Digitising public sector transactions can deliver – for governments, and ‘we the people’

Picture this. Federal Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has agreed to launch your report on government digital transformation that’s been commissioned by Adobe.

He gets the impacts, and opportunities, presented by digital disruption and innovation, and has recently established a national Digital Transformation Office dedicated to “… transforming government service delivery to better meet the needs of all Australians.”

You assume he’s going to say good things about the report, and congratulate Adobe for their foresight in commissioning Deloitte Access Economics to do the research. What you’re not quite prepared for is his very clear passion for the topic, and his opening statement that he is going to “…plunder, plunder, and plunder it again…” (that’s three times) when it comes to mounting what is a pretty compelling argument for governments to do more in terms of driving the development and uptake of digital across its interactions with ‘we the people’.

Our study for Adobe – Digital Government Transformation : Unlocking the Benefits of Digitising Customer Transactions – looks at the economic benefits of digitising customer transaction services for our federal and state government agencies across areas as diverse as the payment of taxes and bills, and applying for government benefits, drivers’ licences and the registration of names.

Australia’s public sector has actually been pretty good at moving to digitise many customer transactions. However, traditional channels for customer transactions such as face-to-face/over-the-counter, telephone and mail continue to play a role. We acknowledge that some transactions may be difficult to replace with digital options due to their complexity, but there’s also still plenty of room for growth.

Faster, more convenient and mobile digital transactions are becoming the preferred channel for most citizens when it comes to accessing government services, and the numbers around doing more with digital are both big and very compelling.

Our research and modelling found that, of the estimated 811 million transactions at the federal and state levels each year, approximately 40% are still completed using traditional channels. But if this figure could be reduced to 20% over a 10-year period (that’s only a further one in every five transactions), productivity, efficiency and other benefits to government worth around $17.9 billion (in real terms) would be realised, along with savings in time, convenience and out-of-pocket costs to citizens worth a further $8.7 billion – and all at a cost of $6.1 billion in new ICT and transitional arrangements.

Ultimately, taking benefits to governments and citizens together, the next stages of digital transformation could deliver benefits worth around four times as much as they cost.

Key factors important for improving digital experiences in government include seamless integration of digital with existing channels, keeping things simple and driving digital take-up, good design processes, automation and fewer interactions, and governments not being averse to working more closely with the private sector.

Of course, significant change generally presents challenges and barriers. We identify six main barriers to change in our report, but also offer recommendations for policymakers to consider when it comes to managing them.

For example, where budget constraints might block governments from investing in the right digital solutions, business case design should be encouraged that allows agencies to offset savings against ICT investments, as should be the design of agile and innovative projects that require lower specifications and lead to direct efficiency savings.

Our governments have come a long way when it comes to digital but, particularly with constantly evolving technologies, there’s room for more to be done. It’s a big job that requires commitment and investment, but the benefits for governments and taxpayers alike shouldn’t be ignored.

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