Digital Transformation Office: making government more accessible

April 1, 2015
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This joint opinion piece  on the Government's Digital Transformation Office was written by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Vivek Kundra, former White House CIO and current Executive Vice President for Salesforce, and published in The Australian on Tuesday, March 31.

Every day more jobs, industries and businesses are being hit by a technology revolution.

From the traditional letters business to bricks and mortar retailers, the Internet is disrupting legacy business models, exposing them to a level of competition that was unimaginable a few years ago. While these trends may be self-evident to many, technological change is now disrupting non-traded sectors of the economy. Ride sharing apps like Uber, ingogo and Go Catch are disrupting the taxi industry, Airbnb has added 10,000 rooms to the holiday rental market in Australia, and more than 11 million Australians now conduct their banking over the Internet.

While the Internet has been the great disruptor, smartphones have transformed the relationship between businesses and the customer. More than 12 million Australian adults have access to a smartphone, and most expect to be able to access just about any service instantly and effortlessly online. You can order a pizza through an app and track its progress, monitor the location of a train in real time, or book your next holiday with a few taps on the screen.

As more devices connect to the Internet the pace of change will accelerate. Over time, many legacy businesses will be forced to consider how to disrupt their own models or risk demise. The most successful businesses in the 21st century will be those that embrace digital disruption as an opportunity, and not something to guard against. Australia's banks are at the forefront of leveraging technology to disrupt the way they deliver traditional retail banking services, while Netflix disrupted its entire business model by moving from a DVD rental business to a streaming service.

Above all else, the success of services like Internet banking in Australia and Netflix in the US highlights the need for large incumbent organisations to embrace technology to deliver services in the way that customers actually want.

Even in non-traded parts of the economy, like government, digital disruption is placing pressure to deliver the types of services that users have come to expect from other industries. Governments can respond in two ways: they can continue with the status quo, making incremental gains here and there, or they can be more ambitious, taking a leadership role in the digital economy by transforming every aspect of service delivery. The approach of governments to date has been to tell citizens “there’s a form for that.” Well, it’s time they start saying “there’s an app for that.”

The government sector in Australia is a third of the economy so it makes sense to deliver services as efficiently and as cost effectively as possible. By making greater use of the Internet, governments will not only improve their own productivity, they’ll also save users time when dealing with government.

Continuing with the status quo isn’t good enough. Government needs to embrace digital and design services that are simpler and more convenient to use. That’s why the Australian Government has established a Digital Transformation Office (DTO) - to not only make government more accessible and responsive, but to also improve the quality and availability of digital services.

The DTO will be made up of small teams of developers, designers and researchers to design services that are so compelling that customers seek them out ahead of all other service delivery channels. The DTO will transform the way government embraces technology and invests in IT. Investments in IT should be strategic and enable innovation, not just buying more boxes and wiring to keep the machines running.

The DTO will work with the D5 group of leading digital governments – from South Korea to the UK - to learn from their successes, while also recognising exemplars closer to home. Services NSW, in conjunction with Salesforce, is disrupting the NSW Government's traditional service model and the Australian Government’s myGov, with more than six million users, will provide the DTO with an excellent platform to leverage.

The potential for the DTO to transform and disrupt is boundless. The only thing that will prevent the DTO from succeeding is our imagination, not technology itself. The first and most important step towards success is to put citizens at the heart of government operation.

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