This chapter summarises the evidence received by the committee regarding
systemic whole-of-government issues affecting the digital delivery of
government services. Submissions have focussed on a number of cultural issues including
change, change management and vested interests in the status quo, as well as a
lack of strategic focus and leadership. A number of submitters stated that the outsourcing
of ICT functions and services has resulted in the Australian Public Service (APS)
not being able to develop the requisite IT skills and capability to undertake
the digital transformation of government.
This chapter summarises the evidence with respect to the following
- Leadership and accountability;
Outsourcing has deskilled the APS;
- Procurement; and,
- A common approach.
Leadership and accountability
Submissions discussed whole-of-government issues relevant to the
successful digital transformation of government administration, including a
need for leadership at the political level. Submissions also dealt with
resistance to change, how the new technologies are changing organisational
structures and the decentralisation and diffusion of power within the APS.
The need for an agreed vision
In its submission, the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA)
focussed at the parliamentary level, recommending a more bipartisan and
strategic approach to building and executing a government digital service
agenda. The AIIA stated:
...digital government delivery to date has been hampered and
undermined by the absence of an agreed vision and commitment....
Senior leadership and digital
At the committee's Canberra hearing Mr Martin Stewart-Weeks commented on
elements of the senior public sector who were resistant to digital
transformation for their own vested interests, and who did not have the
'confidence, capability and mindset' to make the necessary adjustments to the
Mr Stewart-Weeks suggested the possible solution of 'reverse mentoring' as a
means of assisting senior public servants make the transition by ensuring
senior managers are teamed with one or two people who can provide help and
support, or alternatively to find senior people who have been converted to the
new technology, or 'get' the new way of working, in order to provide peer
In a similar vein, Mr Paul Shetler, who appeared in his private capacity,
contended that there is a need to embed digital leadership skills at the Deputy
Secretary level of the APS, with the focus being on those who may potentially
be appointed Secretary of a department or agency—that is, to take an approach
similar to the United Kingdom where two boards were created—'technology
leaders' and 'digital leaders'—the latter being the more senior.
The digital leaders were not technology specialists; they were
directors-general who were tapped to be the next permanent secretaries. This
cohort was tasked with implementing the government's digital agenda, in
essence, 'making it happen'. Mr Shetler commented on his experience:
It was highly competitive. As someone who worked for one of
them, I can tell you that was tremendously beneficial. It meant that I had a
boss who had very much bought into what needed to happen and who did make it
happen. I think that kind of push, that very conscious and aware push from the
very top levels of the public service, is an absolutely necessary step when you
are trying to transform an organisation.
On the issue of leadership, Mr Ian Brightwell contended that the APS
does not manage expectations by addressing the inevitability that there will be
failures as a part of the process of innovation.
He contended that there needs to be a consensus as to what constitutes
'acceptable failure'. Mr Brightwell observed that the APS can no longer avoid
criticism because online ICT program failure is easy to identify and the public
can readily see if the delivered system works or not.
In reference to the establishment of the United Kingdom's Government
Digital Service, Mr Paul Waller, Researcher, that the politics involved in
almost saying a project was established on the basis of wrong assumptions is quite
a difficult thing to do. He noted that institutionally, there is a huge amount
of political capital invested in the status quo.
He also noted the difficulty of breaking out of this collective approach:
...I think there's an international see-who-blinks-first thing
here, because everybody has been doing pretty much the same thing, egged on by international
benchmarks that have created a reinforcing circle. Breaking out of that,
whatever it is, is incredibly difficult.
The CPSU stated that a key focus of government should be on fostering an
agency and government culture which supports innovation and is willing to take
risks. The CPSU suggested there should be a more effective risk framework,
which recognises that digital transformation and innovation require the space
for adaption and innovation.
Mr Stewart-Weeks commented on the organisational changes that are necessary
to adopt new technology. He observed that a digitally transformed organisation
has a very different conception about where power and authority are distributed
in an organisation compared to the public sector. While concurring that the
executive of organisations must retain 'exclusive and irreducible
accountabilities', but he said that new technologies require new approaches:
My experience has been that some leaders...have done a terrific
job of really trying very hard to allow as much of that power and authority
back out into the system and allow that digital flexibility and agility to
genuinely flourish across their agencies.
