Collaboration is key to government digital transformation

By Dylan Bushell-Embling
Thursday, 15 November, 2018

Collaboration is key to government digital transformation

Governments across Australia are being urged to take a more collaborative approach to digital transformation and service delivery.

Achieving the digital transformation of government service delivery will be a coordinated effort requiring careful planning, according to digital experts within the NSW Department of Finance, Services and Innovation (DFSI).

On the sidelines of the recent NSW Government Digital Marketplace conference, one of the largest meetings of ICT public and private sector leaders in Australia, the experts shared their perspectives on the challenges and opportunities involved in digital transformation within government.

According to Katarina Ruszczyk, Director of Digital Government at the Department of Finance, Services & Innovation, a common mistake for public sector agencies pursuing the digital transformation of service delivery involves the temptation to bite off more than they can chew.

“In government, because we’re charged with solving the big problems of society, there’s a tendency for government agencies to try to solve the whole problem at the same time,” she said.

“And digital delivery works [best] when you can identify what the whole problem is but then just take a thin slice of that, and just solve that really well, and then take the next slice and solve that really well, rather than trying to boil the ocean at the same time.”

Ruszczyk said the digital transformation model involves identifying a problem in need of solving and then deeply engaging with the customer to understand all facets of this problem, and that this is something that is really new in government.

“It’s something that certain pockets of government are doing really well, but others are on a different stage of their journey. So I think that’s a big challenge for government.”

Portrait image of Katarina Ruszczyk

Katarina Ruszczyk, Director of Digital Government, DFSI.

Another challenge involves the lack of collaboration and communication between government digital transformation teams, according to the department’s Director of Policy and Innovation, Thea Knill.

“We are all working on so many amazing opportunities and projects, and we forget to share that knowledge and information across agencies, and sometimes even across teams within the same department,” she said.

Knill urged agencies to take advantage of the depth of resources and knowledge at their disposal when designing digital projects. This should include using the programs being offered by lead digital agencies such as the DFSI in New South Wales or the Digital Transformation Agency federally.

“[At] the DFSI, we have a digital accelerator team, an innovation team, and they’re resources for across government. And we’re there to support other agencies in sharing their knowledge and sharing their lessons learned,” she said.

Portrait image of Thea Knill

Thea Knill, Director of Policy and Innovation, DFSI.

Ruszczyk agreed that learning from each other is essential if the public sector is to successfully transform service delivery.

“There are so many examples of great product delivery teams happening in federal government in other jurisdictions, and even in NSW. So learning from how it’s been done in the past and drawing inspiration from that [is important], rather than feeling like you need to reinvent it yourself.”

Collaboration should involve working with the private sector as well, according to Knill. Events such as the NSW Government Digital Marketplace forum are useful for helping digital transformation teams understand the latest technologies that are available, and how they can be applied to the problems the public sector is trying to solve.

Kate Foy, Managing Director of the DFSI’s NSW Telco Authority, said the unique challenges faced by government departments in transforming service delivery can be divided into three categories — people, culture and the ability to manage change.

Change is something the public sector has famously struggled with, so agencies should be focused on dedicating resources, time and people to managing change well, Foy said.

“As far as people are concerned, I think [the challenge is] making sure we’ve got the right capabilities, not only in the public sector, but also the partnerships with the private sector. People deliver projects, people deliver outcomes,” she said.

Portrait image of Kate Foy

Kate Foy, Managing Director, NSW Telco Authority.

“Tools and systems and processes are part of it, but getting the culture right — a culture focused on the customer, focused on delivering the services, focused on understanding the problems and leaning in — is really where we can start to shift the dial.”

Addressing these challenges may require the development of entirely new ways of approaching digital service delivery projects. Foy highlighted a model proposed by prominent academic and Western Sydney University Chancellor Peter Shergold, who suggested in 2016 that the public sector should consider taking a cue from Hollywood.

“In the Hollywood model, amazing people — screenwriters and directors and actors and costume designers — come together, make something pretty magnificent and then move away,” Foy said.

“I think we can really look at adopting that in government — how can we bring people from all parts of the [relevant] sectors together to be able to scrum in, work hard on something and then walk away with something that’s a pretty amazing product?”

Digital transformation in practice

The NSW Government’s recent digital activities represent a demonstration of these principles being put into action.

In September, for example, the government hired former New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs Service Integration Lead Pia Andrews as its new Executive Director of Digital Government, tasked with supporting greater collaboration, innovation and digital transformation across government.

The government likewise this month invited officials from the New Zealand Government to share their experiences designing digital life journey services, which aim to provide citizens with unique and tailored access to all the government service-related interactions they will require at various points in their lives.

Other major initiatives being planned include adopting common components capable of providing people with a single view of government, and building a design system that can scale the delivery of people-centric digital services across government.

Main image credit: ©

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