Postcard from Australia

Andrew presenting in Australia
Andrew doing a talk

Last month Mike and I visited Australia, hosted by our partners Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

Australia has long been scored as one of the world’s leading digital nations. Like everywhere, progress hasn’t necessarily been even, but a lot has been done that’s worth celebrating.

The work led by the minister Victor Dominello in New South Wales toset up effective technology spend controls in service of better service design is genuinely world leading. We saw plenty of signs of internet-era ways of working going on at the federal level in IP Australia, the Department of Human Services and the DTA. In the Victorian government, the important conversation about how the role of policy needs to change to make public services genuinely user-centred is beginning.

It’s an exciting moment for potential change; there’s a major public service review about to report, and a new organisation – Services Australia – has just been launched to push the Prime Minister’s ‘customer centric’ agenda. There’s no question that across the country, Australia has all the ingredients necessary for successful digital transformation: capital, people, leadership and political will.

Andrew presenting in Australia
Mike, DTA CEO Randall Brugeaud, Andrew

For it to actually happen, we think digital government in Australia needs to become more than the sum of its parts, not less. In a federal system, that’s easier said than done. A simple step to start with is applying scepticism. Particularly to any sales pitch jargon that leaps to technology answers but overlooks fundamentals of digital service delivery. Services Australia must avoid the trap of strategy by slogan – ‘single customer views’, ‘tell us once’, ‘experience layers’. These are things for speechwriters, not citizens.

It also means not conflating “investment in IT” with “investment in services”, and being far more open about experiments with new ways of working in government, spreading knowledge and support for transformative projects at scale. We can’t link to many of the stories we heard in this blog post, because there isn’t enough working in the open. That’s a shame for us, but a much bigger problem for public servants.

With talk in the newspapers about the first major recession since the early 1990s, Australia may be on the brink of the sort of crisis that tends to spur action. Developing first class digital public services brings real macroeconomic opportunities, in terms of skills, trade and soft power. All the pieces are there. We hope Australia plays them well.

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