On this point, Mr Ian Brightwell considered that the APS is unable to
convey technical issues at the right level of decision maker, noting that he
has observed that a large number of key decisions affecting system reliability
and security are often made at a very low technical level without consultation
with senior management and without proper consideration of the consequences:
The only real solution is to improve technology governance
and introduce methodologies which ensure decisions are made in accordance with
agency policies. This is not easy and requires a lot of education and cultural
Outsourcing has deskilled the APS
Submissions contended that APS contracting with private sector vendors
for the provision of ICT hardware and services in recent years has left the APS
without capabilities and capacity.
Other submissions observed that the result of this is that digital delivery in
the APS lacks a strategic focus, and opportunities have been subsumed in budget
The skills shortage
Dr Nick Tate, Vice President, Membership Boards, Australian Computer
Society (ACS), noted a Deloitte Access Economics report which identified a
substantial shortage of skilled ICT professionals, including IT project
managers across the marketplace.
The AIIA reported that over the last number of years it has raised concerns
about the deepening skills shortage both the ICT sector generally and in
government sector. While noting some agencies are now addressing the issue,
AIIA stated that:
...that generally government has been slow to address
inherent skills issues across government in areas such as procurement, agile
methods, cloud computing and data analytics. This has undoubtedly impacted how
some initiatives have been executed, the cost, quality and reliability of some
solutions and the pace of digital take-up across government.
SCOA Australia also expressed concern that the APS's capability and
expertise have been eroded by outsourcing.
SCOA Australia noted that most digital delivery of Australian government
services is now dependent on companies headquartered in other countries.
Mr Osmond Chiu, Policy and Research Officer, CPSU, stated that 'outsourcing
has driven deskilling' in the APS.
He identified two reasons for the deskilling:
There are two primary reasons for these problems with
government ICT at a Commonwealth level: that outsourcing and contracting out
have left the APS overly reliant on external vendors and contractors, which has
created critical issues with capability and cost; and that the implementation
of previous ICT reviews and strategies has been focused on achieving savings,
and the opportunities for strategic reform have been missed.
The generalist manager
SCOA Australia also noted the correlation between limited ICT knowledge
and experience available internally to government departments and outsourcing,
noting that the circumstance mirrored the rise of the generalist manager.
The generalist manager meant less focus on the need for knowledge and
experience of the 'business' of the department:
So, many government departments are now faced with
significant ICT operations and/or new projects with limited subject matter
knowledge and experience for the task of specifying requirements, limited ICT
knowledge and experience for appropriate involvement in ICT design and
development and little ability to test the developed product adequately or to
manage the contracts regulating the projects.
Mr Ian Brightwell observed that most of the problems facing the APS with
respect to the digital delivery of government services result from poor ICT
He attributed this circumstance to public servants typically being generalists:
I think one of the problems is that, unfortunately, the
people who are often given project and program manager roles in these
capacities don't have the background but are at the right level, and it's seen
as an appropriate job. I think, generally, the people who have got the skills
are, like a lot of people in the IT industry, often moving from program to
program and project to project.
Cost-saving policy leads to deskilling
In its submission, the CPSU emphasised the extent to which the APS is
reliant on external vendors and contracts, noting that, as of 2017, the APS
employed more than 14 000 ICT personnel, one third of whom were
contractors. The CPSU referred to the Australian Public Service Commission's
(APSC) State of the Service Report of 2012–13, which found that 47 per cent of
agencies reported having skills shortages in ICT procurement, while 69 per cent
of agencies reported having an overall ICT skills shortage.
Mr Paul Shetler, former CEO of the DTO concurred with the CPSU:
In my time at DTO I saw dedicated public servants doing their
very best to help Australians but often failing because of its shortage of
digital skills. Instead of providing digital training to public servants, too
often we've outsourced IT to large international technology vendors and
consultants. Outsourcing makes the government seem smaller, but it is expensive
and it contributes further to de-skilling the Public Service.
