What digital transformation means for government agencies


Most public service agencies know that they need to get must make digitisation a key priority and quickly. Even though there are inherent challenges in the crossover we are starting to see statistics that demonstrate the overwhelming benefits for countries that have already made the changes.

And with the recent creation of the Digital Transformation Office last year, it is clear that the Australian government acknowledges how important this area is.

But why exactly is it so important? What does it look like? And what could it change for Australians?

The change within

As Mahatma Gandhi has famously said:

We must be the change we want to see in the world.

This should be the mantra of every person undergoing digital transformation. In order to have effective, dynamic relevant and positive change, an internal attitude adjustment is vital.

Government bodies are at vastly different stages in implementing their digital strategies, but the ones that are the most successful, attribute their success to a clear, thorough and defined commitment to overhaul.

Cultural change is so vital, because even if you have the will (and the accompanying budget and equipment) you need to have an intrinsic understanding that introducing technology into an environment might create fear and upheaval for those who are used to doing their jobs in a particular way.

An interesting example of this was an attempt to get computers into every school, itself a very worthwhile endeavour. There were shiny new computers for the schools in question, but the program was a failure, because the teachers weren’t trained how to teach with them.

It’s not enough to have the assets, there also must be elements in play to introduce people to the technology in a manner that engenders understanding.

Maturity: What governments can learn from corporations

In the Deloitte report titled The journey to government’s digital transformation, the authors have rated the measurement of countries on board with digital development in terms of maturity. They’ve included some really interesting resources, including the table below:

What is interesting about this representation is that it isn’t just focused on the organisation undertaking these changes. For a department to be considered mature, the user is the most important consideration of any prospective program.

This focus is also why corporations have traditionally been much more successful at change than their civic counterparts — their focus and therefore their practices — are fundamentally different.

For example in government if there is an initiative, the team at hand will largely have to use their resources and talent at hand in order to try and achieve it. This is completely different to start-ups, who will approach it from the opposite direction in that they will clearly define its aims with the user at the forefront from the very beginning.

Then once that aim is clear, then they will build a strategy and only then will they look at the assets they need to achieve their goal and the team that can best do this. They are agile, thrifty, sophisticated and responsive, all sentiments that have been used to describe a mature government department.

Case Study: MindLab

A great real life experience of this is Denmark and in particular MindLab, which is routinely held to be the gold star pupil for digital transformation. The overarching aim of the Danish government has been to create a paperless system for citizens and public servants.

However, MindLab goes a little deeper than this.  A cross-departmental initiative, it is also a physical space, where citizens and government can work together to create specific solutions for problems in a number of policy areas.

Continuing with the education theme, one of the programs focused on Danish state schools. The aim of the project was broad in that the program wanted to help all pupils at Danish state schools should achieve to the best of their ability. It was decided that a new set of common objectives needed to be the focus, that there were measures in place to make sure that colleagues kept them at the fore and to help teachers structure their teaching plans. It needed to be accessible and easily updated.

With this in mind, the Danish team created a central website, that teachers could go on and easily adjust their annual plans, keeping these outcomes in mind. This is a small example of a change that could have an enormous impact, not only on the administrative side, but also on the culture of Danish public schools.


Even though the DTO is a recent creation, Australia actually isn’t too far behind the curve. As Miguel Carrasco from the Mandarin suggests:

Last year we ranked second in the world in the UN E-Government development index and notwithstanding the high-profile of the GDS, in many ways Australia has been more successful in moving services online and tackling the challenge of digital identity in the absence of a unique citizen identifier.

However in order to remain competitive it is important that we continue to innovate. The DTO, in conjunction with mandated change, are really fantastic chances for Australia to really examine and to put into play the kind of model that can grow with the challenges and opportunities that technology affords us.