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the Parliamentary Library’s Cyber and Digital Research Group
Politics and Public Administration
Many governments around the world are undertaking digital
However, there is debate about the extent to which government initiatives could
be characterised as ‘digital transformation’.
In broadly chronological order, this Quick Guide provides
brief background information on a variety of recent and current initiatives in
the Australian federal public sector associated with ‘digital transformation’,
as well as links to relevant sources of information.
No assessments are made of the extent to which the
initiatives meet the characteristics of ‘digital transformation’, as defined in
the next section.
What is ‘digital transformation’?
Although in relatively widespread use, the meanings of the
terms ‘digitisation’, ‘digitalisation’ and ‘digital transformation’ are not precisely
defined or agreed upon. The working definitions below have been adapted
from Forbes media and the views of a
senior information manager at the International Atomic Energy Commission.
Digitisation is the conversion of analog data
(recorded on media such as paper, magnetic tape, or microfiche) into a digital
form. Benefits of digital forms include: reduced storage costs; improved
access, searchability, and transferability; and the possibility of further
processing of data that was previously difficult to access or collate.
Digitalisation refers to the automation made possible
by digital processes. Efficiencies can result when digital technologies enable previously
separate processes to be linked and integrated, thereby lowering production
costs, and creating options for new customer experiences (for example,
providing customers with access to an online inventory or catalogue). As a
generalisation, these services tend to augment or accelerate existing business
operations without changing their fundamentals.
Digital transformation goes further, challenging the
structure of an operation and its business model. Digital transformation
enables services to be performed in completely new ways, or enables entirely
new services to be devised and delivered. However, aspects of these transformative
processes can pose challenges for employment and privacy arrangements developed
in the pre-digital era. For example:
- based on business models made possible by digital technology,
AirBnB and Uber offer services that have profoundly changed the industries in
which they operate and
- internet-based platforms such as Google and Facebook have created
new and still-evolving economic ecosystems in which data and its ‘shareability’
may be the main assets.
Australian federal public sector
initiatives discussed in this Quick Guide
Initiatives covered in this Quick Guide include:
- the Australian Government’s Digital Transformation Agenda
Digital Transformation Agency
- Digital Transformation Strategy and government services
- ICT procurement
- Digital Continuity 2020 and Digital Records Transformation
- Regulation as a Platform
- Digital identity
- data sharing by government entities and
- cybersecurity in government entities
Government’s Digital Transformation Agenda
In 2014 the Government conducted an Audit
of Australian Government ICT that reviewed investment over the previous
three years on: business-as-usual ICT; and ICT projects.
Since the 2015–16
Budget the Australian Government has been progressing a Digital
Transformation Agenda to ‘drive innovation and make it easier for
individuals and businesses to access government services’.
The Cabinet’s Digital
Transformation and Public Sector Modernisation Committee has
oversight of the Digital Transformation Agenda. The
Digital Council (ADC),
which is similar to a ministerial council of the Council of Australian Governments, performs an
inter-governmental coordinating role and first met in September 2018. The ADC is responsible for ‘overseeing
the development of Australia’s digital capability’ and its purpose
is to ‘establish
proposals for better cross-government collaboration on data and digital
transformation to drive smarter service delivery and improved policy outcomes’.
Service Modernisation Fund
In a novel development for the Efficiency
Dividend, the 2016–17
Budget provided that $500 million of projected savings would be
reinvested in reforms ‘such as automation of public services and business
re-engineering’. In 2016–17 funding was included in the forward estimates, but
without specific details. Although not a formal component of the Digital
Transformation Agenda, the Public
Service Modernisation Fund outlined in the 2017–18
Budget is funding a number of initiatives expected to ‘deliver quality
government services at lower cost and use leading technology and collaborative
approaches to address complex problems facing society’. Over three years from
- $350 million is for ‘transformation and innovation’, which
comprises better use of data within government; streamlining and improving user
access to government services; strengthening APS workforce capability; and more
efficient corporate services and
- $150 million is for ‘agency sustainability’, which aims to
support ‘a number of agencies [in] their transition to more modern and
sustainable operating models’.
