What does a digital Victorian Government look like?

In five years’ time all governments will become “digital governments”. Some will have digital capabilities designed into them, while others will be based on a “digital first” design. But how do we get there, and what does a digital government look like?
What does a digital government look like?
What does a digital government look like?

To envisage the path to a digital government, we need to start with the role of government and how this informs government structure.

I believe that the role of government is to provide an environment in which the community can thrive. This includes safety, health, education and an economic climate that provides opportunity. Government also has an important role in providing social justice initiatives.

To succeed in this role, government must achieve a good balance between policy development and service delivery, both of which must be informed by information. In fact information must form the centerpiece of any digital government structure.

The “Department of Information” or “Information Victoria” will become the critical agency from which other traditional central agencies, such as the Department of Treasury and Finance (DTF) and the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC), will hang from. Like the hub of a wheel, this information body will feed every other agency.

Reflecting the growing need for digital engagement by the government with the community, we may also have a single service delivery agency dedicated to holistic citizen delivery that is far broader than concepts such as “Service Victoria” or traditional portfolio stovepipes.

Alongside this service delivery agency might be an agency dedicated to the management of legislation, an agency for emergency management, and a single procurement and industry engagement agency for all types of procurement (construction, goods and service and technology) – my idea of heaven!

The simplified model I’ve outlined above is founded on the need for closer collaboration and sharing by government agencies.

As new technologies are introduced that can better integrate agency functions and facilitate collaborations, governments won’t be able to ignore the efficiencies that emerge. Government landscapes will change accordingly and become leaner overall, allowing them to better focus on their core responsibilities.

This new-look, information-enabled and information-led digital government will also be better positioned for collaborations with industry partners to deliver other services that have traditionally been delivered by government, but not necessarily core to government’s purpose.

So, is this what a digital Victorian Government looks like? It’s possible! In a recent presentation to the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), Scott Ayers, Director of Operations at CenITex, admitted that by 2020 one third of that agency’s revenue will come from services that they aren’t even aware of now…

How do we get there?

1. The Strategy

Transformation to the digital government described above needs many things — especially a technological vision. Many of the Victorian Government’s ICT strategies recognise the need for a stepped approach to achieve transformation that leads to a real digital government. Or as I like to call it, a “smart government”.

The Information Technology Strategy for the Victorian Government, 2016 to 2020 provides the foundation for technology transformation, with initiatives relating to:

  • Open information
  • Digital services
  • Public sector capabilities that are innovative and contemporary
  • Workforce mobility, and
  • Government technology reform.

Notwithstanding the significant amount of change management activity required to effect transformation, the strategy provides stepping stones to achieve this. The ICT Strategy 17/18 Action Plan is expected to be released shortly, moving further along the transformation path with a critical shift from research and development to actions.

I am hoping this Action Plan includes a real focus on digital identity, recognising that much-needed whole-of-government platforms won’t happen until the government gets digital identity right.

2. The Operations

Government’s technology shared-services agency, CenITex, also has a strong role to play in getting us to the future vision. A digital government will be based on shared government platforms and environments. With a focus on building a common core environment, CenITex provides the operations that are enabling this change. In his same presentation to the AIIA, Scott Ayers presented the following programs that are again focused on a future digital government:

  • $2M Innovation Fund that government customers can apply for to test technology (future applications)
  • 3-year customer services roadmap
  • A cloud services strategy that offers a complete cloud offering (in-house/public and private cloud) by 2020
  • A platform for analytics as a service

At a tactical level, the agency is supporting the implementation of the ICT strategy with a focus on:

  • Systematic approach to data sharing
  • Digital services and mobile delivery, and
  • Technology reform across core systems.

Government can’t progress forward unless we get these initiatives right — at a whole-of-government level.

3. The Application

If you look at any department organisation structure you will notice they all have a unit or branch dedicated to “service delivery reform” or something similar. Every department is building its digital capabilities centred on customer-centric delivery.

For example, in a recent presentation, again to the AIIA, Andrew Saunders, the Health CIO in Victoria, provided a presentation on Victoria’s Digital Health Strategy.

Andrew began quite rightly by saying that Digital Health is not about ICT projects, but rather about enabling digital platforms and workflows that support an enhanced quality of health care. Thus health agencies must talk less about ICT and more about clinical outcomes.

And digital health is so important, because as a change enabler it will shift focus from episodic care to prevention, early intervention and integrated care. Armed with information and deep data analysis, including artificial intelligence, health providers will be able to improve the level of safety and quality care provided.

Digital government is no different. The conversation must shift from ICT to government outcomes — getting back to the purpose or role of government. Focused on outcomes, we can then understand how technology enables the best realisation of these outcomes – again improving the quality of government services.

The building blocks for digital health are:

  1. Digital clinical systems
  2. Shared clinical information, and
  3. Clinical grade digital networks (robust, secure and high performance).

Think about it: digital government building blocks are no different — just swap “clinical” for “customer”.

Other elements of the Digital Health strategy include greater connection with the research and innovation sector. With the enabling technology building blocks in place (thanks to a defined strategy and core operations) and a focus on outcomes and industry engagement, we can end up with a digital hospital. A digital hospital designed as such from the inside out, not one retrofitted to accommodate technology.

4. Enablers

Finally, we have to look at change enablers. We must have stronger integration of systems and information, recognising that technology is an enabler, not a driver.

Customers are the driver — building the public purpose sector — with customer-centric design principles driving government delivery. Government must also embrace more fluid procurement practices.

Government has recently released its new Supplier Code of Practice, which is to be applauded, although it does place certain restrictions on how government can engage with industry. While I absolutely understand the need for probity and openness, the Victorian Government will not become a digital government without adapting this approach.

The code of practice should encourage innovations in how government engages with industry… Can we build government and industry engagement think tanks or innovation funds? Can we run similar sand boxed environments? Can we change the way we engage by changing our thinking around design, which is embracing design thinking in real time through government and industry engagements.

A forward-thinking approach to procurement is critical for government to achieve any of its outcomes, and the transformation to a digital government will be no different. The digital government of the future can only be achieved when procurement becomes fluid and outcome-focused, and government lowers its walls to better engage with all facets of industry.

2 comments in this article

  1. Trish Hunt

    Hi Dee,

    Good article and understanding of what options lay ahead for Victorian Government.

    The reality from my experience is about how they recognise the enablers and that, like all services, they should be driven from what will be the best channels & service models for citizens and business engagement and self service.

    One example that comes to mind is e-estonia and their revolutionary shift to an e-citizen and digital centric service model. ( https://e-estonia.com/showroom/ ). That is what I consider to be an ideal world, led by policy and services that truly take bold risks and move away from the excuses of why things can’t be done and into the world of “why not”. All achieved through like mindedness and partnerships with both private and public sector engagement willing to take the risk to truly move to a citizen centric digital service model.

    Change can only start with a strong vision and bold strategies that will only be successful through collaborative partnerships and underlying belief that we can shift.

    Trish Hunt
    COO Marabou Enterprises P/L

  2. Deirdre Diamante

    Thank you Trish, I agree wholeheartedly with your comments. Chris Eccles said something similar in his IPAA address last year. We need to focus on service to the public, doing things because they are the right things to do, rather than get focused on process and inputs for process sake. this will make us a moral purpose sector. Digital or otherwise we must be guided by doing things for the right reason and our morals!

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