NSW juggling digital glitz with its legacy grit

According to the NSW government, it takes longer than a week to fix legacy systems and bring the entire government backend up to speed; but the NSW Department of Finance, Services and Innovation believes it is well on track to achieve a 21st century government.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The New South Wales government has found itself caught between the excitement of implementing digital innovations and dealing with its legacy backend systems.

Martin Hoffman, Secretary of NSW Department of Finance, Services and Innovation told the Open Opportunity Forum in Sydney on Thursday it is a challenge to get beyond the glitz and the glamour of digital services, in order to get the overall system right.

"God built the world in seven days; but he didn't have legacy systems to deal with," he said.

"On the one hand there's all this excitement and genuine progress around digital services, the DTO, the things we're doing in NSW with Service NSW, apps, and all this great stuff.

"But on the other hand, we still have the mega systems; the multi hundred million dollar, sometimes billion dollar IT projects that drive the large-scale systems and records."

The state government wants to see 70 percent of its services through a digital channel by 2019, Hoffman said.

"It goes without saying, obviously, [digital] is how customers want to interact. Currently, in NSW, the way we track it, 44 percent of customer transactions go through our digital channels. The others are either done face to face, primarily at our Service NSW shopfronts, or through the combined 1300 number call centre," Hoffman said.

"We've moved up about 10 percentage points in the last year, so we're on track, but the curve always starts to flatten as we get higher numbers, so there's a heap of work to do.

"But success so far with Service NSW does show that it can be done."

In its 2015-16 NSW Budget, the state government allocated AU$362 million for Service NSW to digitise its services.

Service NSW brought together a number of different NSW government services under the one office, including Roads and Maritime; Births, Deaths, and Marriages; and small business support; and last year Service NSW became the first government provider in the state to deploy a cloud-based virtual contact centre, after signing a contract with NEC.

In August, the Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation, Victor Dominello, announced the state's plans to create a whole-of-government Data Analytics Centre.

At the time, Dominello said data was one of the greatest assets held by government, but said when it is buried in bureaucracy, it is of little value to anyone.

Speaking of the initiative, Hoffman said the introduction of the Data Sharing Government Sector Bill [PDF] in October has made it easier for departments and sectors to join up and share data.

"We're looking forward to joining that up with the commonwealth as well, and the renewed push by the commonwealth on open data policy," Hoffman said.

According to Hoffman, the data analytics centre will operate on a brokering and commissioning type model, which he said is focused on specific projects where the government believes data analytics and data sets can make a difference to policy development or program delivery.

"We'll be doing that by looking for brokering or commissioning capability from the private sector, be it small business, large business, universities, research institutes such as Data61, who are able to actually do the work," he said.

"Certainly better than government duplicating and attempting to invest in a floor of people down near Central station with large scale data analytics capabilities. It's not needed. What we need is a small group of smart people who will broker and commission specific projects out into the community."

Hoffman said Premier Mike Baird is a passionate supporter of data.

"One of the things we've done on data is put in his office a real-time customer dashboard, a real-time set of tiles where he can instantly see real-time feeds of traffic congestion, of train timetables, of service queues at our Service NSW stores," he said.

"The secretaries aren't entirely sure this is a good idea, but he absolutely loves it and he has spoken about in time, making it publicly available as well, so citizens can see in real-time these performance metrics of customer satisfaction or customer delivery across the entire system."

Last month, the NSW government announced a cloud computing contract with Microsoft, aimed at digitising services and improving efficiency and productivity across agencies.

The agreement will see Microsoft provide cloud and mobility services including Office 365 through its local datacentres to 130,000 employees across five departments: The Department of Health; the Department of Finance, Services and Innovation; the Department of Family and Community Services; the Department of Planning and Environment; and the Department of Justice.

"Taking advantage of new technology is integral to the NSW government's commitment to delivering the best possible service to the people of NSW," NSW Minister for Finance, Services, and Property Dominic Perrottet said at the time.

"Working with leading-edge suppliers to implement cloud-based technology means our agencies can be more responsive, agile, and innovative; delivering citizen-focused services anywhere, anytime, while benefiting from increased scalability and flexibility."

Additional digital transitions the government has undertaken include the consolidation of its datacentres into two large "GovDCs" -- one in Silverwater, and the other outside Wollongong.

"The interesting thing about them is yes we've consolidated government datacentres into the two spaces but more importantly we have set them up as a digital community or a digital marketplace for as-a-service software suppliers and linked them to other clouds as well," Hoffman said.

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