Digital Government Spotlight: 5 Projects Transforming the Australian Public Sector

Ahead of the Innovate Australia Government Showcase we caught up with five Federal Government leaders to explore the projects and initiatives they're working on, and to learn how these projects are further enriching the lives of the citizens they serve.

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Nouha Elmasri 20 March 2024

In public service, everything we do comes back to the citizen. At the core of it all, the citizen wants simplicity, security, and accessibility. 

Delivering on this is what will revive and retain public confidence and trust in Government.

But simple can be overly complicated to achieve, and often overwhelmed amongst a mass of noise, constantly shifting dynamics and seemingly endless competing priorities. However, when done right, bringing it back to basics can form a virtuous cycle - more trust leads to more engagement, more data, improved performance, and so, the cycle continues.

The Australian Federal Government’s vision is to implement world class data and digital capabilities to improve its effectiveness, efficiency, transparency and accountability; thus feeding this cycle of trust. Ahead of the Innovate Australia Government Showcase in May we caught up with five Federal Government leaders to explore the projects and initiatives they're working on, and to learn how these projects are further enriching the lives of the citizens they serve. 

Chris Fechner

Digital Transformation Agency 

Increasing Value and Reducing Risk with Smarter Investment Decision Making 

Over the last 18 months (to December 2022), the DTA has been leading work on data and digital investment oversight for the Australian Government. Building on a digital baseline undertaken in the 2021 Digital Review, we have developed a 6-stage integrated Investment Oversight Framework (IOF.) The IOF informs, guides and measures how the Australian Government’s vast investment in data, digital and ICT is delivering better and easier access to information and services, improved value for money, less risk, greater scale, and faster delivery through digital transformation.

When you consider about 10% of the Australian Government’s budget is assigned to digital, and add the increasingly high demands of the public to deliver more and more government services and information digitally, investing in the right things at the right time, with the right controls is absolutely essential to success.

The first few iterations of the IOF have told us a lot about the health and maturity of the use of digital in the Australian Government. We are now able to better validate, prioritise and make recommendations on where we need to invest to deliver the best digital outcomes for people, businesses and government.

As far as challenges go, working across more than 100 agencies within the complex structure of government has required enormous amounts of collaboration and support. This hasn’t happened overnight and, truthfully, still has some way to go. However, each time we iterate through an investment cycle, our government agency partners and our political bosses tell us that the processes and information are getter better and more valuable. We are now working on how we measure the downstream benefits of our investments."

Fawad Abro 

Australian Taxation Office 

Establishing a Hyperscalable Data Pattern in the Cloud

"We’re currently running one of the largest data transformation programs in the southern hemisphere, so leading at scale is the challenge. Really, the challenge is only overcome through the power of people. My biggest learning was understanding that the development of the right leadership culture and our people’s capabilities is the true secret to success. We’re running a multi-disciplinary team, made up of APS staff and strategic partners with sponsors from across the organisation’s business units, including IT and Data & Analytics.

The program set out to establish a hyperscalable data pattern in the cloud, while retiring legacy platforms on premises and enabling our first legislative use cases. Without going into the specifics too much, stakeholders from across industry, government and within the ATO have been involved in making this program a success. It has been interesting and exciting to reflect upon the potential use-cases now lining up to use/build upon/extend these patterns we have now established. It’s an exciting time for the ATO.

The biggest takeaway from this project? People, people, people. Humans are always at the centre of success."

Lucy Poole 

Digital Transformation Agency 

Establishing a Taskforce to Responsibly Harness AI Opportunities 

"ChatGPT captured the public’s attention and demonstrated on a global stage what artificial intelligence (AI) can do now. More importantly, it also captured the world’s imagination of where AI could go and demonstrated the potential of AI to dramatically transform the way we live and work. 

The potential in government is just as great, but there are also challenges in the use of AI including around accuracy, privacy, bias in data, transparency and accountability in decision-making. To respond to this urgent challenge, we put forward a case for the creation of a cross-agency taskforce to help put government on the right track to safely and responsibly harness the opportunities of AI. 

We are leading this with the Department of Industry, Science and Resources and are consulting widely across government while also drawing on industry and public views."

Jonathan Thorpe

Services Australia 

Unlocking $10b in Economic Benefits with Digital ID

"The ability to prove who you are is a fundamental human right, allowing people to participate in society and access essential services. In 2018 I started working at the Digital Transformation Agency on a draft policy and prototype called Digital ID.

Digital ID aimed to introduce a whole of economy system where Australians would be able to prove their identity entirely online, with the potential to unlock $10 billion per annum in economic benefits while also improving privacy and minimising the impacts of data breaches. Within four years, supported by an amazing team across government and industry, we turned Digital ID from a prototype into a whole of economy digital identity solution that works for all levels of government and the private sector.

This was made possible by focusing on human centred design and building partnerships across the whole economy. We wouldn’t have had major financial organisations and other entities such as Australia Post coming to be accredited if they didn’t see value and weren’t engaged in design of policy.

My biggest takeaway from this program was the need to establish strong partnerships, apply a systems-thinking view and ensure the delivery is aligned to solving genuine user needs.

At Services Australia I'm continuing to look at opportunities to improve the experience of all our customers which includes digital identity, however it’s how we continue to create a connected service experience. This includes the transformation of the agency’s service centres, improving our approach to customer service through service design and innovation so payments and services are designed to ensure no one is left behind."

Susie Kluth 

Australian Department of Education 

Embedding Data Governance Foundations to Uplift Data Capabilities

"During my time with the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) I helped to develop DESE’s Data Strategy 2021-22. (The Department has now been restructured into the Department of Education and the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations.)

The Strategy looks to optimise the use of our data and evidence to support Australians to experience the wellbeing and economic benefits offered by quality education, skills and employment. We’re doing this by embedding strong foundational elements in data governance, building on and lifting up our data capability, and engaging with cutting edge data, tools and techniques.

Since developing the strategy, the data conversation within the department has moved forward substantially with a greater awareness of the data assets we have available, who’s responsible for them, and the opportunities we have to – securely and ethically – use data to enhance outcomes for citizens.

An outcome of this uplift is a project that I’m really excited about. Currently we’re working to join up deidentified data to understand Australia’s education system as a whole."

Want to Dive Deeper? 

Join Chris Fechner, Fawad Abro, Jonathan Thorpe, plus 35 other APS thought leaders at the upcoming Innovate Australia Showcase on May 29th. Deep dive into case studies, hear top tips and lessons learned, and join interactive sessions to collaboratively work through challenges. 

For more information or to register your free seat visit the event website. 

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Innovate Australia
Data & Analytics
Technology & Transformation
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Nouha Elmasri Global Content Strategist, Public Sector Network