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How government agencies are digitising their workforces

How government agencies are digitising their workforces

Australian government departments have been notoriously slow to replace legacy paper-based processes with new, digital services. Digitisation programs amongst agencies have delivered mix results in recent years.

Australian government departments have been notoriously slow to replace legacy paper-based processes with new, digital services. Digitisation programs amongst agencies have delivered mix results in recent years.

Agencies are now under more pressure than ever to not only digitise existing products and processes but meet the needs of an emerging culture, driven largely by younger people, who demand a seamless digital experience all the time and from any device.

Senior tech executives from federal government agencies gathered in Canberra recently to discuss how they are creating a digital workplace and the challenges they face in doing so. The luncheon was sponsored by Box.   

Box’s Anthony Holland says agencies facing cultural and technical challenges around the creation of digital services should avoid the time-consuming approach of developing detailed requirements for a new initiative. Instead, they should use a small pilot or proof-of-concept project to get started, gain experience and refine requirements.

“Find a keen user group to validate the benefits, get stakeholder support, champion the initiative and give momentum to the project,” Holland says.

He adds that one Canberra agency has established a digital workplace for its staff with tools like Box, Office 365 and DocuSign supporting heightened collaboration, more fluid processes and secure mobility.

“The paperless, compliant processes enable secure collaboration between agency staff, the minister, external agencies, contractors and other external parties,” he says.

“The agency is experimenting with AI technologies to sift through large volumes of content, for example, to detect duplicate charges in vendor invoices and avoid duplicate payments. This process used to require laborious manual processing is now largely automated. They are also using Box Skills to create transcripts of audio files, making it easier and quicker for staff to perform audits.”

David Wong, chief information officer at the National Library of Australia, says the library is encouraging publishers to deposit digitally to support the transition from physical to digital.

“We have an automated system that accepts bulk deposits and takes care of processing from end-to-end, benefiting publishers and the library.

Dealing with legacy

Tech chiefs often feel bogged down by the need to support legacy systems and it can be difficult to decide which infrastructure needs a facelift to support their digital programs.

“To be honest, it’s challenge prioritising projects,” says Wong. “We’ve recently completed transformation of back-end infrastructure so the current focus has been on public-facing systems. We need to do some work to ensure our workflows and platforms are scalable and sustainable into the future and tap into opportunities that artificial intelligence may offer.”

Vincent Nguyen, national senior manager, web & digital, at St Vincent de Paul Society National Council of Australia, says that his organisation develops a business case to evaluate the benefits, costs and risks of each digital project.

“As a result, we have used more cloud services and reduced spending on on-premise infrastructure,” he says.

Rachael Jackson, general manager at the Department of Innovation, Industry and Science, says the agency looks for ways to transform but one challenge is the capability of its staff to understand how to identify the benefits and then to seek support for change.

“We are reviewing our portfolio management office to increase support to both assist with benefits realisation. This includes identifying when to use artificial intelligence and also bolster change management support and expertise,” Jackson says.

The agency has embarked on a program of work to build its digital capabilities while also looking at the employee value proposition, Jackson adds.

“Millennials can become frustrated with hierarchy, the decision-making process as well as the technology that supports [the digital program] so looking at employee experience is part of our focus,” she says.

Meanwhile, St Vincent de Paul’s Nguyen says the charity strives to be nimble and make its processes efficient.

Many of its paper-based processes have been digitised (there is still some to do) and while it helps improve efficiency, the agency also recognises that several people prefer paper and phone-based interactions, Nguyen says.

Determining success or failure

It can sometimes be difficult for agencies to decide which digitisation projects to pursue, particularly as budgets can be tight. Importantly, agencies need to be able to measure the success or failure of their digitisation projects.

The National Library of Australia’s Wong says the organisation uses a mixture of qualitative and quantitative measures to determine the impact of a digitisation program.

 “As we’re providing a public service, it’s not just about the numbers or efficiency improvements. Having said that, we try to maximise reach and impact with the resources we have so it’s a judgement call,” Wong says.

St Vincent de Paul’s Nguyen says his organisation uses cost savings, productivity, faster access to information, better collaboration and the flexibility to work remotely as metrics to determine success or failure.

Security in focus

Improving security is also a consideration for agencies as they create more digital services and workers become more mobile under new, flexible working arrangements.

St Vincent de Paul’s Nguyen says staff are using more social media to interact and engage with customers.

“It’s where we see politics and guidelines in this space need to be developed, made aware of and updated. With the increasing use of digital services, we face more challenges and risks around cyber security,” he says.

“We face risks of unauthorised access to our IT assets, spear phishing, ransomware and so on. We try to improve our cyber security posture by implementing the ‘Essential Eight’ as recommended by the Australian Cyber Security Centre.”

The National Library of Australia’s Wong adds that compared to larger departments with security requirements, the library is less bureaucratic, and allows a range of devices to be used with more open access.

“Developers have chosen the library over other departments so they can work with the latest frameworks and iMacs,” he says.

He says that cybersecurity compliance requirements have risen significantly over the years, which has increased costs and the proportional spending on IT security.

“We’ve also invested heavily in IT security awareness and education to ensure staff know how to secure their home and mobile devices and when not to click on things, as personal devices and home computers are used to access work systems.”

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