How IT pros can help the government inch closer to a digital Australia

Not long ago, almost 91% of Australia’s government agencies were barely transforming; however, recent federal initiatives like the Digital Transformation Strategy are spearheading the promise for a primarily digital government by 2025. With the current pandemic affecting businesses globally, experts have said this could put a foot on the accelerator for many digital transformation plans as they weigh the short- and long-term effects of the crisis.

But even with this level of accelerated progress, public digital transformation lags far behind the progress of the private sector, or so people think.

Make no mistake, the nation is digitally transforming. Compared with other nations, however, Australia’s wedged in the middle. It still must transform the cumbersome systems and processes of a highly developed country, which can interfere with the adoption of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and automation.

As usual, the future of digital Australia doesn’t solely lie in the hands of its policy makers but in the hands of agency-based IT pros empowered to drive on-ground digital efforts. How, then, can government-based IT pros begin to dispel digital inertia, bolster efforts, and maintain appetite for innovation in their respective agencies?

Red tape or thoughtful progress?

Why are Australia’s top government agencies transforming more slowly than the private sector? Perhaps it’s because agencies are beholden to the interest of their stakeholders: Australians. Unlike those of enterprises, public digital projects must accountably meet federal policies, laws, and—most importantly—budgets.

This is especially the case for ambitious undertakings like the National Broadband Network, which involves multiple stakeholders. Transformation happens in jumps—projects must undergo strict scrutiny and countless approvals, even before launch.

This model doesn’t guarantee success; costs may run high, priorities may change, and deliverables may become outdated. It does, however, help government IT pros establish realistic goals and take the long view on the nebulous process of digital transformation.

More interestingly, it allows them to infuse select agile methodologies and other approaches like DevOps into their projects, allowing for a more iterative approach to development. In the world of business, the focus is pushing out offerings and improving after the fact. For governments, improvements can happen throughout development, ensuring the result meets the needs of the public.

Their approaches may vary, but for IT pros in private and public bodies, modernisation—much less digital transformation—remains an uphill journey where success isn’t guaranteed. For the government, innovative out-of-the-box ideals certainly help, but solid IT pros can do much more. They can ensure the momentum for digital transformation remains as strong as ever by tying it to the one thing concerning most governments: national risks.

Digital transformation: full of risk or risk mitigator?

For government, risk has many heads: national security, economic stability, foreign relations, etc. Next to these, the risk of digital transformation seems insignificant. As any seasoned government IT pro will tell you, most digital undertakings inevitably touch or address these areas of risk. Successful funding and internal support are often funnelled into projects aligned with the risk policies of the day.

Government IT pros can probably go further by highlighting the risk mitigation abilities of their digital projects, not just the technical or user benefits. This is an approach most IT teams in federal agencies can readily adopt, as they often work side by side with departments or project owners handling some form of risk analysis or management.

This presents IT pros with an opportunity to learn about the tools and solutions used to identify or track national risk, allowing them to better propose additions capable of filling in any gaps. As an added benefit, they can get risk analysis teams to advise them on the impact of digital change. Through collaboration, IT pros can demonstrate the value of their projects—and themselves—by advising on the right digital technologies to combat emerging cybersecurity threats, such as financial fraud, and data theft.

A long view of national risk coupled with iterative transformation will help federal agencies stay ahead of today’s fast-changing geopolitical landscape. And because governments worldwide largely tackle the same pool of issues, IT pros can take inspiration from the digital efforts of their peers overseas—and iterate this for greater success if needed.

Looking outward for inspiration

Knowledge transfer, particularly between government IT pros, isn’t new. The digital initiatives and best practices of countries like Denmark and Estonia, for instance, are already inspiring Australia’s digital efforts. In a sense, there are more opportunities for government IT pros to improve their craft.

Public-facing digital initiatives aren’t usually covered by the competitive veil of secrecy of their corporate counterparts. This means any IT pro can reach out to a peer in a shared field across the world. They can learn from other successful projects, asking detailed technical questions, sharing knowledge, and engaging in collaborations on a scale the private sector can’t easily reach.

Indeed, government IT pros should make it a point to constantly update themselves on the latest breakthroughs in other agencies, nations, and conferences and apply them to their own initiatives. They can also bring this curiosity to their relationship with external technology partners to explore technological solutions and digital ideas with the potential to benefit the public.

Government-based digital transformation has the capacity to accelerate—and to continue to gain momentum far into the future. All it takes is a few IT men and woman to take the lead, think outside the box, and boldly explore digital possibilities capable of bringing Australia into a bright and more digitally convenient future.

Patrick Hubbard is the Head Geek at SolarWinds

Patrick Hubbard