While government agencies have not historically been early adopters of technology, many of the recent events have proven that traditional systems of governance may no longer be enough to cope with a changing world.

While governments don’t have to worry about losing their “customers” to any rivals, they do have other imperatives. Traditional systems of governance may no longer be enough to cope with a changing world – resource scarcity, economic instability, and climate change all test the capabilities of government agencies and public sector enterprises like never before. 

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example of a 21st century crisis that could have been better dealt with novel forms of e-governance – using information and communications technology (ICT) like internet and smartphone apps to safely deliver essential services to citizens under lockdown.  

With the prevalence of e-commerce and other online services over the last two decades, consumers have higher expectations for on-demand services and instant gratification. Digital transformation in government is all about bringing that same experience to services offered by government agencies – tax matters, social security, Medicare benefits, ID cards, licences, permits, and so on. 

Australia in Digital Transformation - Ahead of the Curve

According to the 2020 edition of the UN E-Government Survey, the vast majority of the world's governments are taking rapid strides in embracing digital transformation. Australia ranked fifth on the global E-Government Development Index (EGDI), only behind Denmark, Finland, Estonia, and South Korea. 

This is neither surprising nor unexpected - the Australian government has taken comprehensive steps towards digital transformation in recent years. A Digital Transformation Agenda has been a part of the federal budget since 2015. In 2016, an executive agency was established to oversee the migration of government services to online platforms like myGov and Australia.gov.au – the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA).

Australia also has an ambitious roadmap to complete digital transformation of government by 2025. Overseen by the DTA and other bodies like the Australian Digital Council, the strategy involves spending up to AU$3.2 billion on projects that augment and improve the ICT capabilities of various government agencies. 

Five core concepts / initiatives underpin this digital transformation strategy – a unified digital identity, focus on citizen experience, personalisation, data analytics, and enhancing privacy and trust.

1. A Unified Digital Identity to Access Everything 

Many online businesses these days allow users to sign-in and access their services using either a Google or Facebook account. Removing the need to create separate login accounts and passwords, they offer a lot of convenience, both for the websites and users. 

A unified national digital identity would bring this level of convenience to citizens trying to access government services online. Italy has one of the best implementations of this system – citizens can use their SPID to access not just government services, but private websites like banks, insurance companies, and more. 

At present, Australians have two separate digital identities – myGovID only supports government services on the myGov platform, while Australia Post Digital iD provides quick access to dozens of government and private sector services. 

The DTA is currently pressing ahead with a major expansion of the unified digital identity system. The proposed system will provide citizens and Australian companies secure access to government services and select private sector services. 

Both myGovID and Australia Post Digital iD will be incorporated into the system using a common set of security standards – the Trusted Digital Identity Framework (TDIF). Under this new system, citizens will be able to access everything from their tax records to Medicare, drivers licence, bank accounts, and more with a single login system. 

2. A Radical Shift in Focus to “Citizen Experience”

Customer experience is never considered as the strong point of the public sector and government bureaucracies. This norm is being challenged by the possibilities of digital transformation – with investments in ICT, governments can now provide smooth, seamless online experiences that are considered the forte of private businesses. 

In Australia, efforts are already underway to develop a new online platform that focuses on the “experience” aspect. The Government Digital Experience Platform, or GovDXP, aims to provide a modern online experience similar to social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook. The project, which is slated to replace myGov in the future, is currently being developed by Deloitte. 

Government websites trying to emulate social media platforms may sound like a vanity project or a waste of funds, but real-world data suggests otherwise. Consumer surveys indicate a clear link between online user experience and trust. After years of quality service from businesses, citizens have come to expect the same from the government sector, according to a BCG-Salesforce survey. 

Traditional government websites suffer from outdated designs, non-intuitive layouts, and generally lacklustre performance on any device apart from a big-screen computer. A Facebook-inspired government portal would be a change for the better - providing quick and easy access to the myriad departments and services. 

3. Bringing Personalisation to the Public Sector

Traditional bureaucratic organisations tend to be very rigid and inflexible. There is no option for customisation or personalisation of experiences at a government office – this total lack of agency can contribute to feeling powerless and disengaged. 

The private sector knows this all too well, which is why personalisation is a key aspect of building a connection with the customer. This is especially evident on digital platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon. They all deliver highly personalised and curated experiences – movie, video, and product suggestions are based on available user data.

E-governance platforms need this more than any other online service providers. Government departments offer a bewildering array of services, with complex levels of rules, regulations, and application forms. 

Providing personalised services would drastically improve the user experience. Platforms can utilise available citizen data to remove services that are not applicable – based on metrics like age, marital status, employment status and so on. The experience of a university student on the platform would be different from that of a married businessman or a pensioner.  

4. Harnessing the Power of Data Analytics

The Australian government already has data on its 25 million citizens. And once many of them start using the digital platform, it will create even more troves of big data. Personalised, user-friendly online experiences require efficient utilisation of user data. 

Advanced data analytics tools will bring multiple benefits far beyond enhanced user experience. It can be used at the policy level to make appropriate changes based on citizen behaviour. By putting more information in front of decision-makers, it has the potential to improve overall governance as well.  

Apart from data generated by user behaviour, the government services will also be able to focus heavily on feedback from citizens. Digital platforms and apps require constant updates and tweaks – it is an iterative process that sets apart the best apps from the rest. If the government is truly committed to personalisation and increased user engagement, this aspect cannot be ignored. 

5. Addressing Privacy Concerns and Trust Deficit

Citizens tend to look with a fair share of suspicion whenever government agencies accumulate sensitive personal data. Fears of an Orwellian police state and concerns regarding data safety both play a role here and Australian government agencies having a poor track record on cybersafety does not help. 

Hackers, malware, and phishing attacks have targeted New South Wales digital services, Western Australia Premier’s office, and even the Digital Health Agency, the reservoir of healthcare records of 90% of all Australians. This lack of trust also contributed to the reception of the COVIDSafe app, tasked with tracking the contacts of patients infected with coronavirus.

The success of digital transformation projects in government agencies requires a high level of trust among the citizens. The government should be able to assert its ability to keep the data safe from cyber-attacks and breaches. 

In Australia, this is still an ongoing process, given the state of the ICT infrastructure in many government departments and agencies. Legacy systems require modernisation, and departments that have upgraded require the better implementation of best practices like the ASD Essential Eight and Top Four. 

Transparency is also crucial here in building the trust of citizens. The government needs to address issues related to data sharing to have any kind of success in attracting users to digital services. The power to decide access to data has to reside with the users in almost all contexts. This includes permissions to share data between departments and agencies within the government and not just third parties.

Transforming the Digital Experience in Government

Citizens' increasingly high expectations for better digital experiences, including cohesive and efficient services that are easy to navigate, have highlighted the need for successful digital transformation in government. This includes factors such as data security and the ability to self-serve, and it has become essential to understand how technology is solving these challenges and how it enables a streamlined path to modernisation.

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