10.23 Technology

Background

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) plays a critical enabling role in delivering and transforming the operations of government. In October 2012, the Australian Public Service Information and Communications Technology Strategy 2012-2015 was launched with an aim for the Australian Public Service to:

use ICT to increase public sector and national productivity by enabling the delivery of better government services for the Australian people, communities and business, improving the efficiency of APS operations and supporting open engagement to better inform decisions (Department of Finance and Deregulation, 2012).

The Commonwealth Government has indicated its intention to accelerate the digital economy and online engagement. There is a range of areas where there is scope for improved use of technology by the Commonwealth Government, drawing on international experience.

Improved collaboration among government agencies on data and infrastructure can facilitate innovation and increased productivity. Shared service platforms can reduce duplication, achieve economies of scale and reduce support and maintenance overheads.

Government collects and holds a large amount of data for administrative purposes. Greater use could be made of this data to inform policy and decision-making and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of programme and service delivery.

Emerging digital technology, including cloud-based services, offers great potential for the government to improve online service delivery and public interaction. E-Government also has the potential to deliver significant efficiencies in service delivery.

Rationale for government intervention

Rapid advances in technology offer governments the ability to re-shape their services and information management to achieve greater operational efficiency and deliver higher quality services (OECD, 2005). Continuous improvement of government ICT allows for the delivery of more efficient, cost-effective public services that are more responsive to the needs of citizens and businesses.

Drivers

Key drivers for improved and more effective whole-of-government ICT include:

  • changes in community expectations about the availability and timeliness of government services given the trend to ubiquitous online and mobile technology;
    • Australians have changed the way they use government services. According to the Nielsen Australian Online Consumer Report 2012 (Nielsen Company, 2012),for the first time in 2011, accessing government services or information was among the 10 most popular online activities for Australians. Seventy-eight per cent of Australian internet users accessed government services or information online;
  • the emergence of cloud computing as a viable and cost effective means of leasing ICT requirements:
    • advantages of cloud computing include speed, flexibility and economies of scale can that reduce cost;
  • data analytics and advances in computing power (supported by cloud computing) offer the capacity for real-time analysis of large datasets:
    • sometimes referred to as ‘big data’, data analytics involves analysing very large datasets in real time. It is increasingly being used by the private sector to analyse consumption patterns to inform business strategies; and
  • the international trend towards e-Government, with associated cost savings from conducting transactions online:
    • online service delivery has been increasing for over a decade, given the convenience for citizens and the efficiencies for government. It is now at a point where some governments are mandating digital channels as the default form of communication.

Issues

Big data

Data analytics is becoming a core business strategy in the private sector, as companies look to utilise the public’s increasing digital footprint to segment the market and tailor their services.

In recent years, the Commonwealth Government has also put effort into developing big data initiatives. The Australian Public Service Information and Communications Technology Strategy 2012-2015 recognised the need for a whole-of-government big data strategy (Department of Finance and Deregulation, 2012). The Australian Public Service Big Data Strategy was released in August 2013 outlining a plan to improve the use of agencies’ data assets whilst protecting individual privacy (Department of Finance, 2013a).

A whole-of-government Data Analytics Centre of Excellence has also been established to build analytics capability across government through a common capability framework and collaboration with tertiary institutions.

Internationally, Sweden and the United Kingdom offer good examples of governments looking to harness data analytics.

The Swedish Government has developed the Swedish Big Data Analytics Network which involves a number of organisations including different sized companies, universities and public sector stakeholders (Swedish Government, 2013).

The United Kingdom Government (2013a) announced funding of £189 million for big data in 2012, recognising the potential impact on business and science transformation. This will be invested over the next two years in key areas such as: bioinformatics and environmental monitoring. A further £23.5 million has been invested in the Economic and Social Research Council to support an ambitious birth cohort study to track 100,000 children from birth, with an objective to link genetic, environmental and educational outcome data.

The Centre for Economics and Business Research (2012) estimates that the big data marketplace could generate approximately 58,000 jobs in the United Kingdom from 2012 to 2017. Deloitte (2013) also reports that ‘the direct value of public sector information alone to the UK economy is around £1.8 billion per year, with wider social and economic benefits bringing this up to around £6.8 billion’.

Open government data

In 2011 a global initiative called the Open Government Partnership (OGP) was launched, to provide an international platform for participating governments to support more open, accountable and responsive government. Since then, the number of participating countries has increased from eight to 63.

In May 2013, in line with its response to the Gov 2.0 Taskforce, the previous Government announced Australia’s participation in the OGP (Department of Finance and Deregulation, 2013). The Gov 2.0 initiative promoted openness and transparency and encouraged government to make non‑sensitive public sector information available to society to maximise the benefit of public datasets.

The key measures introduced in response to the Gov 2.0 initiative are the establishment of data.gov.au as the government’s central public dataset repository and guidance for making public sector information accessible and reusable.

