Public Service Commissioner predicts the end of bespoke agency digital systems

The Australian Public Service Commission (ASPC) has outlined the “enterprise approach” it will take for developing and investing in future IT and digital systems as part of its APS Digital Professional Stream Strategy.

“The board envisages, easy to use, reliable services tailored to the needs of citizens and businesses, supported by effective digital tools that enable the APS to work flexibly and productively together,” APS commissioner Peter Woolcott said, speaking during the Digital Transformation Agency’s (DTA) virtual 2020 Digital Summit on Tuesday.

Woolcott said taking a single approach to digital would address the “frustration caused by incompatible and inconsistent systems, platforms, and security requirements”. He pointed out that, for instance, the agency discovered a few weeks ago something as simple as sharing large video files “can be fraught with difficulty”.

“These are not simple problems to solve but my view is that the era of bespoke agency level digital systems and platforms has come to an end,” Woolcott said. “We must take greater advantage of economies of scale, presented by an APS-wide approach to digital investment.”

Woolcott outlined how the new approach to digital would be supported by “sensible prioritisation of new investments”, which entails building and reusing common digital platforms where possible. He said this would be informed by a review of the current digital and IT assets, capabilities, and risks of the country’s public sector.

See also: Alleged fraud related to Commonwealth IT contracts under investigation  

Further, a secretary digital committee would be established under the plan, with Woolcott touting that it would help “strengthen governance and accelerate progress towards a digitally transformed Australian public service”.

The Digital Professional Stream Strategy was launched in April, following a review in December 2019 that found the APS needed to accelerate its adoption of data and digital technologies to “drive productivity and change”.

The review also stated that “the APS lacks the ability to attract, retain, and nurture high-quality talent and the level of consistent leadership across the whole of government required for a culture of innovation and change”.

The strategy is being overseen by DTA CEO Randall Brugeaud, who has assumed the title of Digital Head of Profession.

Woolcott also took the opportunity to outline that work is underway to simplify the “cumbersome” APS recruitment process, particularly for graduates. He pointed out that a pilot has been launched under the Australian government’s graduate recruitment scheme so that several public service agencies could share the same graduate recruitment scheme in a number of fields, including digital and data.

“The pilot received over 6,000 applications,  including 1,700 across the digital and data streams, and the secretary board is keen to aggressively consolidate the scheme and establish the APS as a graduate employer of choice to build the skills and capabilities that we require for the future,” Woolcott said.

Uplifting digital skills for existing staff is also a focus under the strategy, with Woolcott noting that 10% of its senior executive service with APS have already participated in a DTA-run program about how to lead in the digital age. The program will continue to be rolled out to other APS leaders, Woolcott said.

In handing down its 2020-21 Budget in October, the federal government walked through the steps it has taken to set the APS up for success in allowing it to move forward with helping the nation’s economic recovery.

It pointed to its Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT) program that it has touted would provide “new and improved channels for accessing the welfare system, ensuring quicker approvals, faster payments, and the flexibility to implement new payments faster than ever”; as well as its digital identity system that is being used by more than 1.6 million Australians and 1.1 million businesses to access over 70 government online services.

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