Back in 1995, Newsweek magazine courageously went out on a limb and predicted the internet wouldn’t amount to much, mocking the idea that people would buy let alone read books or newspapers online. After all, who would take a laptop to the beach it wondered. The article then boldly proclaimed that no computer network would ever change how the way government works.
Nearly two decades later there’s a good chance you are reading these words on a computer at work on your desktop or maybe on a mobile, waiting for the bus. You might even be at the beach paying bills, posting photos on Instagram and ordering shoes from an etailer in Europe. All from that device in your hand.
Ironically, while the internet is still around, Newsweek for a while at least was not.
Devastated by the disruption that has cut a swathe through the media industry, the magazine was sold in 2010 for $1 and transitioned to an all digital format. While a print edition has been relaunched by the new owners last year, it’s success is yet to be proven.
It’s easy to be correct in hindsight, but being this spectacularly wrong is quite an accomplishment. Yet at the same time, I understand how analysts couldn’t anticipate the disruption that was soon to follow. It has caught almost everyone on the back foot. Everyone that is, except the consumer.
Consumers are adapting to technological change faster and easier than ever before. This is to say nothing of those who are growing up in a world saturated by technology the so called ‘digital natives.’ In return their expectations have changed. They expect better service instant, anytime, anywhere access. They know where to find the best deals, and get the best value for the money. They don’t expect excuses.
Yet for far too long government has relied on excuses. While the private sector has had to adapt to survive, governments often assume because they are the only show in town for their services, they are immune to market pressures.
In a period of technological disruption and change, the greatest threat is doing nothing. Fumbling for a response and assuming you will have the time to catch up is no longer possible.
In 2012, the NSW Government put in place what I believe will be come to be seen as the critical foundation stone for our digital ambitions our ICT strategy.
For the first time, the government’s ICT agenda was more than a series of ad hoc, miscalculated and mismatched programs. Instead, this is a whole of government vision that reforms service delivery and seeks value for money. It focuses on services, engaged citizens, using cloud technology, leveraging open data and upskilling the public service.
With the foundations in place, it’s now time to move to the next level a vision that was articulated in our latest strategy update called “Digital Plus.” This update represents the broader thinking that is required to prioritise a digital approach to everything we do which for us means putting the customer at the centre of service delivery.
In the government sector we often talk about doing more with less, and this is true. But it’s not the complete picture. We should be aiming to do better with different. Better service delivery, better apps, better engagement. And we should be using different technologies, ones that offer anytime anywhere delivery. Different platforms that adapt to the needs of the user. Different approaches that source from the crowd.
There are three key areas I would like NSW Government ICT to focus on going forward.
Firstly, to more aggressively purchase and consume as-a-service models of technology delivery, both for cost imperatives but also to get us out of the business of technology, where I don’t think governments belong.
Secondly, I’d like to see more services delivered on the mobile platform.
In the past, “don’t leave home without it” referred to your credit card. Today it refers to your smartphone and as they get more popular, to smart wearable technology.
By 2020, 80% of the world’s population will have access to a smartphone. While every government needs to be digitally inclusive, there is no doubt that designing for a mobile world is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but a must-do.
Last year we introduced a government app under the Service NSW banner with some basic features - you can expect to see more transactions enabled via this platform.
Offering digital choice via mobile is also on our agenda. Each year we issue nearly 3 million physical licences in a number of different categories should the Baird Government be re-elected, we’d like to see this process streamlined and the choice of digital licences offered to those who want one. I’ve asked our Digital Council to explore how we could deliver licences in a digital format, and address the regulatory, privacy and security concerns it raises. We’ll start with the simple licences first and progress to the more complex ones after that.
Thirdly, I’d like a renewed focus on open data. We collect a range of data across a number of key areas. I’d like to see more government data opened to the public, to the app community and to external organisations. Not only does it help keep government transparent and accountable, it also liberates data to create new business opportunities for the private sector. We’ve already announced that should we be elected, we’ll be making property data such as the sales history for purchased properties available for free online.
There are many challenges that remain with government ICT. Moving away from a silo mentality where each agency does its own thing. Convincing CIOs that their role has changed from ‘keeping the lights on’ to delivering business solutions. And finally, driving an ‘as a service’ mentality in an area which is notorious for building, buying and maintaining it’s own technology.
Yet despite this, I am profoundly optimistic that the NSW Government can become the kind of smarter and smaller government is needs to be. Unlike our unfortunate friends at Newsweek, we cannot ignore the future we see coming.
There are no excuses, only opportunities.
Dominic Perrottet is the NSW Minister for Finance and Services