Established in July 2015, the Digital Transformation Office (DTO) was an
executive agency reporting to the Minister for Communications. The DTO’s
inaugural leader, Paul Shetler, was recruited from the UK’s Government Digital
Service. The role and function of the DTO was described as follows:
The DTO will comprise a small team of developers, designers,
researchers and content specialists working across government to develop and coordinate
the delivery of digital services. The DTO will operate more like a start-up
than a traditional government agency, focussing on end-user needs in developing
The DTO was replaced, in November
2016, by the Digital
Transformation Agency (DTA), an executive agency in
the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio. At that time, the then-Minister
for Human Services outlined
the DTA’s new role:
- provide strategic and policy leadership across the Government on
ICT and digital service delivery, including ICT procurement policy
- set standards for government ICT and digital service delivery
- coordinate funding of ICT projects
- lead an ICT program management office for the Government and
- provide expertise and advice across Government on ICT and digital
As noted by the Senate
Finance and Public Administration References Committee in March 2018, the
DTA’s role is broader than that of the former DTO:
The DTA has an oversight and advisory role. It has oversight
of all ICT projects worth greater than $10 million that are either being
developed, or that are going through a significant transition, or that provide
a service that affects a significant number of Australians. The DTA will also
become involved where it has been specifically asked to help build capability ...
the DTA does not get involved with everyday expenditure and resourcing of ICT
operations across government, including outages. (pp. 16–19)
The DTA’s oversight role was also discussed in detail at an Estimates
hearing in May 2018 (pp. 148–161). As summarised
in a media report, at an Estimates
hearing in February 2019 discussion focused on whether the DTA was able to
monitor major projects effectively, particularly in view of the premature
termination of the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission’s biometrics
project, which was subsequently the subject of an Australian National Audit
Office (ANAO) performance
Since July 2015 the DTO/DTA has experienced
turnover of ministers, CEOs and senior staff. In June 2018, the Senate committee’s report documented changes over the preceding
three years, including the departure of the inaugural CEO
(Paul Shetler) in late 2016 and the subsequent resignation of another CEO
after 13 months at the DTA (pp. 19–20). Also in June 2018, the
responsible for monitoring ICT projects resigned after nine months at
the DTA. The current CEO (since July 2018) is Randall
Regardless of the outcome of the 2019 federal election, post-election
there will be a new minister responsible for the DTA. The Minister for Human
Services and Digital Transformation since December 2017, Michael
Keenan, announced in January 2019 that he would not contest the 2019 election.
Strategy and government services
In November 2018 the DTA published the
Government’s Digital Transformation Strategy (DTS), Vision 2025: We will Deliver World-leading Digital Services for the Benefit
of all Australians. The Minister’s speech
release provide additional context. The DTS is supported by the Digital
Service Platforms Strategy.
The DTS outlines three strategic priorities (‘Government that’s easy to deal with’,
‘Government that’s informed by you’, and ‘Government that’s fit for the digital
age’), each with objectives to be achieved by 2025 (see Appendix
A of this paper). Also included are examples of ‘what’s going to change’
for families, job-seekers, business owners, and government workers who deliver
Rather than defining digital transformation, the
Government’s focus is on its intended
outcomes and benefits, as outlined, for example, by the Minister for Human
Services and Digital Transformation:
Digital transformation will change how government does things
for you. It will mean much less red tape and much more responsive policy. It
means we can harness data to deliver social and economic benefits. It will mean
the government can be there whenever you need us, but we will stay out of your
way when you don’t, so you can go about your life with minimal interference.
A two-page ‘roadmap’ (timeline) lists major projects that
will contribute to digital transformation over the next two years. The roadmap
page on the DTA website provides more detail about projects, and enables
projects to be filtered by the three strategic priorities.
The DTS commits the Government to: annual refreshment and
enrichment of the roadmap; publication of yearly action plans; and a public
dashboard of performance metrics to track progress (p. 45). Until the dashboard
becomes available, a number of sources collate information about various ICT
projects (see Appendix B).