SCOA Australia further observed that where outsourcing was initially
introduced as both a savings measure, and as a means of capturing specialist
ICT knowledge from third party ICT contractors, SCOA Australia contended that
those policies are now impeding the capacity of the APS to deliver digital
SCOA Australia stated:
During the past twenty five years successive governments at
both Commonwealth and State/Territory level have pursued outsourcing of both
ICT infrastructure and the development of new ICT applications supporting the
delivery of government services. This outsourcing has been undertaken to reduce
expenditure required for ICT services, yet the actual cost of government ICT
has increased dramatically...
Submissions discussed the economic impact of the ICT skills shortage
within the Australian economy, and the need for government to address the ICT
skills shortage within the APS. Submissions suggested the need to create an ICT
profession within the APS, and to establish a project management capability.
An APS ICT digital profession
Mr Chiu of the CPSU considered that the lack of skills in the APS was
due to the absence of a digital profession in the APS:
Developing an APS digital profession and having a taxonomy of
roles might be helpful for developing that internal capacity. I think there's
often a misunderstanding of what digital is; thinking it's more about ICT
systems themselves, or websites, rather than seeing digital skills as something
that should be throughout the APS.
Mr Chiu agreed with the proposition that it would be worth examining an
approach to an APS ICT capability in the context of a whole-of-government
central function that would operate across multiple levels of government and
multiple departments in order to retain the frequency and scope of the
application of qualifications so that competencies can be both attained and
Dr Tate of the ACS observed that government departments need to take
responsibility for the development of the ICT skills base in government. He
noted that the Australian economy will need about 81 000 new IT professionals
The Australian government can help fill that gap with
internal training and reskilling programs which would have additional
downstream economic benefits for Australia. It would also enable government to
take ownership of its future development road map, rather than relying on
external sources for expertise. There are, in our view, real benefits to
tackling these issues and accelerating the digital delivery of government
Mr Paul Shetler contended that outsourcing IT to large international
technology vendors and consultants was at the expense of digital training for
He said that for Australia to grow its presence in the worldwide digital
economy, it needs to build a digital workforce:
One of the things we saw in the UK, for instance...when we were
transforming the British government there we were also building up a huge cadre
of digital professionals all throughout the London area who wound up in a
number of other firms and businesses and so on and so forth. Now London is one
of the digital capitals in the world. To a large extent that is a result of the
hard work that was done by GDS and all the British government departments. You
are talking about tens of thousands of professionals going through there,
learning best practice and then going back out to industry. It's definitely one
of the things we had in mind. It's a very virtuous side-effect of fixing
government services. Government, after all, is the largest single customer in
DHS advised that over the past five years it has established a highly
skilled workforce, with a large in-house ICT capability that is proficient
across a large range of technologies covering both infrastructure and
architecture. DHS acknowledged the ongoing challenges of retaining a skilled
Building digital competence
Mr Shetler recommended a whole-of-government, and even across levels of
government, approach to developing digital competence. He suggested the formal
professional training and accreditation of IT staff drawing from people already
in the ranks who understand why they are working in the public service, and who
actually have a mission for what they are doing. He said the training must be
coupled with practice, otherwise people forget it quite quickly.
Mr Shetler agreed with the suggestion that an ability to pool ICT staff
together across government would be a means of addressing the scarcity of
skilled ICT staff:
[The DTO] had proposed some similar ideas in terms of—I don't
want to use the term 'hit squad'—basically tiger teams, who, from a centralised
level, help out troubled projects and so on and so forth, because in point of
fact for some of the bigger stuff that you are dealing with, I agree with you,
there is not necessarily going to be enough going on at any one area to keep
people fresh, and those people should be able to be used across government.
Dr Tate discussed work undertaken to develop an ICT competency framework,
and in particular the UK 'Skills Framework for the Information Age' (SFIA),
which allows departments to determine where a person sits within a whole range
of skills and competencies.
On the issue of skills and competence, Mr Ian Brightwell agreed with the
proposition that the APS should adopt an approach that the exercise of
delegated authority should be tied to task-specific competencies:
I think the senator was quite right in saying that you have
to look at the competencies that are required for each job. You're handing out
jobs that have very high price tags for failure and high risk profiles—and, you
know, you wouldn't have brain surgery done by an intern. We're kind of doing
that to some extent when we hand out the jobs for some of these big systems. If
you look at the competencies of the people who are often given these jobs, they
don't have the skill set or any reasonable grounds to claim it.
