Digital Transformation Office CEO blames IT for poor service delivery

Newly-appointed CEO of the Australian government's digital transformation office Paul Shetler has outlined the government has an ethical obligation to improve the way it services the public.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor on

Government departments and agencies are hamstrung by poor IT, which is preventing them from properly servicing the public, according to Paul Shetler, newly-appointed CEO of the Australian government's digital transformation office.

"It's a delivery issue, not a policy issue," he said.

Speaking at Technology in Government in Canberra, Shetler said the opportunity to improve the way government and citizens interact is immense. Pointing to research by Deloitte, Shetler said if the digital interaction between government and citizens was improved, there would be a cost saving of AU$20.5 billion.

"People want things that only government can get them, typically chores or worse than chores like visiting a person in prison...or paying taxes or getting their licence, they're not things that are fantastic, but they're just things you have to do," he said.

"So our ethical obligation as public servants is to make that experience as good as possible for our users, keeping in mind they have no choice, keeping in mind they're not customers, keeping that it's not a marketing exercise, keeping in mind this is about serving people who have no choice to use our services."

Shetler highlighted that rather than have citizens "carry around maps of the government in their heads" about which agency is responsible for what, the DTO's goal is to simplify people's access to the government.

"We can provide things to them in a way such that they don't need to worry about that this coming from the state, is this coming from that city, or that department or agency, because sometimes when people have to get things done, like having a baby or are starting a business, they're doing things across those different boundaries," he said.

Part of what Shetler refers to is already underway. One part of the DTO's Digital Transformation Agenda -- which received a AU$245 million boost from 2015 federal budget -- is the myGov portal designed to give Australians a single digital identity to access services across federal, state, and local branches of government.

Shetler said the best approach the government needs to take is to be "ruthless and focus on the user", and think about delivering products, not projects.

"A project has a start date and an end date, when it's done, it's finished," he said. "A product continues and lives, and you realise the first iteration may not meet all the needs, but it's very unlike what government usually does."

"The way the we work is every product starts small, and we grow in terms of meeting user needs, until it reaches a steady stage. But we're nowhere near that point."

Shetler also said the DTO's plan is to able to eventually share the code and designs that it uses to improve the way it delivers public services to citizens with other governments, including the United States and the United Kingdom, who also face similar issues. This was a point Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull made in March when he said the aim of the DTO would be to share its learnings and platforms widely.

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