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Digital Transformation in Government Insight #78:
The APS review — what it means for digital transformation

The independent review of the APS recently released its Priorities for Change report. It highlights four priorities that will help the Australian public sector (APS) be ‘fit-for-purpose’ in the future, including many digital transformation strategies.

Salsa Digital 2 April 2019

The APS review

Currently there’s a large-scale, independent review of the Australian public sector (APS) underway with a focus on ensuring the APS is ‘fit-for-purpose’ for the future.

As part of the review, a Priorities for Change report was released a couple of weeks ago. At the time, the review panel issued a media release, the actual report and posted a summary video online. The report is now open for feedback (closing on 2 May) and the final findings and recommendations will be delivered to the Prime Minister in mid-2019.

The transformation efforts are built on the aspiration of “a trusted APS, united in serving all Australians” and the focus is on creating a vision and designing the approach to get us there.

While many of you are probably already familiar with some of the findings and suggestions from this report, we wanted to highlight the elements that relate to digital transformation in government.

The report

After the message from the Chair (David Thodey), the report is separated into two main parts: Part 1, ‘Building an APS that is fit for the future’ and Part 2, ‘Priorities for change’. There’s also a brief ‘Next steps’ section.

For background information, stats provide a quick overview of the sheer size and scope of the APS landscape, with 18 departments of state, more than 100 agencies and over 150,000 employees.

Why the APS needs to change

The report identifies the need to evolve as being driven by our changing environment, specifically technological, social, geopolitical and economic changes. These changes, and how they relate to one another, provide the ‘why’.

Looking at the tech side of things, the report mentions some stats that demonstrate the radical nature of the technology changes, including the fact that 90% of the world’s data was produced in the last two years and that by 2025 the number of connected devices is expected to be 50 billion.

A flow-on effect of this technological change is seen in the way people use technology. With technology making everyday life easier, people’s expectations have changed and the way we interact with services has also changed.

The panel acknowledges the potential power of tech advances, saying: “enhanced use of data, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) present compelling opportunities for the APS to deliver better services for all Australians.”

Still on technology, the report says that about 40% of the APS’s time is spent on highly automatable data collection and processing. This means there is an opportunity to streamline services and improve citizen experiences by automating these tasks. Automating tasks would provide APS employees with more time to spend on higher value tasks or on improving services.

The report recommends automation and digitisation to deliver better and more personalised services, and stresses the need for the APS to work collaboratively and on "common and interoperable enabling platforms."

Looking at the historical context, the report talks about how government post-70s gave more responsibility to individual agencies, which produced many benefits but also meant that interconnected services are now more difficult. It also raises the issue/risk that long-term underinvestment in systems like digital and data infrastructure risk expensive legacy systems that don’t deliver strong services or data-led policies. By the way, this is an issue we come across frequently with our government clients, as agencies are seeking to move from a wide variety of legacy systems to open source, and trying to consolidate websites/services.

Priorities for the future

The last section of part 1 looks at the priorities for the future. The report stresses the need for:

1. A trusted APS built on integrity, transparency and reliability

2. A united APS working together toward shared goals, and focused on collaboration and a flexible operating model

3. A strong focus on the Australian people “guided by a deep spirit of service to others”

These needs are then ‘mapped’ to the four priorities, the four transformation areas:

1. “Strengthen the culture, governance and leadership model

2. Build a flexible APS operating model

3. Invest in capability and talent development

4. Develop stronger internal and external partnerships”

Part 1 of the report finishes by providing several paragraphs on each of the above priorities, and then focusing on strategies for delivering lasting change. Networked-enabled systems across HR, finance, ICT and data, coupled with common processes to help drive collaboration, are identified as key deliverables. It also notes that APS as a digital leader will provide better innovation and outcomes. Of particular note from our perspective is that the benefits of common platforms are highlighted as a key way to use data and emerging technologies to deliver benefits.

Part 2, Priorities for change

Part 2 of the report focuses on the four transformation areas in detail, providing context, opportunity, and initiatives within each of these four areas, and also breaking down some priorities into more specific focal points.

While all of these are very important to the overall vision of a future-focused government, the one that we’d like to focus on is building a flexible APS operating model, and within that the digital transformation initiatives.

Building a flexible APS operating model

The report highlights the current situation, providing an insight through statistics — such as the 170+ bespoke IT systems being separately managed and maintained across the APS to deliver corporate services. This clearly demonstrates the need to provide common platforms/processes. Interestingly, the report also mentions the positive impact agile can have on an organisation and calls for a more dynamic service delivery approach. (We’re massive agile fans here — running projects exclusively in agile — so it was nice to see the benefits of agile specifically highlighted.)

The transformation opportunity

In this section of the report, several benefits or opportunities are listed, including:

  • Common platforms and systems will deliver efficiencies and free up resources to focus on strategic priorities

  • Common platforms will deliver better outcomes

  • Better flow of information within the APS will help collaboration and lead to faster and better responses

  • Common arrangements will facilitate collaboration, improve digital capability and maximise the use of automation and AI in service delivery

What the panel thinks is needed

The highlights for this area in terms of what the panel thinks is needed include:

  • Common digital platforms and policy frameworks (across HR, finance, ICT and data sharing)

  • Digitally enabled APS, strong in data analytics, AI and automation

  • Staged implementation, prioritising projects that drive collaboration

What is shaping our thinking

In this section of the report, the inputs into the panel’s thinking are listed. For ‘Build a flexible APS operating model’ this includes feedback they’ve received on:

  • Assets nearing end-of-life

  • Lack of standardised processes and systems

  • Experience from overseas that consolidating IT platforms and processes can deliver cost savings and improve operations

  • Success of shared portals and unified services

  • Work already underway to work on these issues (here the Modernisation Fund and the Data Integration Partnership for Australia are mentioned)

Other tech issues

A few other issues that relate to digital transformation in government were raised in the report, such as:

  • Public sector employees will need/use increased technical skills in the future

  • Tech advances and data analytics will help the APS deliver quality services

  • Connected digital platforms (with privacy protection) will streamline services

  • Streamlining user journeys using human-centred design and digitisation will provide a better user/citizen experience while also reducing costs

Salsa Digital’s take

We’re excited by the focus in this report on the need for shared systems/common platforms, and what this means for whole-of-government digital platforms. We’re already seeing this in action with whole-of-government digital platforms like GovCMS and Victoria’s Single Digital Presence. It’s great to see the report highlight the benefits of shared platforms, and provide another, independent voice supporting the move within government to whole-of-government digital platforms. It also ties in well with Salsa’s vision, as an open source digital agency focused on helping governments and enterprises become more open, more connected and more consolidated. The focus on collaboration is key — afterall, open source is all about collaboration and community.

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