Canberra believes it's doing enough to measure government digital competency

The federal government's measures in its digital transformation strategy should be enough to convince the public that it knows what it's doing when it comes to digital, according to its response to a Senate committee.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The federal government has published its response to a report from the Senate Finance and Public Administration References committee, taking note of the recommendations made regarding lifting its digital competency, but still using the vague initiatives listed in its digital transformation strategy to justify its current direction.

The committee's report [PDF], delivered in June last year, made a total of eight recommendations, with the first asking the federal government to undertake a review of the digital, cyber, and data policy functions performed across government so that key digital performance measures can be established for use on Commonwealth entities.

In its response [PDF], the government said it has a "coherent strategy to implement digital transformation and is committed to measuring performance".

The government pointed to its digital transformation strategy, which has the overarching goal of bringing all of its services online by 2025, as an example of how it is outlining a "set of clear goals and milestones for delivering better government services through digital transformation".

"The government will hold itself to account through an annual report on progress. The government's Digital Service Standard also includes a set of thirteen criteria to which government digital services are assessed and publicly reported against," it wrote.

"Senior executives across the APS work closely together, such as through the Secretaries Board and the APS Reform Committee, to share best practice and to ensure a clear and coordinated approach to the government's digital transformation."

It also listed a handful of different initiatives underway, such as the April 2016-released Cyber Security Strategy, as possessing performance metrics for certain functions performed by the government.

Asking for frequent updates on the status of government projects, the committee recommended the government deliver an annual Ministerial Statement on Digital Transformation that not only looks at the performance of departments and agencies but shows work being done where projects are failing to meet budget or delivery expectations.

Despite a handful of high-cost projects failing within the government, it addressed only the annual reporting of digital transformation literacy, neglecting to expand on what it was doing on the matter of transparency around failing -- or failed -- technology projects like those exposed during the committee's hearings.

Government said its digital transformation strategy will see an annual report produced that will "demonstrate transparency on progress, including success and next steps for improvement".

The committee also asked the government to prioritise user experience, which it said it was also doing through its digital transformation strategy, with the Digital Transformation Agency's (DTA) Performance Dashboard reporting on metrics such as user satisfaction being a sufficient example of this.

The committee also asked for an annual review of contractor arrangements in place within the public service, asking also that the government consider developing a longer term strategy to build internal public service capability, rather than continue to contract.

In response, the government said its contractor spend is decreasing from 8.5 percent in 2007-08 to 6.8 percent in 2017-18, and to 5.6 percent by 2021-22.

It also pointed to its work around modernising and building digital capability within the Australian Public Service (APS) in response to that recommendation and the remaining three, which asked for a whole-of-government APS Information and Communications Technology career stream; a routine report on public service traineeships; and that the DTA be tasked with enhancing the digital capability of the APS.

As the Public Service review was published at the end of last month, after the government had tabled its response to the committee, it said it was unable to provide further information other than it is working with the DTA and the likes of the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) to up the level of digital literacy within the APS.


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