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EXCLUSIVE – Keynote address by Damon Rees at NSW OpenGov Leadership Forum – What lies ahead in the NSW Government’s digital journey

EXCLUSIVE - Keynote address by Damon Rees at NSW OpenGov Leadership Forum - What lies ahead in the NSW Government’s digital journey
EXCLUSIVE - Keynote address by Damon Rees at NSW OpenGov Leadership Forum - What lies ahead in the NSW Government’s digital journey

File photo of Mr. Damon Rees from NSW OpenGov Leadership Forum 2016

At the New South Wales (NSW) OpenGov Leadership Forum on July 11, Mr. Damon Rees, Chief Information and Digital Officer, NSW Government, delivered the keynote address on ‘Delivering and enabling world-class public services across government for the people of NSW’.

Speaking to a room of senior public sector ICT executives from across the NSW Government, Mr. Rees provided a brief overview where NSW is in its digital transformation journey and the path ahead[1].

World class government services are not just about the technology. They are about infrastructure assets, people, processes and policies that we set that underpin service delivery.

Mr. Rees said, “I think everyone in this room will recognise that technology and digital permeates every element of that, whether it’s the tools that we are putting in the hands of our staff who are dealing with our customers, whether it’s the data that underpins the decisions that we make around infrastructure planning and operation. Technology is in every part of how we are running government.”

“I think the good news is that by any measure, NSW is in a pretty good position at the moment. Certainly domestically, we are recognised as the leader around digital for a state government. And I think increasingly, internationally people are looking at us and really learning from and observing what we are doing,” he added.

He recalled that in his interview when he was joining the NSW Government, he was asked what he thought the biggest challenges would be. He hadn’t worked for government previously.  But in every other organisation he had worked for, the big challenge that people were facing is the quantum acceleration of customer expectations that has taken place over the last ten years. Organisations like Google and Apple have redefined people’s expectations around what they should expect from the organisations they deal with.

“So, when we think about world class government services, we have really got to think about the bar that people are holding us to, and the things that people have come to expect from that in terms of our ability to understand and to predict and to really tailor experiences around what they need,” Mr. Rees explained.

The NSW Government has built the foundations. Programmes like GovDC[2] have been incredibly successful. Programmes like Service NSW[3] have shown a government can pivot from a product and transaction centric approach to a truly customer-centric approach. Mr. Rees also highlighted the excellent work done by eHealth NSW.

While saying that there is a need to reaffirm the government’s commitment to these successful experiments, Mr. Rees brought up the other category of experiments, in areas where the future is less well understood. An example could be the role of Blockchain in government, how it could change the government’s approach to regulation and alter the way that government participates in and curates markets. While chalking up current successes, explorations in these frontier areas can help sow the seeds for future value.

Three priorities

Mr. Rees went on to talk about the three priority areas that the NSW Government wants to double down on. The first is customer experience around dealing with government. Significant progress has been made on that front. Going forward, the government will not only continue to improve each service but also put in place the information flows required to better engage with and understand the customers.

In this context, the Feedback Assist initiative, which enables real time customer engagement, is being rolled out across NSW at the moment.

“It makes it effortless for customers to tell us where we are going right and where we are going wrong and to provide us feedback around how we can do even better. And Feedback Assist will get that in front of the right person in government. It will help that person resolve that issue or turn around that feedback as quickly as possible and close the loop with citizens,” Mr. Rees said.

Digital Identity is another complex space, which has to be addressed in order to deliver world-class customer service by understanding the customers and developing the ability to anticipate their needs and meet those needs even before they are expressed.

The second area is around data. Data is having a profound impact on the way decisions are made, policies are set and services are run. The NSW Data Analytics Centre is trying to solve some of the most complex problems through data and fantastic work is happening through business intelligence in many parts of government.

But at the moment, it is still difficult and complex to share data fluidly across government with the right person for the right purpose, Mr. Rees acknowledged. So, the Data Ecosystem being established by the NSW Government is providing a much more comprehensive way for sharing data within the government and across borders with partners in other jurisdictions.

The third area is digital on the inside.