Commenting on the DTS, the former CEO of the DTO, Paul
Shetler, expressed concerns about how well the DTS sets out how its aims will
be achieved. Another
commentator considered that although the DTS has an ‘appropriate coherence
[this] fundamental redesign of Australia’s public sector ... will need ... the
imprimatur of a department of state, a Department of Digital Government, to succeed’.
In a statement prior to the 2016 election, Policy
for Better and More Accessible Digital Services, the Coalition committed
to ‘accelerat[ing] the digitisation of government services and driv[ing]
innovation in government by ... establishing a taskforce in the Prime Minister’s Department to reform
government ICT procurement policies’. Established in October 2016, the ICT Procurement Taskforce reported
in May 2017 that government agencies ‘are concerned that they are being
left behind in adopting new and innovative technologies to deliver services’.
As part of its proposed solutions, the Taskforce linked innovation with
the participation of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in ICT procurement.
Taskforce recommendations included that government ICT procurement should be
‘structured in a way that enables SMEs to compete fairly to directly provide
components of significant ICT projects’.
its response, the Government accepted and committed to the substance of all
recommendations, and has implemented the following measures that are
intended to increase opportunities for SME participation in ICT procurement.
SMEs and ICT procurement
The Department of Finance continues to be the lead agency on
whole-of-government general procurement policy.
However, in November 2016 responsibility
for ICT procurement policy was transferred to the DTA. The DTA manages an ICT procurement portal,
which facilitates buyers’ access through whole-of-government
arrangements to digital products and services, including: hardware; software; mobile
products and services; cloud services; data centres; telecommunications; and volume
sourcing arrangements with suppliers such as IBM, Microsoft, SAP and
Government expects SME opportunities to be increased through participation in
the Digital Marketplace and the Hardware Marketplace, and as a result of an announcement
in August 2017 on capping contracts:
From today, Government IT contracts will be capped at a
maximum value of $100 million or three years’ duration. This is to allow small
and medium sized businesses the opportunity to bid for smaller components of
Procurement and contract management:
potential areas of risk for digital transformation
Capping contracts at a maximum value of $100 million or
three years duration, and increasing the number of SME participants in ICT
procurement, will likely tend to increase the number of ICT-related
procurements, projects and contracts. By extension, however, this could also
increase opportunities for corruption, fraud, or contract mismanagement—areas
of risk that have been highlighted in recent reports:
Addressing the perceived risks, the ICT Procurement Taskforce
recommended the development of ‘a medium-term strategy for building the
Australian Public Service’s ICT procurement capability and culture’.
Addressing the Taskforce’s recommendation, the DTA is
collaborating with the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC). The
Digital Marketplace was expanded to include ‘approved sellers of digital
skills and expertise’, and the DTA offers services to build
digital skills across government. ICT procurement
capability is not readily identifiable in the suite of options, but the DTA
provides assistance in the form of model
contracts and other
tools. In December 2018 the
DTA publicised the completion of programs by more than 120 apprentices,
cadets and graduates. The training offered by the APSC includes leading digital
transformation and procurement
essentials and contract management.
Digital Continuity 2020 and the Digital Records Transformation
Recordkeeping by Commonwealth government
entities is governed by the Archives
Act 1983 (Cth):
... the [National Archives of Australia] has the
authority to issue standards for Commonwealth records, and to preserve and make
accessible the archival resources of the Commonwealth.
Under the Act, ‘Commonwealth records’ cover all
information in digital and non-digital formats that is created, used or
received as part of government business.
Issued in October 2015, Digital Continuity 2020 is a
whole-of-government approach to digital information governance that ‘aims to support efficiency, innovation, interoperability, information
re-use and accountability by integrating robust digital information management
into all government business processes’.
Through the Public
Service Modernisation Fund, the 2017–18
Budget allocated $10.7 million over the forward estimates to ‘develop a whole-of-government digital records management solution to modernise
the common function of record-keeping across the APS’.
The Digital Records Transformation Initiative
(DRTI) aims to support ‘the development of modernised digital records and
information capability across Australian Government non-corporate commonwealth
entities’. As outlined by the Department of Finance, the
four key outcomes of the DRTI are to:
make effective use of the smart technology that has
emerged, but not yet been incorporated, into records management practices;
- improve productivity through the use of automation;
increase the re-use of information assets across
increase compliance with regulations for the
management of Australian Government records.
