Government’s former digital chief warns of skills shortfall, capability gap

The government faces structural, cultural and skills-based barriers to its digital transformation efforts, according to former senior figures from the Digital Transformation Office.

The DTO launched in 2015, tasked with overseeing the government’s digital transformation agenda. In 2016 the DTO was folded into the newly created Digital Transformation Agency (DTA).

The Senate’s Finance and Public Administration References Committee is currently scrutinising the digital delivery of government services.

In a public submission to the committee’s inquiry, the former DTO CEO, and later government chief digital officer, Paul Shetler, former senior digital advisor Jordan Hatch and former digital marketplace head Catherine Thompson have outlined a swathe of recommendations they say will help boost service delivery.

Among the recommendations is a heightened focus on ensuring that senior public servants possess digital leadership skills. Promotion to the senior ranks of the public service should require “proven digital leadership qualities,” the trio argues.

Government agencies that provide significant transactional services to the public should appoint chief digital officers.

In addition, a board of “senior digital champions at the deputy secretary level” should be established to act as a cross-governmental digital governance group and help promote “healthy competition between ambitious public servants”.

The submission also warns that years of outsourcing have “progressively deskilled the public service to the point that it lacks the digital and commercial skills needed to deliver services that citizens expect.”

“Government urgently needs to conduct capacity and capability planning for the future public service,” the submission states. “As part of this, the public service should establish a widespread digital capability program, working across all levels of seniority.”

Earlier this year the Community and Public Sector Union argued that an outsourcing push has left the public sector “overly reliant on external vendors and contractors – creating critical issues with capability and cost.”

The government’s current technology procurement is “is slow, ill-suited to agile project delivery, favours established vendors, and tends to lock out smaller, more nimble Australian startups,” Shetler, Hatch, and Thompson argue.

The trio argues that large parts of the government find it “find it difficult to move away from large, legacy technology contracts”.

The full submission is available online (PDF). Shetler is due to appear before the inquiry tomorrow.


Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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