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EXCLUSIVE - Customer service, Data-sharing and Trust in government - Digital transformation in the NSW government

          The New South Wales OpenGov Leadership Forum in Sydney on the 13th of September provided a platform for intense, stimulating discussions regarding the challenges faced by government in the digital transformation journey and how to tackle those problems.

          Mohit Sagar, Editor-in-chief at OpenGov kick-started proceedings, reiterating the imperative of digital transformation. Once upon a time, IT was considered an expense. Now it is vital. The need of the hour is for leaders who will attack the root cause of the problems and execute.

          Mr Sagar used an example of underused incubators for premature babies in Nepal. What was missing was a link. A US$25 sleeping bag enabled people in remote villages to get the premature babies to the hospital with the incubators and usage shot up.

          Damon Rees, Chief Information and Digital Officer, New South Wales government (above) gave the keynote address. Mr. Rees highlighted the biggest challenge around digital government, how should government take this opportunity to really rethink the services provided and the way the agencies provide those services.

          The biggest risk is to take the things which have always been done, to put them on the phone and say that government has digitally transformed. He provided three examples of how actual rethinking is leveraging the new and fantastic capabilities that digital provides.

          The first was Opal (A smartcard for public transport). Earlier there was a set of independent businesses providing different types of transport through buses, trains and ferries. It would have been very easy for each of those businesses to put in some form of digital solution for ticketing. To the credit of government, they actually took a new approach to bring those services together and change the way people travel.

          FuelCheck (FuelCheck is an online tool providing consumers with real-time fuel price information covering every service station across NSW) is a great example of ensuring that citizens are getting a good deal and markets are operating effectively, without imposing numerous inspections. It removes the information asymmetry in the market and helps customers take informed decisions.

          The third example was that of the State Library of New South Wales. It had one of the largest collections of wartime journals in Australia. The first step was to get them online, to digitise them, so that more people could access the information. The next step was to create a platform that enabled crowdsourcing the transcription of these diaries. 600 people came in and transcribed.           Information was cross-refefrences and patterns were found. It created a treasure-trove of information for researchers which didn’t exist before.

                    Mr Rees also spoke about the three areas of focus, customer service, being digital inside and data. Across all parts of government that data is a huge untapped asset.                              

          Guest Speaker, Zaqy Mohamad (above), Chairman of Government, Parliamentary Committee for Communications & Information shared Singapore’s Smart Nation journey, explaining the context behind some of the initiatives being taken. Mr Mohamad shared two examples of driving visible outcomes within areas of focus, transport and healthcare.

          He spoke about the driverless train systems which are already in place and about the autonomous cars which are being tested. He also talked about the importance of the continuous learning process, like the learnings gleaned from recent stoppage in the driverless trains due to signal glitches and how the learnings could be applicable for the autonomous cars as well. He talked about a pilot involving the world’s first taxi service that allows public commute.

          For a Smart Nation, data collection is of paramount importance. He gave the example of using automatic electronic gantries. The charges are determined by utilisation of the road, using economics to balance road usage. Now Singapore is shifting towards a satellite-based system, where a vehicle can be tracked anywhere and charges determined by road usage patterns. This will also be used for parking. Onboard units will provide real-time information on traffic jams, parking information. Instead of paying a flat road tax, you pay for what you use.

          Singapore is expected to have 20% of its population over the age of 65 in the next 15 years. Caring for the elderly will be a core part of the Smart Nation program. Mr Mohamad talked about installing sensors which would send alerts in case something goes wrong at home.

          Following multiple interactive roundtable discussions around social engineering, public sector efficiency, building a culture of innovation, embracing digital disruption and emerging technologies like Blockchain, the post-lunch session saw a series of panel discussions, with enthusiastic participation from the audience.

          One area of focus driving digital transformation is customer service. It is not just about better services. It might be a completely new type of service. It is not always a case of if you build, they will come. Customers have to be enticed. For that agencies need to be really mindful of demography and customer segmentation.

          Agencies need to make it easy for people to get online. Authentication is key in that area and choices need to be provided in order to enhance convenience for users.

                    Omni-channel 24/7 delivery of services would be crucial. Innovations like virtual assistants would also add to the convenience of users by answering queries and eliminating time spent in talking to human operators. But it is also important to remember that any organisation’s digital strategy must cater for non-digital channels. Some clients in some circumstances will non-digital services. Equity of access is an essential criterion for designing digital delivery of services.                              

          From a business point of view, providing better service to the customer is most important. From a security point of view, the stress is on sustainability and reliability.

          Repeatedly, voices were heard stressing on the importance of informed trade-offs. Differences in conception of privacy between generations was discussed. But there was a consensus that privacy statements have to be simplified, with drastic slashing of opaque, legal jargon. Organisations need to have clarity in their communication to citizens regarding how the data is going to be used to improve their lives. People will forgive honest mistakes or missteps. What they won’t accept is attempts to obfuscate. Clear messaging which engages the people realistically, so that they come to understand that allowing the use of their data is safe, fair, and is well-balanced.

          The potential of data analytics to bring about substantial improvement in society and individual lives is undisputed. There were many examples shared, including one where data on foster families enabled social services to remove 50 children from unfit environments within the first week.

          The third theme which came up time and again was the need for “Real” digital transformation, rather than addition of superficial elements like a good-looking website without any modification of processes.

                    Cultural change plays a key role in that. People need to be encouraged to try new things even if it ends in failure. Also, while keeping your eye on the big prize, it might be important to start with small things, to notch up a few quick wins that provide proof-of-concept and valuable learnings for full scale implementations later on .                              

          Data sharing is also essential for digital transformation and for that different agencies across levels of government need to work together. Standardisation and differences in level of security and security policies can be obstacles in the way of collaboration between departments or agencies.

          In Australia, better digital integration and collaboration across government is being driven at a federal level by the DTO. When agencies are building new systems, they are being designed to ensure that they can be scalable at a whole of government level. In New south wales, open data policy is facilitating collaboration as agencies are identifying and classifying their information and data sets.

          Development cycles for IT have been shortening. Data which couldn’t be collected, stored or analysed before can now be analysed, stored and processed cheaply. The opportunities are huge. With the right leadership, fostering a culture of customer-focused innovation, the sky is the limit.  

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