Labor concerned Coalition's DTA is evolving into an 'audit beast'

The shadow minister who would become responsible for digital transformation if Labor were to take power in the short-term has voiced his concerns over the evolution of the Digital Transformation Agency, asking for more accountability for transformation from ministers.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The Digital Transformation Office (DTO) was established to shake-up the way government operated by unifying departments, agencies, and their services, and inject the Australian government with some Silicon Valley thinking.

The DTO was superseded by the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) in late 2016, and its CEO, who was personally selected by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at inception, hung up his boots shortly after the name and remit change.

Since then, the DTA has undertaken an ambitious plan to shake up government, starting with announcing an investigation into Commonwealth IT spend, and most recently publishing a whole-of-government cloud strategy.

But according to Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy and Shadow Minister for Employment Services, Workforce Participation and Future of Work Ed Husic, the bureaucratic-fighting beast it was fashioned to be is losing its charm.

"I have been concerned, in terms of the DTA, that it is evolving into more of an audit beast, than the delivery beast it once was," Husic told the Overcoming the Challenges of Digital Transformation conference in Canberra on Tuesday. "I'm not saying the DTO model was perfect, but the DTO was encouraged to be insurgents, to shake things up, to rattle cages and to do things differently -- processes that were sparking change."

Of concern to the man slated to become the minister responsible for digital transformation if Labor was to take power in the near future is that the DTA isn't delivering the core values it was set up to achieve.

"The DTO wasn't perfect, well maybe it was too perfect in being insurgents," he added. "There's probably something to be said about both."

Husic said he appreciates how actively engaged the DTA is; however, he doesn't think those up the food chain understand the real value -- and necessity -- of digital transformation within government.

"I do wonder longer-term about a sentiment that is embraced at senior levels within the public sector that believes that if you just say that you're supporting digital transformation but don't actually give it a real-life -- if you don't sustain it -- if that's just going to be the typical way to handle projects," he said.

"I think the minute politicians realise that they are being measured as much as departments on digital projects and the way in which services are being delivered -- think robo-debt, think Centrelink waiting times -- then I imagine there will be a sharper focus by people that are in the political realm."

Husic compared the Coalition defending a wait time of 15 minutes for citizens attempting to reach Centrelink, to US retail giant Walmart, which recently became focused on shaving even a second from its online customer experience.

"We think 15 minutes is an acceptable wait time on the phone? Come on, something's got to give," he continued.

"I noticed with great interest the ministerial shuffle that occurred where digital transformation was put under the same ministerial hat as the person who runs [the Department of Human Services]."

Hesitant to roll out a service delivery promise at a conference ad-lib, Husic did say his vision for a DTA will hold ministers responsible.

"There will come a time where governments regardless of their political colour will get judged on that and I think there is a growing realisation particularly with MPs that they are getting tested on that more and more," he said.


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