Where Is Digital Heading In Australia?

Are they now leading the way in digital transformation?


Governments around the world are investing heavily in digital transformation, as they look to provide the kind of user experience in the public sector that is currently being provided by private sector platforms like TransferWise and Netflix.

Australia is now following the lead of countries such as the UK and the US, and with good reason. The UK government reported savings of £1.7 billion from digital and technology related activities between 2014 and 2015. Similar figures are likely to be seen in Australia. According to Deloitte Access Economics, Australian taxpayers could see economic benefits in excess of $20.5 billion over the next decade if it is successfully deployed.

One of the key components of these savings come from the huge cost reduction of moving government transactions from face to face and snail mail channels to online. Online transactions for government cost roughly 40 cents each, whereas a personal interaction costs nearly $17 - nearly 40 times more expensive.

The Australian model for digital transformation has heavily drawn on the UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS), which should come as no surprise given the appointment of former GDS director Paul Shetler as their new chief executive of the Digital Transformation Office (DTO). Shelter is critical of Australia’s current attempts, arguing that: ‘Our job is to serve the public and we are failing. It’s not good enough in the age of Uber and AirBnB. If Amazon did that they’d go out of business.’

The DTO’s approach is not simply mimicking the UK’s, however, it is also learning from their mistakes. They are subsequently looking to work on small areas of government at a time rather than trying to do everything at once, and implement change in these areas very quickly, setting a time frame of about five months for each project.

Digital transformation is not good news for everyone in Australia, however. One of the central problems that Shelter faced comes from those in power who see it as a fad and resist his methods and frothy. There is also the issue of job losses. Deloitte Access Economics estimate that more than 25,000 public servants around Australia will be put out of work over the next decade as a result of digital transformation, with 2500 workers per year either being made redundant, or having to be put in other roles. These roles include keyboard operators, call centre workers and managers, inspectors and regulatory officers, mail sorters, enquiry clerks, switchboard operators and filing and registry clerks. What will happen to them at this point is still unknown, but as with any technological advance, the job market evolves to cater for such changes.

At the moment, Shetler’s work is still very much in the early stages. However, his experience, coupled with the ambition of the Australian government, should ensure that Australia’s digital transformation has a bright future.


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