The report card for myGov is in, and the grades are … well, a mixed bag.
The federal government’s digital platform promised to be a “one-stop government shop”, making it easier for people to access government services like Medicare and Centrelink online, while still maintaining security and privacy. And, according to a report by the Australian National Audit Office, released in June, it has more or less delivered on this promise, with the report calling the platform “largely effective”.
Government ministers on both sides of politics have jumped on the report, selectively picking out statements to at turns praise and lambast myGov. Liberal ministers Alan Tudge and Angus Taylor said the report showed myGov was “exceeding expectations”, while shadow ministers Linda Burney and Ed Husic called it “another digital transformation bungle from the Turnbull government”.
The truth most likely lies somewhere in the middle. While the implementation has perhaps been ‘largely effective’, it certainly hasn’t been completely smooth sailing. One of the most glaring aspects of the report was the revelation of a massive budget blowout. In 2012, the government had approved an initial budget of $29.7 million up to 2015–16; by June 2016, the actual spend had reached $86.7 million.
So what went wrong? And how can we avoid making the same mistakes in our own projects?
Here are the 3 big lessons we can learn from myGov’s missteps.
Lesson 1: Research thoroughly
When the business case for myGov was first presented, it predicted there would be 5.1 million user accounts registered by 2016. By November 2016, there were almost 11 million accounts. This was chiefly the cause of the budget blowout – more money was needed to support this unexpectedly high number of accounts, as well as to provide high-availability infrastructure to improve the performance of the portal under this added strain.
The report does not say why the initial forecast was so low, particularly bearing in mind the number of citizens who regularly need to access government services such as Medicare and Centrelink. It seems especially odd when you consider that in May 2014, the Australian Tax Office (ATO) made it mandatory for citizens to sign up for myGov accounts if they wanted to lodge their tax returns electronically.
One reason for this low estimate might be that the Department of Health Services (DHS) vastly underestimated the number of older citizens who would be willing to take up the technology. As Gary Sterrenberg, CIO of DHS, said in 2015: “One of the things we’ve noticed in terms of the Australian population is that the usage is not what you expect … We found that 21% of the population who use [myGov] are 65-plus, which places them third in the rankings of age categories of those who use it. We’re also finding that the geographic breadth of Australia means that, for grandparents to stay in touch with their kids, they are using tablets and so on.”
He went on to say: “Consumers and citizens are really driving digital – not us. We’re not pushing it any more. This is because the banks and the retailers are leading the way.”
By perhaps doing more in-depth research into how users, particularly those of the older generations, were using existing technology, what these users wanted to get out of the technology, and how retailers and banks were implementing digital transformation in their own organisations, DHS would have been able to make a more accurate forecast about how many users would be willing to sign up to the portal, thus potentially saving millions of dollars.
Lesson 2: Define performance metrics and set key performance indicators (KPIs)
One aim of myGov was to save taxpayers’ money. But the audit stated: “It is not possible to determine whether all the expected savings were realised as Human Services and the Australian Taxation Office did not define performance metrics to enable the quantification of actual savings.”
There were savings calculated for one measure – according to the DHS, the government saved an estimated $109.2 million in postage. However, even this figure is potentially “overstated”, as some of the services had existing email capabilities.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that one of the key recommendations of the audit is for Digital Transformation Australia (who oversees myGov’s strategy, policy and user experience) to establish a performance framework “to enable an assessment of the extent to which myGov is delivering expected outcomes for users and member services”.
The key takeaway here, therefore, is to always ensure you establish baselines and set KPIs that will allow you to objectively measure the success of the project right from the get-go.
Lesson 3: Prioritise stakeholder management
While myGov aspired to deliver “whole-of-government” online services, it unfortunately fell short of this mark. The report stated: “While it is not mandatory for member services to participate in myGov, the effectiveness of myGov as a whole-of-government capability has been hampered by government services not joining myGov and not fully adopting the myGov functionalities.”
Of the twelve services that contributed to the business case for myGov, three chose not to participate: the Australian Electoral Commission, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the then-called Department of Immigration and Citizenship.
The report doesn’t explicitly state why these services decided not to participate, but it can perhaps be inferred that their stakeholder interests were not being looked after. This underlines another important aspect of successful project implementation: stakeholder management. This is important not just during the early stages of implementation, but throughout the project. Having regular updates with stakeholders may help to flag potential issues early on, and allow you to address these issues before they become detrimental to the project.
Any ambitious digital transformation project, such as myGov, is going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to implement to its full capacity without any hiccups whatsoever. But by heeding these 3 lessons, we can avoid making similarly costly mistakes.
MyGov is one way the Australian government fosters social inclusion, by using technology to enable access to government services for citizens all over the country, including in remote communities. To learn more about how governments are using technology to benefit their citizens, download our free ebook, Smart technology, happy citizens: how governments can foster social inclusion.