In November 2018 a DRTI discussion
paper sought views on ‘the most effective and efficient way to source
modernised digital records solutions’. In early 2019 a ‘next
steps’ document noted ‘the importance of aligning with the
policies of the National Archives of Australia, in particular ... Digital
Regulation as a Platform
A business unit of the Commonwealth Scientific and
Industrial Research Organisation, Data61,
undertakes data-focused research and development. Regulation
as a Platform (RaaP) is a proof-of-concept project that ‘aims to maximise
the value of regulation, as the key data set of government’:
The ultimate aim is to provide free and open access to
legislation and regulation via public APIs [Application Programming
Interfaces], which will allow users to access the database of endorsed logic
rules and a reasoning engine to process rules and data into accessible digital
diagram outlines the architecture of RaaP. RaaP is a multi-stage process that
- Converting regulatory rules into machine-readable logic that capture’s
the intent and operation of regulation
- Quality checking these rules and endorsing them for publication on an
- Enabling anyone to leverage the regulation data via an open platform API
to allow anyone to develop tools and services to simplify end-user interactions
with regulation to reduce costs, time and complexity.
One of the objectives of the Government’s Digital Transformation Strategy is that
by 2025 people ‘will be able to choose a secure and easy to use digital
identity to access all digital government services’.
The Government is undertaking a review of national arrangements for the protection and management of
identity information. However, it was reported in
January 2019 that the inquiry is ‘more than two months
behind schedule as the Coalition mulls a new iteration of the National Identity Security Strategy’.
The DTA also has a role through its development of the Trusted
Digital Identity Framework (TDIF). In late 2018 the Australian Strategic
Policy Institute published Introducing
Integrated e-government in Australia, the main points of which, and the
DTA’s response, were summarised
in a media report. A
subsequent media report summarised a privacy impact assessment of the TDIF.
Data sharing by government
The website of the Department of the Prime Minister and
Cabinet (PM&C) outlines initiatives
in relation to public data (i.e. ‘information collected or generated by the
March 2016 the Government asked the Productivity Commission (PC) to undertake
an inquiry into ‘the benefits and costs of options for increasing
availability of and improving the use of public and private sector data by
individuals and organisations’. The PC published its report on
data availability and use in May 2017. Released
in early 2018, the Government’s response adopted the three key features of the PC’s proposed framework, and the
2018–19 Budget provided a total of $65.1 million over 2018–22 for the new
In relation to data sharing and release, the following
measures have been undertaken:
- A consultation
paper on the Data Sharing and Release Bill was released in July 2018, and
received are available on the PM&C website.
In March 2019 the Minister for Human Services and Digital
Data Safely guidelines and a best
practice guide to assist government agencies on ‘how to best share and
release government data in an appropriate manner’ in accordance with five key Data Sharing Principles. The interim
NDC has advised that initially the guidance will complement
agencies’ existing legislative data protection obligations, with the proposed Data
Sharing and Release legislation expected to provide a statutory basis for the
Data Sharing Principles.
Cybersecurity in government
The latest version of the Protective Security Policy Framework
(PSPF) came into effect in October 2018. The PSPF assists Australian Government entities to ‘protect their people, information and assets, at home and
overseas’. Under the PSPF, government entities seek to achieve
information security through attention
to four key areas: sensitive and classified information; access to
information; safeguarding information from cyber threats; and robust ICT
systems. Entities are guided by the Australian
Government Information Security Manual and an online hub for cyber security information,
both produced by the Australian Cyber Security
Centre within the Australian Signals
The ANAO conducts performance
audits of selected entities’ cyber resilience and cybersecurity arrangements. After the ANAO reports, the Joint Committee of Public
Accounts and Audit (JCPAA) conducts inquiries into entities’ cyber resilience
and cybersecurity arrangements, for example in 2017
The scope of the 2019 inquiry includes the cyber resilience of
the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS). In February 2019, there
malicious intrusion into the Parliament House computer network operated by
In March 2019 the DTA announced a Whole-of-government Hosting
Strategy. The new Digital Infrastructure Service aims to ‘reduce
data sovereignty, ownership and supply chain risks ... ensure government hosting
services are more efficient and cost-effective [and] provide certainty on the
Australian Government hosting operating environment for industry and agencies’.
