Australia is not a screw-up nation

We are not facing cataclysmic failures of our public services, says Marie Johnson.

By Marie Johnson
Jan. 16, 2017

Digital government has been happening for decades

Indeed, digital government has been happening for a lot longer than 16 months - for many decades in fact. Digital government is not a recent phenomenon. Australia has been and continues to be in the lead in many of these areas.

The Business Entry Point - an initiative of the three levels of government in Australia - has been in place for 18 years, including the prestigious recognition of the 2006 United Nations Public Service Award in the category of e-government.

What other innovations have been delivered by our government? A unique business identifier (ABN), chip cards, smart forms, syndicated content, transaction management, online accounts, advanced passenger processing and sophisticated biometrics strengthening border entry.

Agencies have also provided remote and mobile service delivery, indigenous language, geospatial and online translation and interpreting services, and predictive analytics. The list goes on.

Beyond websites

The digital ecosystem of social media channels, video, apps, point-of-sale, digital platforms and services platforms is shared with other governments globally. Digital government is not the same as IT and should not be mistaken for IT. It is not a portal nor a pick-list of beta projects.

Digital government describes the phase change that has been underway for several decades and that is deeply changing the underpinning architecture, challenging policy and reshaping the concept of service delivery and the engagement and relationship with citizens.

The point is that Australia has a very advanced digital service delivery architecture and services infrastructure that enables the phenomenal interaction across this complex ecosystem and throughout the economy.

Australia is not a screw-up nation.

Yes, things will not always go to plan. And because of this inter-dependence, system-wide strategy, policy and governance is critical. The government has rightly placed a strong emphasis on digital governance.

But we are not alone in the world in the challenges that we face - although recent commentary would have the Australian public believe that we are the world's dunces.

I have worked with many governments around the world. In 2006, I worked with Microsoft on the 'New World of Government Work' strategy, which described some of these challenges.

All countries face these challenges. Britain has also long faced similar challenges.

In 2014, I co-authored a paper with Jerry Fishenden (from the UK) comparing the online and e-government strategies of the UK and Australia over the past 20 years.

The similarities of the challenges are confronting. In that paper, we referred to a Manchester Centre for Development Informatics working paper that found an estimated US$3 trillion was spent during the first decade of the 21st century on government information systems.

Author Carolyne Stanforth said that "60 per cent to 80 per cent of e-government projects have failed in some way, leading to a massive wastage of financial, human and political resources, and an inability to deliver the potential benefits of e-government to its beneficiaries."

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