DTO chief: Australia could be 'best in the world' for digital government

DTO CEO Paul Shetler outlines vision for the digitalisation of Australian government

There is a "huge" opportunity for Australia to transform how government services are delivered, according to Paul Shetler, the recently appointed head of the Digital Transformation Office.

The chief executive of the DTO used his first speech to the Australian public service to outline an ambitious vision of digital government.

"We have an opportunity to radically redesign and radically improve citizens' experience of government," Shetler said.

Earlier this month communications minister Malcolm Turnbull revealed that Shetler had been appointed DTO CEO.

Shetler was previously a director of the UK's Government Digital Service, and prior to that the CDO of the UK Ministry of Justice.

We think Australia can become the best in the world — absolutely the best in the world — at delivering digital public services

Paul Shetler, DTO CEO

The DTO has existed as an executive agency for only a month. Turnbull announced in January the creation of the office.

The 2015-16 budget included $95.4 million to establish the DTO as part of a $254.7 million 'Digital Transformation Agenda'.

"Everybody in this room cares about people that we're serving — we all do, we're all here — [but] in many cases we're hamstrung by the ways we are forced to communicate out to the outside because of the way we organise our digital presence and because of the tools we use to work," Shetler said today.

When individuals and businesses struggle to find the government information they need through digital channels they turn to offline channels that are more expensive and deliver a suboptimal user experience.

A Deloitte Access Economics report commissioned by Adobe and released earlier this week pegged the average costs of face-to-face, postal and telephone government transactions at $19.90, $12.79 and $6.60 per transaction — compared to $0.40 per transaction through online channels.

"Not only is it not a really good user experience, it's also really expensive," Shetler said.

"We can lower the cost and we can provide better services. We can do better for less because in many cases the high cost is the high cost of doing things not as well as we could, or not as well as we should."

"Our opportunity is huge," the DTO CEO said.

"Not only can we save a lot of money but we can also start restoring public faith in government. Because one of the biggest problems that every government is facing around the world right now is lower budgets, less money to spend, increased demands and the fact that many citizens are saying, 'My gosh, can't you do better than this? Everyone else seems to be able to do better than this. Gee why can't you do better than this?' And there's a drip, drip, drip of inadequate services.

"It's the death of a thousand cuts that undermines public faith in government. That is why we're here — to fix that. It's not a policy issue — it's a delivery issue."

Australia's program to deliver better digital services is more ambitious than those of many other countries, Shetler said.

The DTO wants to provide a framework so that user journeys can encompass different departments, agencies and levels of government.

When announcing the creation of the DTO, Turnbull revealed that one of its first tasks would be establishing a single digital identity for accessing government services.

"The other thing we want to do is move beyond the idea of a digital channel that's ... separate to everything else," the DTO chief said.

"Keeping in mind that actually some things do need to be done face-to-face, and when I do that thing face-to-face it needs to be reflected in my digital channel."

Ensuring that kind of consistency will help shift more people to using digital channels for transactions, he added.

A key tool for making the vision a reality will be a user-centric approach to service design that seeks to understand how end users truly engage with government services.

The work of the DTO won't involve a big bang style approach to digital transformation, he said.

"We're going to get there by doing small things, delivering them very quickly and then iterating them, changing them, improving them, making sure that they actually do meet user needs and that we continue to do so as we move along.

"It's a long term program [and] we're not going to say it's all going to be delivered at once. Because it won't be."

The DTO will take the approach of "products not projects," Shetler said.

"We're not delivering projects — we're delivering products. And there's a big difference between them," he said.

A project "has a beginning date and it has an end date and at the beginning is typically where you know the least amount about what's going to go wrong and what the needs really are," he said.

"It's when you think you know everything, that actually you know the least... what we're saying is we're delivering living, breathing products which we deliver quickly, which we iterate constantly, which [are] not something that we just walk away from.

"It doesn't have an end date ... [there's no] beginning and an end in the traditional way of doing things. It's a product with an evolution."

Read more: How to get and keep staff buy-in during digital transformation

"We think Australia can become the best in the world — absolutely the best in the world — at delivering digital public services," Shetler said.

"We have strong support from cabinet, from our minister, and from all the departments we've spoken to."

The DTO is working in multi-disciplinary, agile teams, he said, and would be operating in the open, including making its code available through a GitHub repository.

Digital transformation would involve the DTO working with departments to help share best practices.

"We're doing it with departments, not to departments," the DTO CEO said.

Shetler gave the example of the DTO's Digital Service Standard, which is currently in alpha.

The DTO wants input from departments and agencies on the draft standard, and it also wants public sector organisations to start testing it in practice to see what impact it has.

The agency released a design guide to help with implementing the standard.

The DTO has so far met with a positive reception from within departments, Shetler said.

"The DTO's name is Digital Transformation Office and it might imply that the transformation is coming from the DTO and that is not the case... most of the transformation work has to be done within the departments and the agencies — because they're the ones who are dealing with the end users."

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