulate (for example) whether strongly encrypted data is ‘disclosed’ to a cloud provider.

For those of us committed to transformational change, it is important to equip ourselves with impatience, stamina and resilience!

Results realised so far

In many ways it is early days but the signs are promising.  The conversation around digital and collaboration across government is already stronger and more formally, the recently established Digital Services Governance Committee is a commitment to establish common capabilities, lifecycle management of our technology set and a more sophisticated approach to planning and risk management.

Our investment planning for the current financial year benefitted from an approach that brought representatives from all directorates around one table. Collaboration is a far more natural response to common problems. We are fortunate in the ACT that we can easily bring together our senior thought leaders – and that’s where transformation gets traction.

The conversations are also a point of disruption – we challenge each other, and use our broad experience to find new ways to do old things – rather than create a thousand reasons not to.

Jon Cumming will be speaking at Digital Disruption for Government 2016, where he will further explore his organisation’s digital transformation journey, including: The pros and cons of creating and implementing a digital scorecard; how to inject a culture change to support digital transformation; the importance of communication in the government digital transformation.

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