Technology | Innovation

Digital transformation key to an effective recovery

New South Wales Minister for Customer Service, the Hon. Victor Dominello, told a CEDA livestream audience that the COVID-19 crisis has shown how crucial government investment in digital technology will be for the future.

“You must invest in digital. If anything has come out of this pandemic it is that we must accelerate digital transformation,” he said.

Mr Dominello joined Impact Lab Chair and former Prime Minister of New Zealand, The Right Honorable Sir Bill English; CSIRO Health and Biosecurity Director, Dr Rob Grenfell; and Portable Chief Strategy Officer, Sarah Kaur, for a discussion on the digitisation of services.

Mr Dominello said that digital technology has enabled governments to respond to COVID-19 with speed and agility.  

“Getting mobility data to see where people were moving was a proxy for the spread of the virus. Getting that data very quickly helped us frame a lot of policy decisions,” he said.

“Another thing we did very quickly was delivering a digital grants product to small businesses that were on their knees. We were getting money online into businesses accounts within 72 hours which was much needed support. Much better than paper and checks.”

Mr Dominello also discussed how technology has been used to contact people who have received tests, and introduce location check-in services and border passes to further aid the fight against COVID-19.

“All of these things I have described required immense speed, much faster than government normally operates, and enormous agility. That is likely to continue. We are likely to get more and more examples of this until we get the vaccine. But you can’t do any of this without digital.”

The Right Honorable Sir Bill English spoke further about the importance of digital technology in government.

“Being innovative in the future has got high relevance in government. Right now we are still dealing with the initial shock of COVID but we are looking out at a period of many years where there will be high debt levels, fiscal constraint and greater social need. The techniques that the Minister has just described need to be applied to the core government activities with the same speed and agility,” he said.

Mr English spoke about how the digitisation of public services can particularly benefit people experiencing disadvantage.

“The people with the least resources face the greatest complexity in accessing services they need,” he said.  

“Government services are not designed for high complexity. Fifteen per cent of the population of NSW probably use 50  per cent of public services but the public services are largely designed for the other 85 per cent – they are commodity services accessible to people who have a reasonable capacity to do so. It works pretty well for the 85 per cent; for the bottom 15 per cent it is a nightmare. It is unpredictable, difficult, repetitive and not always respectful of their complex needs.

“I think that is the area where there is the greatest abilities for innovation.”

Mr English said that thanks to the ready accessibility of digital technology, there is no longer any excuse for government to not be taking advantage of digitisation.

“In my experience, government agencies are roughly five to seven years behind their understanding of the technology. The business world tends to be more tuned into it,” he said.

He emphasised that this kind of digital change would require political leadership.

“Your state agencies don’t need to do this. They have no existential threats…so they do what they want to do. I think setting basic targets will motivate them.”

Dr Rob Grenfell further illustrated the importance of digitising services with the example of digital health and telemedicine services.

“If there is anything positive to come out of this pandemic, it is the enthusiasm that we have seen in the health sector for the rapid switching over to digital or telemedicine services,” he said.

He also discussed the importance of encouraging customer uptake of digital initiatives and the need to better train the healthcare workforce in using new technology.

Sarah Kaur further reflected on how digital technology in human services can address equity concerns, focusing on the example of the justice sector.

“Digital tools often present opportunities for interactive, guided and personalised pathways for people with legal issues…the time for rethinking how justice might be accessed through self service is now because it is a model that allows governments to scale in a way that the justice system can’t currently in order to meet the demands that are placed on it.”