Connecting government ministers
Australia’s Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet was recognized at the 2017 Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) Public Sector Innovation Awards for its Digital First Capability. Here, the Federal Government & Public Sector Leader for EY in Australia, Andrew Metcalfe, who was on the awards judging panel, speaks with Katie Carlton, the department’s solutions architect.
Andrew Metcalfe: You’ve applied the Digital First Capability to bridge the divide between the department, the Prime Minister and his office and other ministerial offices. How does it work and what are the benefits?
Katie Carlton: Instead of paper-based documents, briefs are created in an interactive, searchable digital format, accessible from any mobile device, such as iPads.
This has radically changed how we deliver advice and information to the Prime Minister’s Office. Policy officers can act, respond and refine within minutes rather than days or weeks, regardless of their physical location.
An example of this is when the Prime Minister started making decisions in the Incoming Government Brief, within hours of receiving it, and we were able to act on that authority immediately.
AM: Do you think this will be a systemic step change?
KC: We believe it will. Many departments have requested instances of the system. The exciting reality is the Digital First Capability has the potential to become a whole-of-government system.
This would allow departments to collectively align their advice. Additionally, where departments disagree, differences can be clearly articulated leading to productive debates and allowing ministers to make well-informed decisions.
AM: What can other agencies learn from your experience?
KC: Provide training face-to-face just before production release. We trained users no more than three days before they were required to use the system. In some instances, we provided training while users accessed the system for the first time.
Develop trust with clients so they accept advice about the need for added features. Users sometimes think simple means ineffective and, while happy to add features later, we ask clients to trial the minimal viable product first. More often than not, they are satisfied with the initial version.
Be bold – executive empowerment enables innovation. Without our secretary’s support, and that of other senior management, it’s hard to imagine it would have been possible to so radically change the paper-based mindset.
Cutting through decades of “that’s the way we do it” is difficult – the development team needs to be empowered and supported.