Project management capability
Mr Mark Langley, President and Chief Executive Officer, Project Management
Institute commented on the need for organisations to develop a culture of
project management as an enabler to high agility, and with the competence and
ability to select the right method for the right project.
It's the formality with which they use project management
practices. That includes areas such as establishing a formal documented career
path in the organisation. In the case of the public sector, it could be in a
departmental or agency level, but more recently we've seen it implemented
across federal government by requirement, including legislation. As an example,
in the United States the PMIA Act is a recent act signed by Obama in 2016. But
it's implementing a formal career path for project and program managers. It's
having standardisation across government with the methods they use such that,
as government employees move around in departments and agencies, they're all
using the same approach, so they have a common language and framework to
implement projects and programs. It takes out some of the variability and,
again, focuses on excellence as a requirement rather than leaving it as
optional for departments and agencies to implement.
Mr Langley noted the need for accountability in project management, and
engaged executive sponsorship:
...there's someone identified as an executive owner responsible
for project management policy and strategy within a department or agency, and
they further establish a cross-agency or - department knowledge-sharing
program. They come together as some part of a council or some other formal
structure and they share knowledge about what works and doesn't work in
government so that they can bring it back to the individual departments and
Mr Langley confirmed that Australia lags behind in formalised project
management strategies and techniques within organisations:
...in many areas, Australia does lag ... around the formalisation
of project and program management. There's statistically less focus on training
in those skills areas that I mentioned—leadership, strategic and business
management and technical skills. They're less likely to have formal career
paths for project and program managers in Australia. There's less focus on
benefits realisation. To the interest of public sector projects and value for
money, it's essential that we identify the benefits and have formal benefits
realisation management procedures in place. In all those areas, Australia does
lag the global average.
Mr Brightwell noted that there is a need for some more flexibility to
insert people at the deputy secretary or assistant secretary level in a two- or
three-year program to deliver outcomes and for them to be fully integrated into
the government department.
He also agreed that those put in charge of ICT projects must remain with the
project for the duration:
That's another problem. Classically, these people we're
talking about will do two years. Halfway through the project they move, then
you get another one, and then you get another one, because of normal career
The ATO advised that it is developing a Staff Digital Capability
Strategy to ensure its staff are equipped to support the delivery of digital
services. The strategy includes embedding the European Commission Digital
Competence Framework (DigComp) into the ATO's core capabilities as well as
refreshing the existing capability framework to reflect contemporary
requirements. DigComp is a tool to support a common understanding of digital
competences and to enable people to develop digital competences to support
their life chances and employability.
The DTA advised that it is working with the APSC to raise digital
capability across the APS through the Building Digital Capability Program.
Mr Peter Alexander, Chief Digital Officer, DTA, advised that the DTA is working
with the APSC in the Building Digital Capability program to establish:
... primarily two things: (1) a set of learning design
standards for the digital transformation of government, which will then be
shared, published and available to service providers to assist government and
sell training and development services to agencies to meet their needs; (2)
leadership transformation, building educative material for senior executives
through the various cohorts the APSC train, from secretaries down, as to the
various digital skills they need to operate in this world.
Of the Building Digital Capability program, Mr Randall Brugeaud, Acting
Chief Executive Officer, DTA stated:
...the capability-building initiative that is being coordinated
through the DTA working with a number of agencies in government looking to
engage more broadly with government executives in thinking about
transformation. That involves not just technical folks, but policy as well. It
is thinking about how we work in providing education to the most senior
executive in government. That is something that is being done now that will
support that initiative.
Submissions raised the need for a whole-of government approach to
procurement, including the requirement for more flexible funding arrangements, such
as experimental prototype funding schemes, and a mechanism to enable the development
of common platforms that can be used across all levels of government.
Whole of government
DHS advised that it is working with the DTA in relation to whole‑of‑government
ICT procurement and is supporting the use of the DTA's Digital Marketplace.