The implementation of new
technologies—recent reports, reviews and cases
A number of recent reports, reviews and cases have examined
aspects of the Commonwealth public sector’s implementation of new technologies.
Reports by the ANAO often examine, among other matters, ICT projects and digital
Government reviews—APS, PGPA Act
Current review of the APS
In May 2018 the Government commissioned a major review of the Australian Public Service
(APS), led by David Thodey. The review’s
terms of reference state that ‘to ensure the APS is
fit-for-purpose for the coming decades’ its capabilities must include
‘understand[ing] and deploy[ing] technology and data to drive improvement’. The DTA’s
submission to the review proposed that ‘changing some current settings will
allow for a more contemporary, digital public sector into the future’.
In March 2019 the APS
Review published several
documents outlining its preliminary conclusions and directions. In Priorities
for Change, the APS Review observed that ‘a move to networked and
common arrangements would facilitate greater mobility and collaboration, build
digital capability, and make the most of automation and AI in service
media has summarised the ICT-related aspects of Priorities
The review is scheduled to report to the Government in the
first half of 2019.
Review of the Public
Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013
and associated Rule
In September 2018 the Department of Finance
published the report of the independent
review of the Public
Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 and associated Rule (co-authored by David Thodey). The report warned that ‘risk aversion
in the face of new opportunities to use technology to improve service delivery
will mean that new opportunities are not taken, or taken later than they could
have been’. An earlier (2015) Independent
Review of Whole-of-government Internal Regulation included
recommendations about cloud computing, data centres, and whole-of-government
ICT and procurement arrangements (the Parliamentary Library has published two
brief overviews of the review’s major recommendations).
DTA evaluation of blockchain
In February 2019 a
DTA report evaluating blockchain technology as
a possible tool for government concluded that ‘when applied to various pilots or considered against alternative
technologies, gaps become evident across both the technical and business facets
of its implementation’. The DTA has also released Blockchain
Overview: Australian Government Guide. In October 2018 the
... blockchain is good for low trust engagement where you don’t
know who you’re dealing with, you have low trust in that person or business,
but you have a series of ledgers that can give you some validation. [However] generally
speaking when government is engaging with someone, we want to have a trusted
relationship with them.
In June 2018 the Senate Finance and Public
Administration References Committee tabled the report of its inquiry
into digital delivery of government services. The DTA’s
submission outlined achievements and priorities as at September 2017.
JCPAA is currently conducting an inquiry into Australian
government procurement contract reporting. As outlined in its Complementary
submission guidance, the Committee’s ‘five areas of focus’ include the
APS’ capability and capacity.
decision-making and communication of decisions
The Australian Public Law
website summarised a recent case in the Federal Court of Australia
concerning automated decision-making and communication:
[A] taxpayer received a computer-generated
letter from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) ostensibly waiving most of the
general interest charge (GIC) on a tax debt. The ATO subsequently advised the
taxpayer that he was, in fact, liable to pay additional GIC as the letter had
been issued in error. ... On appeal, the majority of the Full Federal Court
found that no decision had been made as the automated letter was not
accompanied by the requisite mental process of an authorised officer.
