​Turnbull's DTA to establish a whole-of-government program management office

The DTA's interim CEO lays out the role she expects the renamed agency to play in the digital transformation of government services in Australia.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Three weeks ago, the Australian Governor-General signed an executive order to change the name of the Digital Transformation Office (DTO) to the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) and set out the functions of the renamed agency.

Nerida O'Loughlin was given the role of interim CEO of the DTA, charged with overseeing the transition from an office to an agency.

In addition to pushing Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's digital agenda, O'Loughlin and her team are now responsible for the IT policy and procurement functions of the Australian government, which are currently managed by the Department of Finance.

Speaking on Monday at the GovInnovate Summit in Canberra, O'Loughlin outlined three projects the DTA will actually be undertaking, noting that two were already underway by the DTO prior to the shakeup.

The new project, she said, is the creation of the whole-of-government program management office, which will include overseeing all significant IT and digital investments.

O'Loughlin said the government wants to achieve confidence that it knows what the high value, risky ICT and digital projects across government are, what is being spent on them, how they are progressing, and how those benefits are actually being realised.

She explained that the government also wants to know that if projects are going off track, that there is a mechanism in place to help those projects get back on track quickly.

"We've started developing our thinking around the right model for the program management office; I'm keen to make sure we build a program management office based on a cooperative approach to the development of reporting and performance frameworks and government frameworks with the agencies," she said.

"We're also keen to pick the brains of those agencies about the reporting processes to make sure that we're not reinventing the wheel and that the DTA adds value in the process.

"I believe we also need to build a program management office that acknowledges that project owners are ultimately accountable for the projects that they lead."

In addition, O'Loughlin said the DTA will also be looking at its own capability to ensure it too has the necessary technical, analytical, and commercial capability to operate as an expert program management office that can help agencies succeed.

"We will be developing that cooperatively with agencies over the coming months," she added.

The DTA has brought together the existing functions of the DTO with new roles in the whole-of-government ICT policy and strategy, oversight, and program management. According to O'Loughlin, the goal of the DTA is to make it easy for people to work with government by ensuring that there are simpler, faster, clearer public services.

Joining O'Loughlin at the DTA is Paul Shetler, who has taken up the role of chief digital officer. Previously, Shelter was serving as the CEO at the DTO, and under the new model he will be responsible for delivering the DTO-led products currently under development, such as the digital identity and digital marketplace projects, dashboards, and cloud.gov.au.

The two other projects O'Loughlin discussed during the government summit included providing a digital transformation road map, which will see the DTA work with other agencies across government to develop a high-level vision, principals, and strategies to drive the digital transformation of government.

Pointing to Assistant Minister for Digital Transformation Angus Taylor's vision, O'Loughlin said the DTA will be creating a road map that will serve as the high-level strategic direction for everything government is doing in both the ICT and digital spaces.

"It will incorporate strategies such as data, cyber, ICT investment, platforms, and so on," she added. "It will give government, the public service, and the public a cohesive view of digital transformation activities across the commonwealth for the very first time."

Lastly, the DTA will be creating a strategy for building and governing digital platforms.

"Our premise is that government is going to need the right set of tools to deliver digital transformation. Specifically, the government will need to develop and operate a set of reusable digtal platforms that make it easy, cheap, and fast to transform and deliver digital services to users," she said.

"But a platform strategy also needs to determine how such platforms are funded and where accountability for them lies. We will need to think creatively and collaboratively about them to provide solutions.

"We've got a lot to do. I expect it will be a busy few months ahead."

The DTO was established early last year to unify government agencies and services online.

Communications Minister cum Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull initially oversaw the transition which also included working with state and territory governments to identify opportunities for collaboration.

"Interacting with government should be as easy as internet banking or ordering a taxi through an app," Turnbull said at the time.

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