Service brokers key to creating a digital government: NICTA

NICTA's latest report has revealed that there are opportunities for public sector agencies and external independent businesses to become service brokers to help the government deliver its services through digital channels.

A report released by National ICT Australia (NICTA) has suggested that digital service brokers can help the government deliver traditional services to customers through easy-to-use, seamless interfaces, and further drive the "digital government".

The New models for Digital Government: The role of service brokers in driving innovation report (PDF) said that service brokers or government services can be public sector agencies or external independent organisations or businesses.

Dr Terry Percival, director of NICTA's broadband and digital economy business team, said that as the government embraces digital delivery channels, there is an opportunity for independent service brokers from both the private and public sectors to provide these services.

"In this age of rapidly transforming technology, we should be looking at government as a platform, rather than a vertical. Government should be a convener and an enabler of services to customers, not necessarily the delivery person. Service brokers can step into this role," he said.

In fact, the Australian government has set a target for 80 percent of the public to use digital channels to access government services by 2020, and that all high-volume services will be available online by 2017.

So far, the Australian Department of Human Services is responsible for managing the MyGov portal for the Australian government. Similar public service brokers have also been established by other Australian state governments, such as Service NSW, Smart Service Queensland, Service Tasmania, and Canberra Connect.

HubCare was also cited as another example of an independent service broker operating in the childcare and community services sector. It enables parents and guardians, childcare service providers, and government agencies to interact with one another on a single platform to manage services and payments, and share information. In eight years, it has expanded to cover 1,200 early childhood services for 1.4 million customers.

The report noted that while the existing service brokers exemplify the progress of digital government initiatives, there still continues to be "significant challenges" as well. These include the low rate of adoption of government online services in Australia, with less than 50 percent of people using digital channels, and those Australians who are heavy users of government services and are not connected to the internet.

In addition to introducing the concept of service brokers, the report also made a number of best practice recommendations that governments can implement to promote the development of independent service brokers. For instance, it recommended that government agencies review existing service arrangements to identify opportunities for independent service brokers for service delivery, and separate their different roles as wholesalers of services from their role as retailers of services that are delivered to customers or end users.

"Governments need to take care to ensure that public trust is maintained in the introduction of service brokers through appropriate security and privacy provisions — particularly where individual data is managed. At the same time, it needs to encourage innovation, collaboration, and technological change. It's a really important balance," Percival said.

The advice that NICTA has offered to the government in this report comes at a time where the research agency is preparing to survive on full private funding. The federal government announced during May's federal Budget that it is going to cease funding NICTA in mid-2016, and encouraged NICTA to pursue funding via the private sector investments and research grants.