The ATO advised that it utilises the mandated whole-of-government
coordinated procurement arrangements put in place by the Department of Finance,
and administered by the DTA. The ATO stated that where these arrangements have
not met ATO requirements or direction for its ICT sourcing strategy, the ATO
has sought the necessary exemptions from the arrangements.
ACCAN recommended a whole-of-government procurement policy for
accessible ICT products and services. ACCAN stated that, in alliance with
Australian disability organisations:
[it had been] calling for increased awareness across all
levels of government of the important role publicly funded procurement of
accessible ICT has in provide greater access and inclusion for many Australians
Procurement expertise within the
Mr Chiu of the CPSU observed that outsourcing had resulted in the loss
of internal knowledge within the APS about what they need to do, and often, not
having those internal critical skills to understand what they need for the
outcomes they seek.
Mr Chiu, noted that breaking up and outsourcing service provision can result in
a lack of understanding, with the result that if a government is solely a
procurer of services it may often not have an understanding of how a process
works in practice which can lead to further problems down the line.
In relation to the 2016 census failure, Mr Chiu put forward his view
that the ABS did not have the internal expertise to assess the quality or
suitability of the advice and products from their external supplier.
More recently, the 2017 report of the ICT Procurement Taskforce identified that
the capability and capacity issues in the APS included a lack of technical ICT
capability in the market analysis required to articulate the requirements and
sort and assess the potential solutions on offer.
Decision-making was often resting with individuals without
technical expertise, and there was an inability to adapt as technology or
ACCAN recommended accessibility awareness training for all Government
Procurement Officers and CIOs, stating that the training needs to include
capability for implementing accessibility guidelines in all appropriate
standards and policies.
ACCAN referred to the 'current culture of government procurement', saying:
ACCAN understands the lack of awareness within government
procurement of ICT about the inherent value of accessibility and usability of
ICT products and services limits innovation while increasing risk.
Access to tendering process in
Dr Tate of the ACS observed that the government is the single biggest
purchaser of IT equipment in Australia and has a role in making it easier for
small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to access government contracts. He
Procurement officers within government departments have a
tendency to play it too safe when purchasing, relying too much on a handful of
major international suppliers. This has hurt the local economy and missed an
opportunity to use that purchasing power to give local businesses a head start
which would help supercharge the Australian IT economy. What's more, this would
provide access to new and innovative technology in government applications
developed by start-ups and smaller players.
Dr Tate stated that a reason SMEs may not participate in government
procurement has more to do with government departments or agencies asking for
very substantial risk mitigation of liability by insurance, rather than any
frustration with the government procurement processes. He noted that some SMEs
are not in a position to provide that level of warranty or assurance.
Mr Paul Shetler made a similar point:
Government agencies should adopt the methods of Australian
start-ups to deliver better user facing services at lower cost. Where
contracting is appropriate, we should reduce the barriers to entry in
government procurement that currently give international corporate giants an
advantage over smaller, more-agile Australian firms.
The 'undigital' nature of current
Mr Martin Stewart-Weeks commented that traditional procurement
mechanisms tend to be somewhat more inflexible, and that the public procurement
process 'can be about as "undigital" as you could possibly hope for'.
Mr Stewart-Weeks continued that SMEs find themselves 'stymied occasionally' by
procurement processes that have not kept pace with developments.
Mr Stewart-Weeks further observed that the senior leaders:
...get seriously tangled in some of the constraints and
provisions that they've got to navigate in order to make this world work. I
mentioned earlier the procurement game, which of course is the one that often
seems to rear its head so quickly. I think sometimes they just despair in being
able to get some of this new digital mindset going because it just doesn't seem
to fit very well with the system. Often they are obliged to comply with
legislation and regulations.
Mr Shetler considered the business case approach to funding does 'not
handle "agile" very well'. Instead, he advocated a prototype model
of 'drip-feed' funding. Mr Shetler noted that the traditional budget approach
to new projects pre-supposes a clear understanding of the requirements for the
business case. He explained that this approach does not allow for shifting
assumptions for digital projects where you may what outcome you are seeking,
but you do not necessarily know the best ways of getting to that outcome:
So we've always felt that it's really a much better idea to
go for more of a drip-feed kind of approach where you can say: 'Yes, I have
this idea. I think it should be really great. Let's test this out.' 'Great,
here's a small amount of money. Come back with a prototype and show us what it
would look like.' bit more. We'll give you a bit more money.' Fund it that way
so you're not funding something which is a fantasy which will end in tears.
