Budget 2017: Government outlines digital transformation

The government will modernise and consolidate its systems in a bid to increase efficiency for both citizens and public servants.

The Australian government has outlined a series of digital transformation initiatives in its Budget 2017-18, saying they will modernise and consolidate its systems, as well as training staff members in digital skills.

The government will accordingly develop a "Research Infrastructure Investment Plan" to assess future research infrastructure projects, which it said will be informed by the 2016 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap.

The plan is due to be developed by the Department of Education and Training, the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, the Commonwealth Science Council, and Innovation and Science Australia, and will be funded under existing resources from the Department of Education and Training.

The government has said it will similarly invest AU$129.6 million over three years in its Modernisation Fund to support the transition of agencies to more "modern and sustainable operating models", and to upgrade cultural infrastructure such as Old Parliament House, the Australian National Maritime Museum, and the Torres Strait Regional Authority land and sea management facility on Thursday Island, in addition to the previously announced AU$16.4 million to digitise the National Library of Australia and AU$4 million to digitise the Australian War Memorial.

The government will additionally use this Modernisation Fund to consolidate 60 agencies' core IT, financial, and human resources systems into one of six corporate service hubs, while further consolidation will see 74 percent of all business and community grants delivered via the Community and Business Grants Hubs on behalf of nine agencies.

Funding will also be used to train public sector staff members in digital skills, while seven Commonwealth agencies are slated to participate in a mobility trial.

"A number of Commonwealth agencies are taking advantage of technology and other innovations to provide more productive and efficient ways of working such as establishing flexible working environments, including converting offices to open plan and activity-based working facilities, to enable co-location and improving remote access technology to allow staff to work from anywhere," the government said in its Budget 2017-18 documents.

"These changes have resulted in financial savings through reducing the amount of office space required and the need for staff travel. For example, these reforms will save the Australian Bureau of Statistics more than AU$5.5 million per annum from 2018-19."

The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) will also deliver a series of projects, including a new Digital Investment Management Office to oversee all significant government IT and digital investment projects; the Digital Marketplace, which is simplifying digital procurement; the GovPass digital identity system; and a partnership with the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) to build digital capability into the Australian Public Service (APS).

Whole-of-government IT systems will be used to automate records management; redevelop the "CabNet" system; improve Budget processes; and enable real-time briefings to be delivered to ministers, the government explained.

Then-interim CEO of the DTA Nerida O'Loughlin had flagged in November that the DTA would be creating a whole-of-government program management office, which was slated to include overseeing all significant IT and digital investments.

The DTA will also develop a Federated Data Exchange platform, removing the building and maintenance costs of bespoke data exchanges for individual agencies, and will lead the increase the uptake of cloud systems and shared IT platforms in order to fulfil the Australian government's "cloud first" policy.

The APS upgrade project will see a AU$350 million investment over three years from the government in order to modernise processes and systems.

"This measure, which is fully funded from the additional efficiency dividend applied in the 2016-17 Budget, provides for investments to advance the collection and use of government data in the development of evidence-based policy, including people-centred policy design," the government explained in its Budget.

"The measure enhances service delivery through the Digital Transformation Agency's development of whole-of-government platforms, supports the development of digital capability, and further modernises systems to enable greater collaboration across the APS."

Meanwhile, the GovPass program will be provided with AU$22.7 million during the 2017-18 financial year to complete its next stage of development.

"GovPass will provide a trusted digital identity framework for use by people needing to provide secure proof of identity to use government services online," the government explained.

"In the future, this is expected to expand to be used by businesses. GovPass will link to existing document and facial verification services to establish identity."

Improved government services will also include "Tell Us Once" systems, which have been designed to reduce the need to report similar information to multiple agencies; allowing users to choose how they receive notifications from government; and standardising agency access to the Reserve Bank of Australia payment systems.

The Department of Finance has likewise been provided with AU$0.4 million over four years for the Gateway Review Process to implement the Bureau of Meteorology's new supercomputer along with IT and communications technology upgrades, as well as AU$0.2 million for the DTA for the governance and assurance involved.

"The government will provide funding to improve the security and resilience of the Bureau of Meteorology's IT systems and business processes. This will assist the Bureau to continue to provide reliable, ongoing access to weather, climate, water, and oceans information," the government said.

Once these implementations are complete, the government has estimated the Bureau of Meteorology's expenses to decrease by 13.5 percent between 2017-18 and 2020-21, from AU$342 million down to AY$326 million; however, the capital expenditure required for the project is not for publication due to commercial-in-confidence sensitivities.

The government had in February said that the DTA would be reviewing all significant IT contracts in search of greater transparency and oversight over its AU$6.2 billion annual technology spend.

The DTA, which was established in 2015 as the Digital Transformation Office with a name change to DTA in October, is due to report to the government by mid-2017 on the costs, benefits, risks, and status of technology-related initiatives.

"We need to make sure we're delivering what the public needs, we're avoiding duplication, and we have the right processes in place to minimise disruption to public services," Assistant Minister for Digital Transformation Angus Taylor said at the time.

"The DTA will ensure we're investing in the right technology projects, we can track their implementation, and know they will deliver on the public policy benefits they promise.

"This is more than a review, it's ongoing oversight, and it will provide unprecedented visibility and centralised management of IT projects."