WA agencies missing out on millions from lack of online services

An audit by the Western Australian auditor general has shown that the state's agencies lag behind other Australian jurisdictions in delivering common services online.

There are significant savings to be gained if government services were moved online, concluded the Western Australian Auditor General Colin Murphy in his latest audit.

The Delivering Services Online audit report [PDF] assessed how five agencies -- Landgate, Synergy, WA Police, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Training and Workforce Development -- were dealing with the growing demand for providing services online.

Murphy acknowledged that Western Australia is not as advanced as some other Australian jurisdictions in delivering common services online, pointing out current services such as applying for birth certificates or a replacement driver's licence remain paper based, despite growing customer demand and the technology being available.

He pointed out, for instance, that the state's cost recovery based fee of AU$47 for a birth certificate and AU$36 for a replacement driver's licence could be reduced if moved online to as low as AU$31 and $22.60 respectively, based on the fees for the same services online in Victoria.

Additionally, many services depend on customers downloading forms and submitting them manually to the agency, the report said, such as work safety notifications, changes of address, and applying for a record of traffic infringements.

Murphy pointed out that the Western Australian government could save more than AU$2.2 billion over 10 years if half of all phone and mail transactions were moved online.

At the same time, three of the agencies expect to save at least AU$38 million from moving key services online in the next two years.

The audit also assessed wa.gov.au and the Do it online portal, which Murphy said "is not user friendly and doesn't compare well with sites in Australia and internationally". He said the Do it online portal understates the number of services available online, giving a mistaken impression of the range of services that are accessible there.

Murphy believes the lack of authority and government priority is to blame for the shortfall of why agencies have not been proactive in moving their services online, but said the appointment of a Government Chief Information Officer (GCIO) last year should help to address this, and speed progress.

"In the absence of government priority and leadership, not all of the agencies have given online services a high priority and competing needs and internal barriers such as legacy systems have inhibited progress. The Website Governance Framework provides basic compliance requirements but is not designed to drive improvement in online services," he said.

From the agencies' point of view, the report said they believe barriers that have hindered their moving of services online include the cost of changing systems, resistance to change from staff, uncertainty about legislative requirements, and the needs for specific customer groups.

The report also revealed only Synergy and Landgate had a clear scope of the costs and benefits of online service delivery, which Murphy said could have also prevented agencies in realising the potential of moving services online.

Murphy added that while some opportunities have been missed, the government needs to prioritise the online delivery of services.

"Delivering services online rather than in person, on the phone, or via mail has benefits for the user and government," he said.

"Although not everyone wants to access services online, for those that do, services are available whenever they want and are usually delivered faster.

"The benefit for government is that services can be delivered to more people for less cost."

The report has recommended the GCIO begin the development of wa.gov.au to become an one-stop shop for all online government services by the end of the year, and that a roadmap for rollout across agencies including the establishment of all relevant policies, standards, and guidelines is developed by June 2017.

Additionally, the WA audit report has suggested agencies review their services with a "view to prioritising online service delivery wherever possible to improve customer service and reduce operating costs".