State of the Service Report 2016-17: 92% of APS agencies seeking to improve digital transformation capabilities

Above image: Cover page of State of the Service Report 2016-17

The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) tabled its annual State of the Service Report 2016-17 in the Parliament yesterday.

The report highlights the adoption of technology by Australian Public Service (APS) agencies for information management, productivity and efficiency improvement and enhancing information sharing and citizen engagement.

According to the report, ninety-two per cent are seeking to improve capabilities related to digital transformation in some way over the next three years. Most commonly, agencies identify workforce skills as the capability requiring the greatest level of improvement.

Information management

The Digital Continuity 2020 Policy released by the National Archives of Australia, complements the digital transformation agenda and aims to ‘support efficiency, innovation, interoperability, information re-use and accountability by integrating robust digital information management into all government business processes.’

In mid-2017, 91 per cent of agencies indicated they are on track to meeting the policy’s outcomes. For instance, the National Museum of Australia has worked over the last three years to introduce and implement ‘RM8’, an electronic records management system. In addition to standard corporate records typical of APS agencies, the Museum also holds a collection of records unique to its business. It manages information and resources relating to curatorial and collection management and its Indigenous Repatriation program.

These information types can present new challenges for electronic management systems, particularly with confidentiality, cultural sensitivities and appropriate access. A key component of the project was a cultural change program conducted within the Museum to ensure employees recognised the importance of complying with the digital transition policies. Cultural change was achieved through education sessions on why recordkeeping was so important and why it needed to comply with National Archives of Australia requirements. The Museum now creates, captures and stores 95 per cent of its information in an electronic document and records management system or certified corporate management system.

Augmented intelligence

APS agencies are using augmented intelligence technologies and applications, which enhance, rather than replicate human intelligence, for improved productivity and efficiency.

For example, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Department of Social Services use machine learning suites and other analytical systems to support decision making.

Alex, the ATO’s virtual assistant trained in a broad range of general tax topics, helps clients obtain answers to general questions and navigate the ATO website. She learns from every interaction through natural language processing, reasoning and detailed reporting.

Alex has held more than 1.6 million conversations with clients and has a first contact resolution rate of around 83 per cent, above the industry average of 60 to 65 per cent. She also has a deflection rate of 75 per cent which means her support has stopped a client from needing to call the ATO. By helping clients with general enquiries, Alex frees up contact centre employees to assist clients with more complex enquiries. In her first year of work, call volumes dropped for the first time.

The ATO is now working with other Australian government, and state and territory government agencies, to promote a consistent virtual assistant experience across government. IP Australia was the first additional agency to adopt the Alex brand and saw a call reduction of 10 per cent.


The report also talks about the use of technology by APS to aid connectivity. This includes the National Telepresence System (NTS), supported by the Department of Finance. Ministers and senior officials can communicate and collaborate, without the time and costs associated with travel, though videoconferencing facilities in more than 150 locations around Australia.

The Department of Finance also provides and manages dedicated communication networks to connect government organisations. The data carriage service is a national network connecting more than 140 sites across Australia. These services provide cost effective and secure means of connecting agencies and facilitating information sharing.

The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) is developing whole-of-government platforms that have the potential to improve how APS agencies connect and engage with the public. Govpass is one platform that aims to make it easier for Australians to prove who they are when using government services online. This is expected to allow more government services to be made available online and accessed in a safe and secure way.

Social media

Most APS agencies have at least one presence on social media. Seventy-nine per cent of agencies have a Twitter account, while 66 per cent have a presence on YouTube. Many agencies, such as the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, the Department of Communications and the Arts and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, have mobile phone apps. The apps offer a new way to provide information to users and for the public to access government services.

Open data

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is championing efforts to realise the value of the data the APS holds and make it accessible. Building on the Public Data Policy Statement released in 2015, the Open Government National Action Plan 2016–18 makes a commitment to identify and release high-value datasets held by APS agencies. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is leading consultation with non-government organisations to develop a framework to identify high-value datasets and make them available for innovative use and reuse.

Another key APS focus is improved integration and use of data holdings. The Data Integration Partnership for Australia is a coordinated, APS-wide investment to maximise the use and value of the government’s vast data assets. The partnership aims to improve data integration and analysis and allow cost effective and timely insights into data, while preserving privacy.

Privacy and information security is a key consideration of APS activities in support of open data. The Data Integration Partnership for Australia specifically identifies the preservation of privacy and the security of sensitive data as a main goal. A secure information sharing capability is being established by the Department of Finance with the aim of having a single system that allows agencies to share and integrate datasets securely through cloud-based infrastructure.

Data literacy, capability and skills

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet partnered with the APSC, other Australian government entities and private and academic sectors to develop a holistic approach to improving the overall data skills and capability across the APS.

The APS Data Skills and Capability Framework was created through this partnership. Through the framework, APS employees of all skill levels and backgrounds are encouraged to identify and take up relevant learning and development opportunities.

Most APS agencies are looking to build capability in this area. Ninety-one per cent report they are taking specific actions to improve employee data literacy capability. The most common method is to give employees access to learning and development opportunities. Several agencies embed learning and development in a bigger contextual and strategic framework such as data management committees and community of practice networks.

Others offer in-house training and digital champions as a means of improving individual capability. Several agencies specified management of and training in electronic record management systems as an example of improving employees’ data literacy.

Responses to the 2017 APS employee census suggest a large proportion of the APS has or are seeking to develop data literacy. Forty-three per cent of respondents had been either formally or informally trained to improve data literacy with 49 per cent of these having been trained in the 12 months prior to the census.

Another 52 per cent of all respondents felt that they would benefit from training to improve their data literacy. Only four per cent thought data literacy was not relevant to their job.

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