Dr Anthony Vlasic, Chief Procurement Officer, DTA that the DTA has put in
place a framework to address SMEs tendering for government contracts. Dr Vlasic
advised that the framework includes a number of policies, including the Fair
Criteria Policy, the intent of which is to address how you make the process fair.
Our view is that a combination of the Fair Criteria Policy,
the Consider First Policy, which we're also thinking about, the Portfolio
Panels Policy, which we're doing a review of, along with things like the
digital marketplace, reviewing how we do panels, will make a big difference to
the SME market.
Dr Vlasic further advised that the DTA is addressing the circumstances
of SMEs by articulating the 15 capabilities that it considers the Commonwealth
needs for procurement, one of which is simpler engagement. Of the 15 capabilities,
Dr Vlasic stated:
The best way to describe it is there are five categories.
There's one for the suppliers, one for the buyers, one for the contracts per
se, one for process and one for people. You need to do all these things at the
same time to make some real progress.
A common approach
The DTA stated that it is coordinating work on a number of whole‑of‑government
platforms that will assist agencies deliver services:
A digital platform is a system...that provides functionality
multiple agencies can use to deliver services to users. Any one service
experienced by users might draw on multiple platforms, each delivering a different
Common platforms can be used and reused by an agency to ease
their digital workload... Agencies won't have to reinvent the wheel every time
they need to deliver a new service, and the government doesn't have to support
and maintain a multitude of systems that all essentially do the same job.
Mr Peter Alexander, Chief Digital Officer, DTA, advised that it is
developing a platform strategy which will set out some whole-of-government
platforms and capabilities which agencies would use for delivering a number of
For example, with identity, there is the Tell Us Once
capability—if someone changes address or someone dies and we want to share a
notification. They tell the government once that that has happened and we share
a notification—or payments. There'll be platforms where we do that. If your
question is: if an agency is running a mainframe to deliver a particular type
of service, and another agency that interacts with them is running another type
of technology—x86 or a different type of infrastructure—do we say that they
have to run the same? No, but what we say is they have to interoperate, and
there has to be standardisation. We build to open standards so we can
interoperate—share data in the systems. Could one agency run a mainframe for
all agencies? That's something that would be explored in that platform
Mr Brightwell agreed with the recent Digital Transformation Agency (DTA)
ICT report on procurement regarding the need to better exploit the use of ICT
platforms across government agencies, but observed that these recommendations
may not be easy to implement.
Mr Brightwell considered the approach that would be of greatest benefit to the
Australian economy is for the Commonwealth to examine the viability of
providing or facilitating the provision of ICT platforms which can be used at
all levels of government.
Mr Brightwell suggested a governance mechanism to facilitate the use of
ICT platforms across all levels of government. He cited the PSMA Australia
Limited as an example of a governance structure that facilitates broad and
sustainable access to high-quality location data. PSMA is an unlisted
public company owned by Australia's state and territory and federal governments—its
shareholders are the various treasuries; with minsters appointing company
directors. The directors largely represent the constituency of users. Mr
Brightwell suggested the model could be applied on on an instance by instance
basis, or an industry by industry basis, by identifying the stakeholders with
Common activities need a common
Mr Paul Shetler stated that there are some activities that are
undertaken across the whole of government that are best addressed by taking a
common approach, including the activities of payments, notification services,
and publishing. He observed that it makes no sense for government to have many different
ways of delivering, for example, payments. He said that while actual delivery
of a service must be undertaken by the relevant department, it is delivered on
behalf of one government and there is a need for consistency in how things are
I've always thought that, the more you deal with direct
end-user-facing things that should be devolved to the departments that are
dealing with it as it is today—it makes complete sense. But they need to be
supported by common standards, common patterns, common templates and common
platforms that allow them to do their work in a consistent way so that, when
citizens deal with an agency here or an agency there, it is not like they are
dealing with completely different things. It is government to them. It's one
thing and it works in the same way.
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