Almost half of consumers see government policy as the reason Australia is being left behind in the digital economy stakes globally, according to new research.

The finding is contained in the government sector report for EY's Digital Australia: State of the Nation, which underlines a widening gap between citizens' expectations and the digital leadership shown by the government at all levels.

"Governments, especially the Federal Government, control policy levers that can improve Australia's digital status," EY said.

"Australia is at risk of falling behind ... leading international jurisdictions, unless it can provide the foundational level of access and connectivity required to support the roll out of progressive technologies and new digital government service models."

Leading jurisdictions, according to EY, include Singapore, United Kingdom, Belgium and Iceland.

The report noted that the Government could advance Australia's digital standing by being a role model for "open, participatory and innovative government that achieves improved social and economic outcomes through citizen-centric service delivery and agile policy design".

Poor user experience

Some steps had been taken on that front, which EY welcomed – including this year's establishment of the digital transformation office to drive ICT investment to enable digital service delivery, myGov and welfare service apps.

But the user experience to date left much to be desired.

"Despite some agencies reporting impressive take-up volumes of their online services, Australians remain highly critical of their digital experience with government," EY said.

"Almost a third of citizens nominated the public sector as providing their worst digital experience [by sector], putting it at the bottom of our national rankings."

EY found citizens aged between 18 and 24 were most critical of the digital experience offered by governments in Australia.

"More is required to meet citizen expectations by improving the digital experience for users accessing government services," EY noted.

"With citizens increasingly expecting to see value for taxpayer dollars through an 'anytime, anyhow' digital experience, there is a need for government to provide innovative points of engagement."

EY said those innovative engagement points needed to offer more than simply being the "online" version of a previously in-person offering.

"Digital services need to be optimised across the front and back end to provide a positive, personalised and streamlined interaction between the customer and one (or more) government organisations," EY said.

A disjointed approach

High internet penetration in Australia – both fixed and mobile – and increasing comfort with online self-service should theoretically be driving people away from bricks and mortar service counters and call centres.

"These channels are an increasingly resource and cost-intensive channel for many departments and agencies and a source of great dissatisfaction for customers due to lengthy, wait times," EY noted.

"Yet, in practice, this has not always been the case.

"The failure to design a multichannel end-to-end service or interaction that can be fulfilled in a digital channel often results in leakage into more costly channels. For example, customers start online but have to contact a call centre or go into a shopfront to have a claim/enquiry resolved.

"This is not only extremely irritating for service users, it's also highly inefficient."

EY called on the Federal Government to expand its myGov platform to cover more jurisdictions – specifically state and local government – and for expansion of the service to occur "at a much faster pace" than it is now.