GovInnovate Brief

3 challenges Australia needs to address before rolling out better digital services

Posted by GovInnovate Team on 17-Jun-2016 12:04:16


The Productivity Commission Research Paper that was released this month titled Digital Disruption: What do governments need to do outlines in its key findings that Australia ranks poorly within OECD measures.

Although there is some early adoption of low cost and easy to replicate technologies, the Productivity Commissions Paper shows us that Australian digital maturity could be described more closely to a fledgling toe-dip in the water.

This post will look at the reasons why Australia is lagging behind, while trying to address the biggest challenges we need to face before we become ‘the best’ at delivering digital services.


Key findings on part 1: Digital and disruptive

The focus on ‘disruption’ here as a catalyst for change doesn’t relate to simply any technology that is innovative in some way. The report outlines very specific ways with which disruption should be encouraged, and in a way, you could say that this paper is a subtle beginning to benchmarking digital disruption.

The two main aspects of digitalisation aims to reduce transactional costs, while also generating data. If agencies can accomplish this, there will be follow on effects, including: 

  • Increasing the automation of tasks
  • Allowing new business models facilitated by digital platforms, cloud computing and sensor technology
  • Bringing household and other assets into the market economy

Interestingly, Australian households and consumers are generally fast adopters of new technologies, with almost 80% of Australians surveyed by Deloitte in 2015 owning a mobile phone.

The smartphone is such a dominant device in Australia that Aussie consumers have become renowned for their love of devices including smartphones, tablets, laptops and fitness bands. So why then are businesses and governments so slow to adopt digital technologies? 

The jury is still out on this one, but there are a few leading theories as to why our institutions aren’t taking the digital plunge as swiftly as our citizens. Let’s take a look at the 3 biggest challenges.


1. Lack of infrastructure and fast internet

One of the main reasons may be that Australia currently lacks the infrastructure and connectivity required to support progressive technologies and new service models. Slow internet speeds toppled with expensive data plans has pushed Australia behind other developing countries.

In 2015, the government digital sector was ranked as the worst performing Australian sector, although there has been recent progress with the development of the myGov portal, there is still much room for improvement.


2. Lack of smart and connected cities

The second reason may also be the idea that Australia is not yet up to speed in creating smart and connected cities.

The Financial Review covered this in 2015, stating that Australia is lagging behind because Australian councils are not using these new technologies in the right way.

“So far the North Sydney Council has implemented sensors similar to the ones in Santander, but, instead of alerting drivers around the area to available car parks, they are aimed at making it easier for parking inspectors to fine overstayers.”

If the aim of a smart city is to measure information from things such as garbage cans, air pollution levels, traffic congestion and available parking spaces, the above example from North Sydney shows that the Council here is not using the data to ‘serve the people’.

Dan Hill, of urban innovators the Future Cities Catapult, says a smart city needs to be built from "the bottom-up or [through a] citizen-led approach" – meaning the foundation has to be inhabitants' well-being, and they need to agree with these solutions and embrace them.

3. Lack of responsive law cultures

The third reason may be what has been coined as ‘law lag’, the idea that legal structures always find themselves behind scientific and technical change. A good example that demonstrates this is the potential for drone delivery.

Even if we are able to use the drone technology in a safe and risk-free way, it will take the years for the law to catch up with this. Australia Post has estimated that it won’t be another ten years before Australia gets the ability to revolutionise parcel delivery.


To successfully approach this hurdle, it will be essential for legal cultures to remain relevant by continuously reflecting on the relationship between law, science and technology and keeping informed and abreast of changes in science and technology and public attitudes towards them. 

Australian agencies will need to be aware of the issue of ‘law lag’ and not let it deter progressive discussion on the regulation of science and technology, which would push the discussion on new technology out of the hands of those creating it and into the hands of legislators.

Image source.

To quote the English poet, William Blake; “Great things are done when men and mountains meet”, the above challenges may seem like hurdles to digital disruption, but they are nothing we cannot face.

Are these really challenges to building better digital services? Let us know in the comments to share your thoughts.

Topics: Smart Cities, law lag, national broadband network, productivity commission, digital maturity

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