GovInnovate Brief

Canberra’s first CDO asks 3 simple questions on delivering great digital services

Posted by GovInnovate Team on 23-Nov-2015 10:22:27


So I’m the new kid on the block.

After four weeks as the inaugural Chief Digital Officer I don’t yet have all the answers, but I have nearly figured out the questions – and in the hypefest that surrounds everything digital, this seems like a critical first step.

Below I’ve outlined the questions the ACT Government needs to ask before moving ahead with the digital transformation strategy.

Question 1: How can we take a single citizen through the maze that is government?

The age-old complaint is that public services are siloed – agencies don’t talk to each other. Governments provide a set of discrete services so it is not surprising that we have adopted vertical applications to service particular needs. Health Management, Building Approvals, Motor Vehicle Licensing; these are very different stacks. Every attempt I know to comprehensively join those applications together with one “service bus” has been outrageously expensive or an abject failure and most often both. So onto the next question.

Question 2: Who are you and how much information do you want to share?

Citizens will post their breakfast on social media but can be reluctant to be as open with government agencies. Why do people trust foreign multinationals hell bent on monetising their intimate details, over the local administration who (in my experience) genuinely care for their well being?

And even if you get past the identity hurdles, there is still the maze of “role”? Am I accessing my personal transactions, company transactions or am I someone’s accountant lodging a return on their behalf? This question only poses more nuanced questions.

Question 3: How can we balance the risk of digital delivery?

In the red corner, we have “You took a chance and wasted taxpayer’s money”. And slouching in the blue corner is “Why is government so slow and moribund with old-fashioned and mindless processes?” Perhaps we need greater risk intelligence. RQ is inherent in the digital mindset and it takes personal courage to not retreat into the safety of risk aversion.

Do you know the legend of ‘Boiling the frog’? Government approach to cloud can be like this. The temperature in your local data centre is rising and the only question is when and how to jump out. Choosing to stay is choosing a long soporific death.

I’m not sure if it is reassuring or intimidating that the “big questions” are not all that new, but maybe taking a “digital mindset” will provide new insights into how to solve them. It is not as if there is a shortage of ideas; Canberra has more innovators per square kilometre than the Apple Campus! The challenge is centred around our capacity to harness digital innovation in a cohesive, sustainable and affordable “Whole of Government” delivery model – without creating a monster that turns and destroys us all.

I am not out of questions, and by GovInnovate 2015 I will have been in the job three months. I will have moved from questions to answers. Digital is the catalyst for different dreams. I anticipate a few sleepless nights...


About the author:


Jon Cumming was recently appointed as the ACT’s first Chief Digital Officer to facilitate digital innovation in the capital. He will be delivering a presentation at GovInnovate, 24-26 November 2015, on digital transformation within the ACT Government. You can find out more about GovInnovate 2015 here.  


Topics: eGovernment, Citizen Engagement, Public Services, Digital Delivery, Digital Transformation

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