Government needs to move online quicker: Commission of Audit

The National Commission of Audit has recommended that the Australian government move to a "digital by default" strategy and embrace cloud computing, e-Government services, outsourcing, and shared services and procurement.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

The Australian federal government needs a bold strategy and digital champion within Cabinet to make e-Government a success, the National Commission of Audit has recommended in its over 1200-page report released today.

The Commission said it is not enough that the government has undertaken to make any transaction that happens more than 50,000 times a year available online and to make all government correspondence available digitally by 2017, calling on the government to become "digital by default for all transactions", and to remove legislative barriers to going online, such as the requirement of the Australian Taxation Office to print and mail 10 million notices of assessment annually.

It is recommended that government agencies should be made to make services available through mobile apps, have clear and ambitious timelines, and simplify department processes.

"There is limited value in collecting electronic information from citizens to feed into manual processes in departments," the report said.

The example for this new approach is the Department of Human Services' myGov site, that allows citizens to use services from Medicare, Centrelink, Child Support, the Department of Health, the Department of Veterans' Affairs and the National Disability Insurance Agency with a single login. The Commission recommended that myGov be the default manner for engaging with government and be moved from opt-in to opt-out for agencies, with the myGov login credentials being strengthened with the addition of biometric information.

To make the "digital by default" transition occur faster, the report says that expertise should be consolidated in a single team with a chief digital officer, instead of the current approach with "fragmented arrangements" for digital government services spread across a number of agencies.

"This would be a senior role filled by an accomplished private sector leader who has driven a major digital transition process," the Commission said. "This person should report directly to the Minister for Communications."

In concert with the lack of digital services, the report bemoaned the slowness of the government uptake of cloud services.

"A reliance on bespoke, legacy systems, concerns about the security and privacy of placing public data in the cloud, and general risk aversion all impede progress," it said.

The Commission called for the government to adopt a "cloud-first" strategy, which would lead to lower IT cost over the next three to five years, as well as the establishment of a whole-of-government cloud provider panel.

"The range of offerings in such a panel would allow agencies to procure public or private cloud computing services, with appropriate levels of security," the report said.

In August last year, the then-Minister Assisting for the Digital Economy, Kate Lundy, said that a considered approach to cloud was better than blindly pushing it onto agencies.

"Cloud has so much potential here, but what we've done is set an appropriate test to ensure people's security and privacy is protected and put a system in place for assessing that in government agencies and departments," she said.

"In a way, it is the best of both worlds: We've got a cloud policy of promoting it, but we're not doing it blindly or in an ill-informed way — we're doing it in a way where governments are accountable for that security and privacy of people's data."

The government's current National Strategy for Cloud Computing states that government agencies must consider using cloud services as part of any new procurement, and will choose cloud where it represents the best value for money and has an adequate management of risk.

Among the Commission of Audit's 64 recommendations are calls for the federal government to privitise government assets such as Australia Post, NBN Co, Snowy Hydro, Australian Hearing Services, Defence Housing, and the Australian Submarine Corporation.

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