CIO50 2021 #24 Greg Wells, NSW Government
Under the leadership of chief information and digital officer, Greg Wells the NSW state government has undergone a radical transformation in terms of how it conceives, funds and deploys digital solutions servicing the state’s citizens.
A year after taking on the role in 20128, Wells and his team presided over the introduction of the Digital Restart Fund.
Initially injected with $100 million, the fund was turbocharged with $1.6 billion in June 2020, with an additional $500 million contributed by treasury in the most recent budget.
Its guiding principles reflect those of any successful large scale digital ambition, striving to move away from slow, monolithic projects in favour of more agile, iterative projects that are supported by more flexible funding models.
“We emphasise funding whole of government approaches and prioritise projects that develop reusable digital platforms and solutions, and deliver greater benefits to businesses, people and the economy,” Wells tells CIO Australia. “We release funding iteratively and structure funding so that we’re incentivising innovation and discovery, reducing risk, and ensuring high customer impact.”
Over 100 projects have been funded to date, improving more than 7 million interactions that customers have with government every year, saving more than 3,000 equivalent working days.
Digital projects aimed at healthcare have also had an important impact, including helping to improve the patient experience in hospitals. Better data quality and availability have helped improve safety outcomes in emergency events, while efforts to increase protection of customer data have helped bolster the integrity of the system.
In the construction space, all 128 local councils in NSW have connected with the states online systems with 76,000 development approvals accounting for $87.2 billion worth of projects, saving 150,000 hours of travel time and phone calls, yielding big savings in printing and mail, as well as ‘holding costs’. Tradies are benefiting too, with over 100,000 white cards processed online to date, turning what used to be a four-week process into 4 minutes.
Users of social housing are also beneficiaries, with 99% of leases now digital, and around 30,000 forms lodged online, saving the equivalent of 965 working days.
And in the legal space, Wells and his team have helped consolidate 200 different options for ordering a court transcript to one simple online portal.
Big enough to fail
Traditional funding approaches within government meant digital projects were being considered for funding only once a year alongside other essential programs including infrastructure investments.
“We were inadvertently incentivising large, unwieldy IT projects that would last many years and not deliver value to customers until the end,” Wells says.
The Digital Innovation Fund has established a framework for funding projects quarterly, while also allowing for digital projects to be assessed against each other and prioritised according to direct customer value and the extent to which they meet the government’s objectives.
In a departure from its previous modus operandi, the NSW government now specifically encourages agile and iterative approaches to project delivery, seeking to create value early and continuously while developing solutions and assets that can be reused across the state.
Currently more than one million licence applications are received, processed and approved by the state government every year.
“Through the Digital Restart Fund, we’ve built a solution that is increasing the ease and speed with which customers can apply, renew and use their licences, allowing regulators to use data to better monitor and enforce licensing requirements,” Wells notes. This already includes drivers licences and the aforementioned white card for working on construction sites, with more to follow including real estate and property licences.
Wells recognised the importance of bringing together all department CIOs and their tech teams across the NSW state government to collaborate on addressing the challenges ahead.
“We’re working between government departments like never before, especially when it comes to developing solutions that can be reused,” he says.
A key focus has been ‘state digital assets’; the platforms or services that are used by multiple government agencies.
In working with all of the CIOs and their teams reporting to him, Wells has sought to have everyone think about digital infrastructure in the same way as physical infrastructure. He says this has helped shift the broader narrative about IT as being “inconvenient, expensive and intermittent capital expenditure on computers to embedding digital into the very business of government and service delivery”.
Wells has also presided over the creation of ‘digital bootcamps’, which has helped NSW Government staff outside of IT expand their capabilities by gaining transferable skills in the areas of digital design and development.
And of course, the pandemic with its accompanying lockdown restrictions has elevated the role – and perceptions – of technology as a critical enabler.
“In our current environment of lockdowns across NSW, the importance of building connections and focusing on employee’s wellbeing is a top priority and technology plays a pivotal role in connecting our most important asset, our people,” Wells says.
“Our business is focused on ensuring that our workplace is both inclusive and accessible, regardless of ability or circumstances. Everyone has a part to play in accessibility, from preparing documents or hosting meetings to service content and design.”