The federal government should stop focusing on “digital transformation” primarily as a means of generating savings as opposed to delivering better services, according to the Community and Public Sector Union.
In a 2018-19 pre-budget submission, the CPSU calls for a “re-think and investment in IT systems and platforms as well as the skills and capacity of public service staff”.
The federal budget should provide adequate funding to “invest in ICT systems and training that support digital government service delivery,” the submission states.
“Government service standards are not meeting community expectations,” the union argues.
“Citizens expect government services to be as good as those provided by the private sector. However, a significant portion of users rate government online services as much worse than private sector services.”
The CPSU cites examples of “high-profile ICT failures” including the online component of the 2016 Census and Centrelink’s ‘robo-debt’ Online Compliance Initiative.
A key recommendation from the union is that the government should invest in the skills of public sector staff and reduce its reliance on contractors and consultants.
The union argues that a concerted outsourcing push has left the public sector “overly reliant on external vendors and contractors – creating critical issues with capability and cost.”
A second major problem is that reviews of government ICT have tended to focus on delivering savings, missing opportunities “for strategic and architectural reform”.
External ICT FTEs grew from 23 per cent to 30 per cent between 2011-12 and 2015-16, according to the Australian Government ICT Trends Report 2015-16 (PDF).
As of last year, a third of the Australian Public Service’s more than 14,000 ICT personnel were contractors, according to the CPSU.
The heavy reliance on contractors and consultants has led to a deskilling process across the public service, the union believes.
Government employees also face challenges relating to ageing IT systems. According to the 2015-16 ICT Trends Report, more than 44 per cent of major applications were 10+ years old and that 53 per cent of laptops and desktops in use across the public service were their “planned useful life”.