DTA taking 'one bite of the elephant at a time': Slater

The Digital Transformation Agency's CEO Gavin Slater is drawing on his 17 years at NAB to work towards a more 'competitive' digital experience for those using government platforms.
Written by Jonathan Chadwick, Contributor
(Image: Jonathan Chadwick/ZDNet)

Whether or not an organisation is working in government or the private sector, customers will want for four things, according to Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) CEO Gavin Slater: Being digitally mobile; being secure; offering accessibility; and offering a degree of personalisation.

Speaking at the Salesforce World Tour 2018 in Sydney this week, Slater said that in digitally transforming the government through the DTA, he was able to draw on his experience in the private sector, having spent 17 years in various roles at the National Australia Bank (NAB) before joining the DTA as CEO 11 months ago.

"In the private sector you have something called competition. When I was leading the retail bank at NAB, not a day went by that I wasn't thinking about what CBA were up to, Westpac, ANZ, Bendigo bank, on a range of dimensions. One of them was what was happening with their technology and their platforms and how they were dealing with their customers" he recalled.

"That whole sense of competition was very real for me and I recognised that if I didn't pay attention and did something about it I was going to lose market share, customer advocacy would go down, and business wouldn't be successful."

Slater admitted that governments are different to companies such as banks in regards to competitiveness. However, Slater said there is a "competitive force" in government that makes the DTA want to raise its game in comparison to the rest of the world.

"You want to deal with government, you want to get a passport, you want to register a business, you want to apply for welfare payments, child care, age care and all of that, you have no choice. You've got to deal with federal government or state government," he said.

"There is competition. It's called votes. It's how we feel as customers of government, as citizens, about our interaction with government."

In terms of the DTA -- which was created in 2015 to help lead the Australian government's digital transformation agenda -- Slater said it's framed the government's ambitions into three categories: More digital, better digital, and improved returns on IT investment.

It's one thing to move something around a digital channel, but it could still be a poor experience, Slater said, so there's a need to think about how best to architect the underlying service delivery, platforms, data, and "collaboration" to enable a better experience for people using those channels -- which is where Slater sees the DTA helping government.

One challenge for both big businesses and government agencies such as the DTA is trying to change the big legacy systems -- something that has been highlighted at length as slowing the rate of transformation in government so far.

"Half the challenge is trying to work out what success looks like. And that saying goes, 'If you want to eat an elephant, how do you do it?' Well one bite at a time and knowing where to take that first bite," Slater explained.

"One things I often talked about is what's getting in the way of innovation? What's getting in the way of change? And I always come back to one word: Culture. It's the orientation at the top of the organisation. Half the battle is getting aligned with it at the most senior levels around what this ambition looks like, what success looks like, and therefore what we need to do.

"I've come from an environment where we've had innovation funds and that money was set aside and that allowed a hive of new experimentation and innovation than traditional budgetary methods and processes. So that's one of the things we are leading into."

The DTA's digital identification platform is moving into beta phase, Slater revealed last week, and will be going live this year with its first service transaction: The process of applying for a tax file number. It also released the Trusted Digital Identity Framework that sets out the rules and standards for a nationally consistent approach to digital ID.

Digital identity is now one of the key initiatives that the government must deliver over the next few years, Slater added.

He also pointed towards other innovation across government departments, including digitising the Department of Veterans' Affairs and cutting the process of an application from 107 days on average to 30 days, and My Health Record, the government's e-health record system that's set to cover all Australians by the end of this year.

"I think it's easy to assume that the public service is not doing a whole lot around digital innovation and transformation. Well actually nothing could be further from the truth. Clearly there's a lot on across government in terms of the transformation, but I remain really hopeful and ambitious about what can be achieved. But there's lots to be done and plenty of opportunity to partner with the private industry around innovation and ideas and ways we can be farther affected," he added.

"I think solving for digital identity will be one of the most powerful enablers of change for government and enabling individuals and businesses to deal with government digitally."


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