EXCLUSIVE- Digital Canberra- Fostering business and citizen initiatives through technology backbone
Jon Cumming, Chief Digital Officer, ACT Government spoke to OpenGov about changing culture and bringing cohesion and disruption in equal measure to digital transformation across directorates, through a whole-of-government view. Mr Cumming also shared the ACT Government’s Smart City vision to foster business and citizen initiatives.
Can you tell us about your department and role?
We are a very small group of about 10 people. We are not the IT department. We are trying to change the culture and disrupt traditional ways of thinking. We are looking to achieve outcomes across three dimensions:
- Growing the Digital Economy - focusing on how the ACT Government will support the growth of local business both as a customer and sponsor.
- Delivering Digital Services - fostering an innovative approach and efficient service delivery for citizens, community groups and business.
- Building Digital Foundations - ensuring that we as a public service have the tools we need to deliver effective digital services.
In terms of delivery, projects are owned by the sponsoring directorate but I have taken on sponsorship of some key digital transformation projects that reach across whole-of-government.
There are two that we are currently focusing on. The first is around citizens interacting with government services, managing identity and integration of services. . This is being done through a citizen portal, called iConnect.
iConnect is a platform for the delivery of digital services. It will ultimately offer personalised anytime, anywhere engagement with government via any device with an Internet connection. And it will include digital mailboxes, end-to-end transactions, bill payments, service reminders and automatic payments.
The second thing that we are working on is a Data Management Pilot project. This pilot will look at establishing a clear case for a whole-of-government, privacy-centred data management and analytics practice. We will pull together data from their current siloes into one place where we can work on it. It will enable effective information sharing to support operational reporting, frontline staff support and business intelligence.
There are many reasons to do this. One is to enhance the citizen experience. Another is to improve outcomes for government and the community by maximising the value held in data – but doing so in a way that does not breach privacy.
How do you coordinate between all the directorates?
It is about influencing people. The directorates have their own outcomes they have to achieve. I cannot interfere with that. But I can help by bringing a common digital culture and cohesive way of working across government.
For example, we have created a governance committee on digital strategy for all of government. We found that just getting together and talking about the things we are working on and the challenges we all face has been tremendously beneficial, particularly where there is overlap in activity.
Part of my job is to create the Digital Strategy in a way that gives people permission to do things. So, the adoption of cloud is a good example. It is a powerful tool for the ACT government. Being relatively small, the cloud helps us to punch above our weight. And now it is part of our strategy so the government team is not only free to use cloud – it is actively encouraged through the strategy.
Could you tell us about Smart City initiatives in the ACT government?
I am working with key leaders from Economic Development, Policy and other organisations on Smart City initiatives. We are working as a team to provide leadership around what projects are best suited for the Smart City area. It’s partly digital and partly about infrastructure and policy.
Canberra has a good reputation in successfully rolling out things like CBRfree public Wi‑Fi. So now we want to make a plan that gives clarity to our particular focus areas. We have to go beyond the Smart City hype and build substance. But we must also be careful not to take on more than we can actually achieve.
The ‘Smart City’ catch cry is a bit like the word ‘digital’. It means different things to different people. And our job is to define what our version of Smart City is. So that everybody has the right expectations around what that means.
An area of particular interest to me is the Internet-of-things (IoT) and the data we can harvest through those technologies. I am really keen on supporting economic development by providing an IoT backbone. In Canberra, one of our main focus areas will always be developing the economy and creating a good innovation hub for businesses. We will put into place new technology which provides services to citizens and also fosters business.
As part of our piloting, we have undertaken successful Smart Parking trials in Manuka – and provided the anonymised parking data as Open Data. This data was well used in the recent GovHack event.
So we already have several successful initiatives. We just need to bring it all together into a long term plan. We have to analyse what are the Smart City elements that we are going to focus on, and make sure they can be joined together and create something more than the sum of the individual parts. Rather than having a mishmash of sporadic things and a thousand pilots, we want to develop a real focus on what Smart City Canberra will be.
Canberra is the kind of city, where I think citizens will adopt new technology quickly. For instance, there are citizens providing their own atmospheric monitoring in their gardens. Our job would be to collect the data. By presenting it as community data, we can open it up and see what people want to do with it.
We can say that here’s the stuff we want to share with everybody. Make of it what you want. You might make a business, you might create an interest group. Let the citizenry figure out what they want from it.
There are some core functions government has to perform and we want to focus our energies on doing those things really well. The best thing we can do for businesses is to give them business. It’s much better than a grant.
What are your views on balancing legacy architecture versus implementing new technology? Typically organisations start their journey by saying ‘we are digital’… a lot, and hope that everybody believes it. Then they progress to doing something that seems like digital and innovation but is probably neither. Then they move to some truly digital initiatives – but in a silo’d way that performs a narrow function.
The final step is true digital transformation – and it is hard work. And the main challenge is legacy architecture.
Increasingly legacies are being transformed into business rule engines with functional APIs. This allows them to be modularised over time and upgraded in a far less threatening, incremental fashion. The process is broken down and implemented piece by piece. Meanwhile, digital apps can use APIs to provide a seamless customer experience.
The balancing act is to move forward on building up agile digital skills and culture whilst having a plan to renovate the legacy into a powerful business engine platform.
Is enough being done to deal with Cyberthreats? What are you doing within your agency for the same?
It’s an increasing challenge. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but sometimes we need a disaster to galvanise action. We have seen several in Australia and, whilst painful at the time, they really accelerate the adoption of investment and mature behaviour. At one level, we need to lock down more to protect government data. On the other hand, the millennial workforce requires a greater degree of freedom for optimum productivity in a way that seems inconsistent with rock solid security. We have to bring the two together and strike the right balance.
I am drawn to the Jericho Forum Commandments for a de-perimeterised vision and shaping the Future of Open Network Security. Most public service entities cannot shut down the borders. They need to communicate with their customers and for that they have to connect to the internet.
And the boundaries between inside and outside in corporations are getting blurred. You think the bad guys are outside and that it’s all good inside. It is no longer like that. So, we have to change our thinking on security. I have not seen a utopian answer but there are some very good thinkers out there and I am confident common and effective approaches will emerge.
What are your views on the role of cultural change in digital transformation?
Culture is the battleground of Digital. My job is to influence and change the culture. Sure, I have some projects that I sponsor but fundamentally it is about changing culture. And that reflects how we work together, how we respond to cloud, adopt mobility and harvest data.
We have inadvertently made much of our technology organisation resistant to change because if things go wrong, it is just too easy to say “IT’s fault”. Change equals risk!
So, we need to disrupt that risk culture into one that accepts “risk greater than zero”.
You cannot tell the people the answers. They have to find them for themselves. My job is to go around helping people find the right answer for them. It’s not going to be the same answer for everybody. Everyone has to find their own place in a digital world. Right now, I’m in my happy place!