Mr. Rees elaborated on the idea, “Digital for us is not apps and pretty websites. It is a genuine step change in the customer experience that people can have. And to get that right you must go down into the things that we do and the way that we do them and the policies and the processes that underpin that.”

Digital has to be an integral part of the government’s internal operations. A range of experiments are starting to be run there to see if things like digital invoicing throughout government could dramatically uplift the government’s own effectiveness and also, act as a catalyst driving digital invoicing for the broader market.

Four enablers

The first is technology. Mr. Rees said, “If we don’t have the platforms, if we don’t have the standards and the architecture, if we don’t define our interfaces correctly, so that we can actually bring the pieces of NSW technology together where we need to, then that’s actually going to be a real handbrake. It’s going to be an accelerator if we get that right.”

The government also needs to look into the big legacy challenges. If the government wants to do ‘fabulous things’, then the rich legacy systems that hold the critical information, business rules and processes for the state, have to be modernised. The NSW Government is working out how to step into that.

The next enabler is the legislation. To have legislation now that fits the purpose for digital government is an important enabler.  The Electronic Transactions Legislation Amendment (Government Transactions) Bill 2017 was passed in June this year to clean up several of the impediments to digital government that existed across various acts and legislations. It modernises around 53 Acts and five regulations that currently contain requirements for traditional, outdated, or paper-based processes

The third one is cybersecurity. Mr. Rees said, “Again, if we want to do these tremendous things through technology and with information then our ability to really ensure and deliver on trust for our citizens every single day is absolutely paramount.”

Historically, cybersecurity has been an agency by agency accountability. But that doesn’t make sense any longer. “We are joined up around government. We are joined up certainly around customers who see us as NSW Government and not hundreds of different organisations. We are joined up around common elements of infrastructure, joined up around the information that we share and our ability to protect ourselves, and to respond when we have challenges,” Mr. Rees said elaborating the nature of joint responsibility.

Recognising the need for a shift in its approach, the NSW Government appointed a new whole-of-government Chief Information Security Officer (GCISO) in March 2017. The GCISO will bring together the network of security capability from across government and identify gaps that need to be plugged.

The final enabler is the government’s digital delivery capability. Mr. Rees said that there is a growing recognition and acceptance that to deliver great outcomes for customers the government need to work differently and NSW has started on this journey better than many jurisdictions.

The creation of the Customer Service Commissioner role has helped to lift the government above the activities and tasks that all the individual departments and individuals have and helped centre the conversation back on to the customer in a much more consistent fashion.

But it has to be taken further, in terms of thinking more clearly around customers, developing a better set of habits around getting into a room with those customers and testing assumptions with them. The government must work through and shape up the solutions and services being delivered hand-in-hand with the customers.


“If I look across NSW, I see more and more examples of initiatives that are mobilising in this way, more and more examples where we are thinking about what’s the product we are delivering, the service we are delivering for the customer and how do we shape it with them. More and more teams are starting to drag forward their riskiest assumptions within the initiatives that they are trying to run and saying how can I really test this with people, and how can I learn from that very, very early in the piece. I think this will be our biggest shift. I think we have already started which is great. I think we have a long way to go, to be famous as a government which is really agile and customer centric in the way that we deliver outcomes and to sustain that at the scale and complexity that we represent. If we can be famous for that, I think that’s something we can all be incredibly proud of,” Mr. Rees said.

Describing the potential benefits of success transformation, Mr. Rees said that a 10-20% improvement in effectiveness can have a huge impact. If the government can catch at an early stage one or two of the projects which shouldn’t be run because the assumptions are wrong and then is able to pivot, pause or stop, the dividends could be enormous.

Envisioning a bright future for the NSW Government’s digital transformation, he concluded “The good news is that we are already on that journey. I think we have got the talent, I think we have got the will, we have got the ability to continue to make that shift as NSW and really stand out internationally.”

[1]In May 2017, the NSW Government launched Digital.NSW, its new digital government strategy.

[2] GovDC is based on the idea of ICT being readily available “on tap”, or “as-a-service”, allow large and small agencies to access additional data centre resources without major capital expenditure. All agencies are required to move into, or migrate their ICT into GovDC by August 2017.

[3] Service NSW delivers a broad range of NSW Government services and transactions through a single portal.


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