Australia’s digital government efforts will be overhauled with a national integration infrastructure, consolidation of redundant data and data silos, and transparent progress scorecards under a new 2030 Data and Digital Government Strategy (DDGS).

Intended to provide overarching guidance for both the Australian Public Service (APS) and the industries with which it engages, the new strategy outlines a range of plans to update government digital transformation efforts that are aligned around five core objectives – including delivering for all people and businesses, providing simple and seamless services, and building the data and digital foundations to support a government “for the future” that is “trusted and secure”.

Built around the outcome of six weeks of public and industry consultations – including town halls, roundtables with academics and community groups, and 117 online submissions – the strategy has been designed to address concerns about issues such as cyber security and privacy; improving workforce capability including a focus on accessibility and inclusion; and development of a “measurable, outcomes-driven approach” to digital government.

“This strategy represents the maturing of the Australian Government’s digital transformation and the recognition of data and digital as vital to delivering for people and business,” Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) CEO Chris Fechner said in announcing the new strategy.

“Going forward, the strategy provides a blueprint for government investments in data and digital to be coordinated, driving greater impact and effectiveness, and revealing where future efforts should be focused.”

Specific technology goals outlined in the strategy include improvements in operability to remove data silos; strengthening oversight and advice functions; reducing storage of the same data across multiple systems; and updating legislation, standards, and policies to improve the APS’s use of data and digital technologies “safely, easily and while maintaining public trust”.

These and other objectives will be pursued through a range of initiatives – outlined in a formal roadmap – with deliverables for next year set to include an Australian Government Data Catalogue and a second round of the APS Capability Reinvestment Fund.

By 2025, the strategy will expand to include Home Care Reform; the creation of a Data Inventories Pilot Program, Australian National Data Integration Infrastructure, and Data Ethics Framework; implementation of a Digital Services Monitoring Pilot Program, NAA Check-Up Survey, APS Digital Workforce Plan, stronger Notifiable Data Breaches scheme, and a range of initiatives set to emerge from the government’s response to the Privacy Act 1988 review.

Building on work already done – including the recent launch of the government’s new Charter of Partnerships and Engagement and its recently updated Digital Service Standard 2.0 – the new strategy is “a call to action for the APS,” Minister for Finance Katy Gallagher wrote in introducing the seven-year plan.

“We want to provide better services that are easy to use, that save people time and money, and that are safe and secure,” she explained.

“People told us about the importance of trust in the public services, and that no one should be left behind as government services move online.”

Plugging the trust gap

The new strategy represents a chance for the government to reinvigorate a digital transformation agenda that has stumbled in recent years, with the DTA targeted for reform years ago and CEO Chris Fechner brought onboard to right the ship in 2021.

Last year, an Australian National Audit Office report savaged the DTA’s procurement processes as “ineffective” and “unethical” due to shortcomings including multiple breaches of Commonwealth Procurement Rules – months after ACS called for changes to government procurement to boost diversity and inclusion, improve professional standards, and boost sovereign capability.

Hot on the heels of controversy over the government’s purchase of a quantum computer from a US-based company, a new Senate inquiry will investigate procurement processes and the effectiveness of efforts to build sovereign technology capability in Australia’s tech sector.

Increasing local industry support and skills development will also factor into the execution of the new strategy, with the report noting that “current digital transformation methods and investment models do not reflect contemporary procurement practices.”

“This reduces the government’s ability to respond and innovate,” it says, noting that the government’s heavy reliance on outside expertise had allowed the APS to reach the point where nearly half of its digital and ICT workforce were contractors, service providers, and consultants.

“Building a data-driven, digitally-enabled Government depends on the expertise within the APS,” the report notes, “yet years of outsourcing have increased the APS’ reliance on external capability.”

“Rebuilding the APS’ data and digital workforce requires striking a balance when engaging external capability, tapping into its existing talent, and better supporting those who are under-represented in those roles…. This will be key to future proofing the APS.”