An application by the taxpayer to the High Court of Australia for
special leave to appeal the decision was refused. One
law firm observed that the outcome could ‘breed uncertainty in the minds
of taxpayers and their representatives when such correspondence is received
from the ATO’ and that ‘taxpayers potentially losing trust in the
ATO’s decision making processes undermines the integrity of the whole system’.
decision-making was the subject of a media report in July 2017, which noted
that ‘Australian law explicitly allows computers to make
important decisions previously made by the ministers or staff of at least 11
federal government departments’.
servants’ personal use of social media
In a complex
case currently before the High Court, a former employee of the previous
Department of Immigration and Citizenship used her personal Twitter account to
post anonymous tweets critical of the Department. Depending on how the case
proceeds, it may, among
other matters, clarify public servants’ use of social media, particularly
in the context of the APS Code of Conduct in section 13 of the Public Service Act
1999 (and possibly the implied freedom of political communication in
Unanticipated levels of access to data
In September 2018 it was reported:
The South Australian Government has shut down
guest access to the land titles registry website after it discovered a single
IP address had harvested the information en masse. ... While there is no
suggestion it was a data breach — the website was working exactly as designed —
it was not the Government's intention to make the information so easily
An expert in networks and security from the
University of Sydney observed that ‘it would’ve been very simple
[for the agency to have included a feature] to limit the number of accesses to
some small number per minute’. Speculating on the motive for the mass download,
the expert observed:
... maybe they were after data that would help
them in terms of social engineering, making cold calls to people ... On the more
nefarious end of the spectrum you could possibly argue that this data could be
linkable to other data that is acquired somewhere else, like health data or
some financial data.
The incident provides an example of the range of scenarios
that must be considered by government agencies and contractors when planning
and implementing digital transformation initiatives, in this case access
controls for publicly-available data.
Digital Transformation Strategy (2018)
In November 2018 the DTA published the Government’s
Digital Transformation Strategy (DTS), Vision 2025: We will Deliver World-leading Digital Services for the Benefit
of all Australians. The DTS outlines three
strategic priorities, each with subsidiary objectives to be achieved by 2025:
1. Government that's easy to deal with
To make government easy to deal with, you need simple and
intuitive services that support your needs and life events, while eliminating
the need to deal with multiple agencies or layers of government.
Our digital services must also be secure and convenient to
access using the devices of your choice.
- You will be able to access all government services digitally.
- You will have seamlessly integrated services that support your needs and
- You will be able to choose a secure and easy to use digital identity to
access all digital government services.
- You will have access to alternatives if you are unable to access
services in a digital way.
2. Government that's informed by you
We will harness the power of data to improve services and
make better and faster decisions.
We will use data analysis to make sure our services meet
your needs, to understand better what people and businesses expect from the
government and to improve future services. In doing this, we will ensure that
you retain control over your information.
- Services will be smart and adapt to the data you choose to share
- Policy and services will draw on data and analytics
- Advanced technologies will improve decision-making and be transparent
- Earn your trust through being strong custodians of your data
3. Government that’s fit for the digital age
Australians expect government to be easy to deal with and
to provide smart and convenient services.
We will grow our digital skills and partner with
innovative businesses to deliver the right outcomes. Where we use new platforms
they will be efficient and sustainable. Finally, we must be accountable for
delivering digital transformation.
To deliver on these expectations and achieve our 2025
vision, we need to uplift our digital skills and capabilities and partner with
innovative organisations to deliver the right outcomes.
- Equip our people and Australian businesses with the skills necessary to
deliver world‑leading digital services
Adopt better ways of working that bring people together quickly and
efficiently and reduce risk
- Collaborate with other sectors, including small and medium‑sized
enterprises, community organisations and academia
- Develop sustainable platforms that we can share across government
- Deliver value for people and businesses by managing costs and
Appendix B: sources of collated information about
The Digital Transformation Strategy (DTS),
launched in November 2018, promises a public dashboard of performance
metrics to track the progress of DTS-related projects (p. 45). Until the
dashboard becomes available, a number of sources collate information about various
The DTA monitors all digital and ICT initiatives with a
budget of more than $10 million and not classified as secret or top secret. However,
only limited information has been made public:
The apolitical.co website provides resources
for public servants, including The
Digital Government Atlas, which comprises links to ‘digital government’
guides and resources from many countries.
to a recent Senate committee inquiry
into digital delivery of government services provides an introduction to
this debate. The submission contends that, notwithstanding that ‘around the
world there are many highly regarded government information web sites and cases
where online transactions have hugely improved processes’, the ‘dominant
“government as a service industry” paradigm has led e-government (digital
government, or whatever is the current term) down a blocked path’.
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