Australia's online government interactions grow as offline remains stagnant

According to Deloitte and Adobe, around 800 million government services are available via digital means, but there's still around 300 million that require traditional channels.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The Australian government is seeking to up its online service delivery, having published a digital transformation strategy in November that aims to make all of its services digital by 2025.

Although there are currently around 800 million government services in Australia available via a digital channel -- from licence renewals to paying parking fines -- there are still around 300 million performed through traditional channels.

"That is, print off on paper, sign document, put in envelope, send to government or show up at government shopfront, wait in a queue, ring up government call centre, and wait on hold on the phone," Deloitte Access Economics partner John O'Mahony said on Thursday.

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Speaking with press and analysts at Adobe Symposium in Sydney, O'Mahony said that although the number of digital services has grown over the last four years, the second number has barely budged.

"Because of population growth and the general growth in transactions, the number of digital transactions has doubled over that period, but actually, the number of people who are going through a Service NSW shopfront or showing up at Medicare, posting off a form, or making a telephone call, it's almost identical to what the estimate was four years ago," he said.

The Australian government spends around AU$10 billion each year on digital and IT; it's implemented whole-of-government agreements with the likes of IBMSAP, and most recently Amazon Web Services (AWS) to reduce this cost and streamline IT.

Digital transformation within government is one touted as reducing costs, but according to O'Mahony, there isn't evidence to suggest this is the case.

"There are still a lot of transactions that are happening through traditional channels, they are growing even though digital is growing faster. The overall portion of government that's digital has grown from 60% to 74% over the last four years, but if you're still doing 290 million transactions via mail, on the phone, in person -- that costs money," he said.

"To have those channels open, even if the transaction levels were to fall, it still costs money."

According to O'Mahony, four years ago, there were around 105,000 public servants in jobs supporting offline channels. Last year, he said, there were around 103,000.

"There hasn't been a lot of change, there hasn't been a lot of digital dividend for government overall," he said. "The reason we think is that governments have found it harder to close channels or to repurpose people to higher value-added tasks."

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O'Mahony said there's also a wages bill across the country for government of around AU$6 billion per year on an IT workforce of around 60,000 people.

"It's a fair question to ask with that level of investment, are we getting the return on investment, are we getting a return on dividend on this investment in digital?," he said. "We are getting benefits from digital transformation but there are more benefits on the table. There are still significant benefits available for citizens in time-saving by governments improving digital transactions with customers."

Pointing to the need for government departments to talk to one another and have cross-linked systems and channels, Adobe principal digital strategist John Mackenney said governments need a switch in culture, moving from an "it's always been done this way" one to "a much more agile-type, iterative, process that we see in the private sector".

"Rather than investing in multiple systems and multiple silos, systems that largely don't talk to each other or have latency in between -- think about a much more integrated approach to how those technologies work together," he said, agreeing with O'Mahony that capacity building in the public sector should be a focus.

Mackenny is sceptical the federal government can reach, at least by 2025, having all services online.

"I just don't think that's a reality -- but I think ideally for the people who are going to want to conduct government services online, have the ability to do so, but for more vulnerable and more complex transactions that need to be taken place in our society that are in-person experiences, those public servants are focused on that task," he said.

O'Mahony, alongside Mackenney, launched an Adobe-Deloitte joint report that asked government to put the citizen at the centre of decision-making.

The report, Rethinking the digital dividend: Government needs to deliver better citizen digital experiences [PDF] made a total of six recommendations, including the need for a shared sense of commitment from government to improving services for citizens.

It was also recommended that the number and complexity of government services are simplified; that digital platforms are built and operated by government; that data provided by citizens be analysed and measured; and that business case guidelines are reviewed frequently.


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