NSW reveals updated Beyond Digital strategy

The state government has updated its digital strategy and promises more focus on talent and accessibility as it changes how investment is done and how it delivers services.

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The New South Wales government has updated its digital strategy, called Beyond Digital, with a bigger focus on talent and accessibility.

Greg Wells, the chief information and digital officer at the NSW Department of Customer Service, said at the 2021 Digital.NSW Showcase that when the department looked at the existing strategy actions it was “pretty much half done, and half in progress”. The last major update to the strategy was released in November 2019, during a devastating bushfire season that consumed significant state focus. Then the focus shifted so the state could respond to COVID-19.

Now, as 2022 approaches, it is a good time to revisit the Beyond Digital strategy, Wells said.

What has changed in Beyond Digital

In the revised strategy. the core structure remains the same, with five strategic directions:

  • Put customer at the centre.
  • Build a strong digital economy (previously ‘invest for customer outcomes’).
  • Engage and use data insights.
  • Deliver safe and resilient services (previously ‘deliver better front-line services’).
  • Develop capabilities for the future.

When it comes to the digital economy, Wells said that it used to be just about investment, but now it is about an economic transformation and impact. “The other big one that I think is quite different is previously we just talked about frontline technology and solutions, but now it is a lot more about safe, resilient services.”

Three areas have gained increased emphasis in the revised Beyond Digital strategy: infrastructure, IT talent, and accessibility.

Working with Infrastructure NSW

One positive result achieved during the pandemic was the coordinated work across various government departments and jurisdictions, which is something the Department of Customer Service intends to maintain. One such collaboration has been with Infrastructure NSW, whose focus will shift towards the impact projects can have and how can digital services be used to help that, including using digital twins to make sure builds are more efficient.

Wells said that there has been an ongoing discussion of whether digital should be a separate thing to infrastructure, but “we’ve probably gone full circle on that and now it’s about how we work with infrastructure, how we think about planning together and routing services that are part of that same picture”.

The work with Infrastructure NSW is part of the strategic objective ‘design services based on customer journeys’, which will be translated into piloting ways to store and share digital credentials issued by both the public and private sectors, which will inform foundational technical infrastructure and policy.

The ‘key’ issue of talent

Wells said that the department missed “milestones because we don’t have people”. Fortunately, there is a growing number of opportunities for training, reskilling, and upskilling with incentives from state and federal governments. And the NSW Department of Customer Service will focus on transition people into digital roles to help fill the gap, especially via regional talent. Wells said the roles focus is in the middle tier, including designers and managers.

The need for fast digital solutions prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic at the same time the borders were closed to skilled migrants increased the pressure on local talent. This resulted in higher salaries for local tech workers, more competition when hiring as there are less specialists available, and a trend of workers from one state or territory being employed by other states or territories.

A recent Gartner research found that the Australian government—federal, state, and local—is projected to spend $6 billion on IT services in 2021, with a 7.2% growth expected for 2022, or more than $6.4 billion. This is partly connected to the lack of skills which lead governments to seek the work of third-party consultants.

Accessibility has been left behind

When it comes to accessibility, Wells was very clear that the state department is not doing enough. “Accessibility feels like cybersecurity two or three year ago. It feels like we just haven’t taken seriously.”

With a “massive” number of people with disability in Australia, Wells said that the department will have to start from scratch and understand the capabilities needed and raise awareness. He said that the state department “completely missed it” and that “we’re just not keeping up”.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics from 2018 found that just 47.8% of people with disability aged between 15 and 64 were employed, which is 984,200 people. That  figure is down from 50.0% (1.1 million people) a decade ago, even though the percentage of people wth disabilities available to the labour force has remained the same.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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