DTO inches towards delivering a simpler government

Digital Transformation Office CEO Paul Shetler has outlined that in the last year the organisation has fulfilled its seven initial goals, but believes there is still more work to be done.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

It has been just over a year since the Digital Transformation Office (DTO) was established, and according to the organisation's CEO Paul Shetler, it has already made plenty of progress in simplifying and unifying government agencies and services online.

Speaking at the annual Technology in Government conference, Shetler outlined that as of August 2016, the DTO has managed to introduce the Digital Service Standard, which has been designed to govern the public release of digital services by agencies. The standard features 13 guidelines, is now live and being adopted across government, and intends to make services easier to understand, and fast.

Shetler, who was previously the director of the United Kingdom's Government Digital Service, was appointed as CEO of the DTO last July for five years. He said the DTO has also established two delivery hubs -- one in Canberra and one in Sydney -- that are co-working spaces to encourage teams that come from different states, cities, and territories to learn and share with each other as they develop digital services.

He said the inspiration for encouraging collaboration within the hubs was thanks to his work with the UK government, but pointed out he wanted to deliver improved versions.

"One of the attractions of this job was to do things better than we had done them in the UK. I felt that one of the biggest mistakes we had made there was the departments didn't learn from each other, so it was groundhog day every single time ... they were making the same mistakes over and over again," he said.

Shetler added that six digital transformation services in partnership with DTO have also now been delivered. Two of the services were carried out by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection; one of which was to allow people to make citizenship appointments through a new booking service and the other for people who wanted to import goods into Australia.

The other services included a service by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science to help make it easier for people to start a business; ACT Government to simplify the process to book outpatient appointments; Department of Human Services to improve the Medicare enrolment process; and the Queensland government to improve senior citizen entitlements.

"What was interesting was much the work we did on the ACT exemplar we were able to reuse some of the code that we had used to build the appointment booking service for Immigration, and that's an example of not having to repeat things over and over again, but through a virtuous circle of sharing, we have been able to learn and reuse from what each other's doing," Shetler said.

The focus around sharing aligns with a strategy Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had previously outlined when he was still Australia's Communications Minister, back in March 2015.

"I'm a great believer in being much more global in our approach. Governments have historically been much less global in their research, in their awareness of policy responses than businesses, yet we're all dealing with the same problems, pretty much," he said at the time.

"We have to share more. We've taken a lot of inspiration and help from the government in the UK, which has been very successful.

"We will make our code available to others. We will be as open to others as the UK government is to everybody else. I think that is very important. It should be a very open and collaborative business."

Shetler added that he envisions Gov.au, currently released in alpha, to become the single-source of information to how the public accesses government services, and hopes to see it eventually replace the existing 1,523 other government websites.

"What we need to add is a way of accessing information across agency boundaries. So, for instance, information around superannuation, or coming to Australia as a student, or having a baby -- that kind of information isn't typically within one agency or one department, and having to ask people to figure that out really isn't helpful," he said.

"So, we are rolling out and organising information by topic, and then also for people who are complete generalists or are beginning a very complex journey like starting a business, we'll walk them through the entire process."

The DTO has also recently delivered the alpha version of its Performance Dashboard, designed to measure the performance of Australian government services against metrics defined by the Digital Service Standard. To date, the dashboard features information about the Department of Immigration and Border Protection's citizenship booking service and the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science's starting a business service, as well as performance information of mygov.au.

"We already have, as a result of releasing the dashboard, some agencies already starting to think about how they're going to work their services against the KPIs in a more clear and simple manner," he said.

Earlier this year, the DTO was handed the responsibility under the federal government's National Innovation Science Agenda to deliver the Digital Marketplace. Shetler said the DTO has now delivered an alpha version of the platform, which he believes will provide a meeting place for buyers and sellers, as well as provide maximum pricing transparency, including details around who is buying what and for what price.

Shetler said "coming very soon", the DTO will be releasing the beta versions of Gov.au that will feature a whole of government view on what the government offers; the Digital Marketplace, which will see the establishment of a series of targeted panels of providers; and the Performance Dashboard, which will include additional services.

Shetler's update comes nearly a year after he outlined the Australian government has an ethical obligation to improve the way it services the public. At the time, he said poor IT systems hampered the government from properly servicing the public, saying it was a delivery issue, not a policy issue.

"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."

In June, the DTO tendered to find up to seven individuals that will be charged with supporting the digital transformation of public services and developing digital services.

According to the request for tender, the successful coaches will be required to implement practices within the DTO that lend themselves to a digital service delivery environment and work across government departments to ensure transparency across the board.

Based on research by Deloitte, the work by the DTO will deliver the government and citizens AU$20.5 billion in cost savings over the next 10 years.

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