WA government establishes AU$500m digital capability fund for IT upgrades

40% of WA's new digital fund will be dedicated to future health IT projects.

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Western Australia has handed down its 2021-22 state budget, revealing it will establish a AU$500 million digital capability fund for upgrading legacy IT systems and streamlining government services.

To be doled out over four years, the fund is aimed at progressing the government's digital transformation agenda and follows the same timeline as the state government's 2021-25 digital strategy that was released back in June.

According to WA Premier Mark McGowan, the fund was created off the back of a AU$5.6 billion budget surplus fuelled by high iron ore prices.

Among the various IT upgrades that will be paid for by the fund are "future health sector ICT projects" and virtual offices for Legal Aid Western Australia to further improve access to justice in regional and remote areas. The budget papers say that 40% of the total fund, AU$200 million, will be set aside for those "future health sector ICT projects".

In 2021-22, however, only AU$35.7 million of the fund will be used. Of that amount, AU$24.7 million will be used by the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety for its geoscience data transformation strategy and integration of existing standalone data and systems. Another AU$8 million will be used to maintain state police's IT upgrades and around $AU800,000 annually for four years, AU$3 million in total, will be given to the Office of Digital Government to help perform strategic oversight for the new digital capability fund.

Outside of the fund, the budget allocated AU$890,000 over three years to the Office of Digital Government for cybersecurity testing. That amount will also be used to establish initiatives for strengthening cyber security across government, budget papers say.

AU$14.3 million has also been given to the Department of Finance to commence a digital transformation project that will see agencies working with ServiceWA transition their services online to deliver a better digital experience for citizens. The new project comes off the back of a 12-month trial of a ServiceWA centre in Bunbury that provided citizens with over 80 services from five government agencies.

The McGowan government also provided record investment in state police in this year's budget, with cops receiving AU$57 million in funding. Tech-wise, in addition to the AU$8 million received from the digital capability fund, AU$3.5 million of that record investment amount will be spent to establish a mobile state operations command centre.

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, meanwhile, will receive investment of roughly AU$12 million to integrate and update the department core business systems, as well as AU$3.5 million that has been reallocated from other capital programs for the Digital Foundations Program. The new Digital Foundations Program is aimed at mitigating information and communications technology risks, budget papers say.

At the same time, the department will also be sending out just over AU$8 million to the Commonwealth's Regional Connectivity Program in 2021-22 as part of the budget.

For transport, AU$57.8 million has been allocated to replace SmartRider system assets and update the technology used by the system. In 2021-22, an estimated AU$15 million has been assigned from the budget to introduce new ticketing systems that allow for the use of contemporary contactless payment methods.

AU$175,000 will also be given to the Department of Communities for the Volunteering Platform and Technology Improvement initiative, which is aimed at exploring benefits and improvements to Volunteering WA's volunteer database.

Lastly, WA Health received almost a AU$2 billion boost in spending for health and mental health from this year's budget. While the lion's share was assigned for building health infrastructure such as hospitals, a small portion was doled out to WA Health's Digital Strategy.

The strategy itself is focused on developing an electronic medical records system, which will provide a foundation for innovative digital technologies and enhance the safety and quality of healthcare, and upgrading the Human Resource Management Information System to provide contemporary support for payroll and human resource services in the health system. Both projects commenced last year.

A new addition to WA Health digital strategy that was unveiled in the budget is a new AU$30 million project called Health in a Virtual Environment in the East Metropolitan Health Service. The service will use "technology to enhance patient monitoring and provide innovative models of care".

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