Evolving digital services beyond the pandemic patchwork

Avaya Australia Pty Ltd

By Dustin Laidsaar, strategic business consultant, Avaya
Friday, 29 April, 2022


Evolving digital services beyond the pandemic patchwork

Government digital services have undergone considerable transformation in the last three years. While agencies have maintained a digital presence to varying degrees for some time, it was only at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that investment boomed.

With Australians impacted at unprecedented levels, state and federal governments were forced to expedite the online delivery of programs like JobSeeker and JobKeeper, stand up check-in systems, and make available an array of resources and support.

Now it’s a matter of turning digital patchwork into sustainable digital services, underscored by reliability, accessibility and uncompromising attention to customer experience and privacy.

According to Irma Fabular, research vice president at Gartner, “The disruptions caused by the pandemic have also reinforced a key digital government tenet, which is public policy and technology are inseparable”.

The analyst firm now forecasts Australian government sector IT spending to surpass $15.5 billion in 2022, an 8.8 per cent jump on the year prior. A majority (72%) of that investment will go towards software and services, motivated by the desire to “improve responsiveness and resilience of public services”, the firm says.

Digital can no longer be treated as only something we should have because technology just so happens to be popular. It must be regarded as a critical asset in everyday Australia, and policy makers need to connect the digital dots to meet the expectations of taxpayers.

The importance of this approach was again highlighted during the recent east coast floods, as tens of thousands of Australians displaced by the natural disaster required financial assistance in the aftermath.

The appetite for digitalisation is a sentiment reflected in Services Australia’s corporate plan. The agency lists ‘customer services delivery’ and ‘technology and transformation’ as two of its three key activities for 2021–22. A major performance measure for the latter is “to drive the agency to ensure that our digital services are stable and available for customers to use when they need them”.

Meanwhile, Service NSW proved particularly innovative in developing new and refining existing services, with its mobile application as the centrepiece. Digital driver’s licences were among the early tools to become available through the app, and features such as COVID Safe Check-in, voucher and support services have been introduced since, with NSW Minister for Customer Service and Digital Government Victor Dominello consistently pushing for further additions.

Digital success rests in citizen experience and trust

With millions in taxpayer funds to be dedicated to digital services in coming years, it’s critical for those investments to be made with citizen experience and trust at the forefront. It must be quick, easy and convenient to access information and help, and Australians need assurance their private data will not just be kept onshore, but that it won’t be viewed or used without their consent.

Agencies must also ensure their digital services cater to Australia’s plethora of demographics. For example, older citizens can’t be forced to get lost in online resources when there can be the option to have a human contact them proactively to overcome technology challenges. In addition, a variety of accessibility and language options need to be built in to ensure no community becomes isolated in our digital economy.

Creating this type of citizen-focused experience means balancing internal and external investments with emphasis on modernisation and systematic data-sharing across all levels of government, according to Dean Lacheca, a senior director at Gartner.

In simple terms, technology spend must be geared towards improving the quality of life for the staff providing services as well as giving Australians the best digital experience.

Like consumers of any brand, citizens expect to be able to engage with organisations through their preferred channels, on their own time, and ideally without needing to go through multiple departments to have their issues resolved. By equipping government employees with comprehensive capabilities — including digital sidekicks powered by machine learning and artificial intelligence — they will actually have the means to meet those expectations.

Lacheca also says: “This requires the adoption of widespread anything-as-a-service policies, adaptive security programs and an increased level of composability across government solutions.”

The composability element is particularly pertinent; it fosters a technology backbone that allows agencies to be flexible and adaptable in the applications and services introduced into government, whether it’s for the benefit of public sector workers at the forefront of customer services, or the digital assets through which Australians interact.

With demand for government services through digital channels at a record high, state and federal agencies must build on the often ad hoc efforts of the last three years. It won’t happen overnight, but there is a tremendous opportunity to establish a more uniform and consistent public service, led by what citizens want and underscored by trust.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Parato

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