NSW revamps project funding, seeks to end ‘tech spaghetti’

Service NSW building out ‘Tell Us Once’ capabilities

Credit: 20066817 © Evgenya Schcipanskaya Dreamstime.com

The New South Wales government this year embarked on the “biggest and boldest” machinery of government changes that Victor Dominello has witnessed, the MP last week told a Committee for Economic Development of Australia luncheon in Sydney. 

Dominello, who earlier this year was appointed the state’s inaugural minister for customer service, said that the NSW government has replaced committees other than Cabinet and its Expenditure Review Committee (ERC) with a single ‘Delivery and Performance Committee’.

‘DaPCo’ is chaired by Dominello and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, with the state’s deputy premier, treasurer and the deputy leader of the National Party comprising its other members.

“DaPCo’s role is to ask the hard questions on delivery – how are you actually going to get it done?” Dominello said.

“If you want money, then show me that you’ve mapped out the data architecture, show me that you understand your customers’ needs, and show me that you’re following the Digital Design Standard. I want to see working prototypes of services, not big business cases.”

In the past major IT projects began with pitching a “big business case” to Cabinet’s ERC “asking for hundreds of millions of dollars upfront and reams and reams of paperwork to back it up”.

Now any project that has a delivery aspect, including IT projects, needs to first go to DaPCo.

“In DaPCo I have three main questions,” Dominello said. “What is the data architecture, what is the digital design, and what is the customer lens? If these are covered off – then you can go to Treasury and ask for money based on a ROI or cost–benefit ratio.”

“It’s not shiny but it’s one of the biggest enablers for digital transformation and service delivery – which is why we’re committed to getting it right,” the minister said.

Along with changes to how projects are being funded, the minister said that the government is working on making it easier to access services, including by building out ‘Tell Us Once’ capabilities through Service NSW.

“With our counterparts in the federal government, we’re making big advances in designing services around complex life events,” the minister said.

“We’ve already launched a prototype to help people through the end–to–end journey at pivotal moments in life, like what to do when somebody dies, so you don’t have to go to 10 different government departments.”

The state government is also investing in building capability in the public sector, he said.

Technology spaghetti

In the past government has “delivered technology projects that are viewed through the lens of government requirements, not the needs of the customer,” Dominello told the CEDA event: Large projects that take four or five years and rely on “big bang” releases, with the solution defined upfront.

By the time a service is delivered “it’s too difficult to use because it was never tested with actual customers along the way,” he said. “What happens next? Well, along comes another give year IT project to fix it. Rinse and repeat.”

Over time, governments end up creating “technology spaghetti”.

Governments are characterised by having multiple platforms to deliver identical functions, such as accepting payments, sending notifications and issuing licences.

“The systems don’t talk to each other, the data is all over the place, and they were never designed to be changed quickly, so you can’t respond to your customer feedback,” he said.

Customer expectations have changed, and, thanks to cloud, so has the technology to meet them, Dominello said.

“Long gone are the days where we have to buy our own servers, run our own data centres, and be stuck releasing software only twice a year,” the minister said.

“Thanks to the cloud, I can spin up vast amounts of computing power in seconds, and run advanced data analytics and machine learning on demand.”

NSW has become a “world leader in government service delivery,” he argued.

Since its launch in 2013, Service NSW has “dramatically improved the way people interact with government for things like getting a driver’s licence, or accessing our huge range of cost of living programs,” he said.

The agency has since expanded its remit to supporting small businesses as well as individuals and households.

Dominello oversaw the 2015 launch of the NSW government Data Analytics Centre, which he said is using data-derived insights to “solve our state’s strategic challenges and improve the lives of our citizens.”

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