Getting the ICT mojo back in Public Sector @ Salesforce World Tour

In the government keynote at Salesforce World Tour in Sydney this week, a panel of thought leaders from the public sector took a refreshing perspective on the topic of Getting things done in Government.  Here’s some of the great insights I captured during the lively discussion.

Dr Steve Hodgkinson, Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Victorian Department of Health & Human Services, and winner of iTnews State Government CIO of the Year, spoke from the heart when he shared his mission of giving people hope that IT will once again be able to keep abreast of technological innovation and trends, and be successful in partnering with business groups to help deliver successful outcomes.

The ICT Mojo

One of the most critical issues in government today is a productivity problem” Steve addresses, there is still far too much time and cost put into IT projects and too few systems and business benefits being realised.  Steve highlights the need to churn out much needed technological innovation more quickly – and aptly refers to it as “getting back the ICT mojo“.

So how do you get the ICT mojo back into Public Sector?

Steve advises the start of the journey is “getting relatively small stuff done quickly and without drama in order to build confidence that IT can get momentum and show results“.  Once that level of trust is created between IT and business stakeholders, that’s when you have enough trust to start tackling more difficult transformation projects.


When it comes to difficult transformation projects – Steve has a great perspective on that too.  He talks about his platform+agile mantra.  “Platform+agile is about setting the department up to deliver more business systems more quickly, making more data available to drive more business insight, which in turn drives the next iteration of innovation, and repeat.”  Compounding organisational awareness, much like compounding interest, ensures the continuous platform+agile iterations continue to deliver more and more incremental value over time.

He makes the distinction that it’s specifically platform+agile, not agile+platform – the platform must come first.  Many organisations today strive to be more agile – with the goal to work in smaller increments, succeed and move on the next best thing.  Steve advises that agile as a focus in government can lead to fantastic innovations, but scream to a halt when it comes time to put innovation into practice and introduce the need to scale and secure the new capabilities.  Agile alone is not enough, and gives birth to digital misfits destined to perpetuate a cycle of ineffective advancement.  “In an agile world, proving innovation stalls when you then have to go back and design the solution for real.

To be agile in government, you need to start with a platform as the basis for scalability, security and success.  “When you start with a platform, you’re already 90% there.”  You have the capabilities to make them secure, to scale, to integrate.  Starting with a platform means you can rapidly ideate and innovate, and if it works, simple scale to support more users and more business groups.  More importantly, “selecting a platform as the foundation for innovation empowers public servants to actually get stuff done – the people that know the business, that know the privacy rules, can work to create innovative new ideas and the platform innately scales to see those innovations put into action.

Steve put this methodology into action last year with the family violence referral triage portal.  Up until December last year, the Vic Police would fax 70,000 paper faxes each year for entry into various systems – a challenge that had failed to be solved in over a decade.  Using the platform+agile approach, in just six months they were able to work with the police and in-house skills to digitalise the process, providing data and insight that has people thinking materially different in hour they capture and use that information – feeding into the next iteration of the project to be released next month.

The role of the CIO

I’m always interested in hearing CIOs talk about how they see their role evolving during this evolution of data and digital, and Steve didn’t disappoint.  He believes the role of CIOs today is understanding how to make innovation stick.  “There’s lots of innovation in all sectors including government, but very few of it sticks.”  It’s easy to create surface digital innovation in govhack type initiatives but getting into the core of the way things work is where the real value is.  Digital innovation in itself is not enough – it’s what survives changes in government and becomes embedded in the core processes of public sector moving forward that has transformative value to public sector operations and services.

The shift from Citizen to Customer

Damon Rees, NSW Government Chief Information and Digital Officer, also shared his vision for pivoting the focus in government to put the customer at the centre of everything they do.  Over the last five years he has seen a strong lift in focus on customer centricity, business outcomes, and “making technology and equal part of that story – not something that sits on the outside“.  He believes technology is what drives business outcomes and shouldn’t compete for funding with other services and programs.    But there is still a way to go – the reality is, a new hospital still makes for a better front-page story than replacing an aging IT system.

Damon’s focus is on the impact of digital – how to use digital to make services more accessible, how to make the best possible policy and strategic decision to leverage data, and how to develop a culture of making more informed decisions.  “Key to that shift is keeping the conversation as one between both services and IT.”  There is plenty of enthusiasm around digital transformation, but there is a danger of taking what we’ve already done and put it on a mobile phone and call it digital.  That’s the wrong approach.  Damon firmly believes we need to go back to understand what it is customers of the government need, and design with a digital-first mentality.

One of the great example he uses is Fuel Check – an app that is great for what it does, but even better for what it represents.  Fuel Check was designed to help consumers have a fair go with fuel prices – in NSW, petrol stations are now required to provide the government with fuel prices in real time.  The important thing is that Damon and his team recognise there are many ways to innovate with that information, so the government makes it available as open data so other partners and providers can bring new tools and services to consumers to help them save on fuel.  This was a fundamentally different way to approach regulation – using digital to break down and reduce information asymmetry.

Modernisation is key to Data Security

It wouldn’t be a government panel discussion without someone from the audience asking a question relating to data security and the use of cloud computing in public sector.

Damon noted that technology is the answer not the problem when it comes to safeguarding data security and privacy, and that people often confuse conversations around security vs. cloud.  A big part of the challenge with cyber security is not the technology, it’s the people.  It’s how people respond, communicate, and make decisions – we need a broader lens than just technology.  “Trust is ours to earn day in and day out or we don’t have right to data and insight.

Steve agrees that cyber security is about modern ICT systems – old systems are fundamental un-secure by nature and put security and data privacy at risk.  There is a critical need to modernise ICT systems as fast as possible.

Watch this space 

Both leaders talked about moving forward with an increased focus on collaboration across departments and learning from each others experiences as they evolve their technological capabilities.  With talk of moving faster, open collaboration, and increased focused on delivering business outcomes – those of us working on government projects should feel optimistic and excited for the times ahead.