The establishment of the Australian Governments Open Access and Licensing Framework provides guidance to governments and society on publishing information and data in line with the Australian Information Commissioner’s Open Access Principles.

Despite these developments, the Productivity Commission’s 2012-13 Annual Report was critical of the lack of access provided by the Commonwealth to its administrative data sets – see the chapter from the report reproduced at Attachment 10.23.1.

In October 2013 a joint project of the World Wide Web Foundation and the Open Data Institute studied 77 countries’ open government data practices at the national level (Davis, 2013). This study included peer-reviewed expert survey data and secondary indicators to assess open data readiness, implementation and emerging impacts.

The key findings of the project, as outlined in its Open Data Barometer 2013 Global Report (Davies, 2013), are that:

  • there has been rapid adoption of open government data policies. Over 55 per cent of the countries surveyed in various forms had policies ranging from isolated open data portals within an e-Government framework to government-wide approaches.
  • availability of open data remains low. Only 7 per cent of the datasets surveyed are published. This creates difficulty and legal uncertainty for users to access and work with government datasets.
  • leading countries with strong open data policies are investing in national infrastructure to promote public and private innovation and efficiency. Mid-ranking countries have some initiatives such as open data portals but often lack the availability of key datasets. Low-ranking countries have not begun to take on open data due to a lack of well-managed government datasets.
  • Australia ranked seventh in the list of countries most advanced in open data readiness, implementation and impact. The United Kingdom was ranked first, followed by the United States of America, Sweden, New Zealand, Norway and Denmark.
  • No country can yet claim to have fully open government data by default.

Since the United Kingdom Government launched its Open Government Data initiative in 2009, it has placed a high policy priority on open data. Over 10,000 datasets have been published on data.gov.uk to support innovation and economic growth and the Open Data Institute was established to assist business in utilising data.

Each UK government department contributes to data.gov.uk through its own open data strategy and regular reporting via ministerial statements. Many departments have established Sector Transparency Boards with representatives from business and civil society to act as conduits for user data requests and advising government on data release.

The quality and ‘linkability’ of government data are also important considerations when publishing data. The United Kingdom is developing a National Information Infrastructure of core datasets to be improved as open data. A number of departments are building platforms for their public data and bringing transparency of data across government departments.

The world‘s first national open government data initiative was established by the United States in 2009 (United States Government, 2010). It promoted economic value from data and encouraged departments to open data with high value. The availability of open data in the United States is high given copyright laws do not apply to federal data. The Presidential Innovation Fellows programme has private sector experts engaged in government departments on a short-term basis to support open data work. Entrepreneurs are also engaged through Datapalooza events to assist government in social policy making by using government data.

The Open Data Barometer 2013 Global Report (Davis, 2013) also finds that open data supports transparency and accountability, entrepreneurial activity and government efficiency.

ICT infrastructure

Duplication of expenditure on ICT systems not only exists across Commonwealth Government agencies but also within them. As an example, the Department of Defence has a number of individual stand-alone ICT systems which do not directly communicate with each other.

The Coalition’s Policy for e-Government and the Digital Economy states that:

...the Government will eliminate duplicated, fragmented and sub-scale activities across agencies by requiring use of shared or cloud services where minimum efficient scale hurdles are not met. There is a default expectation that private or public cloud solution will be used whenever efficient scale is not achieved at agency level.

Of the total Commonwealth Government ICT spend, $250 million (4 per cent) was expended by 72 small and micro agencies. These agencies cover over 11,000 staff, including 746 ICT staff, who make up 6.6 per cent of total agency staffing. Average ICT cost per Full Time Equivalent (FTE) staff member for these agencies is over $22,000. There may be scope for rationalising these costs through shared ICT services or centralised procurement arrangements.

By comparison, Gartner’s 2014 international ICT benchmarks indicate that the average percentage of ICT staff to overall FTE is currently 5.0 per cent. The cost benchmark is US$12,700 per FTE. These benchmarks should be viewed cautiously given the relatively high cost of wages, broadband connectivity and software in Australia. Nonetheless, there would appear to be some scope to reduce ICT costs in small agencies.

e-Government

The Secure Identity Alliance and the Boston Consulting Group (2013) estimate that, globally, e-Government has the potential to yield savings of up to $50 billion per year by 2020.

The Coalition’s Policy for e-Government and the Digital Economy commits to better use of technology in government and the promotion of innovation to improve Australia’s productivity and economy.

In 2011, the use of digital channels for accessing government services appeared to plateau at between 30 and 40 per cent across all levels of government in Australia. However, a 2012 survey by the Department of Finance found that there were more than 1,000 government services available online with a further 320 enhanced or new services planned for introduction (Department of Finance and Deregulation, 2012). High-transaction agencies including the Australian Taxation Office, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship are leading the way.

The Department of Human Services has recently introduced the myGov service, which allows people to access government services from Medicare, Centrelink, Child Support, the Department of Health, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the National Disability Insurance Agency using one user name and password online and via mobile apps.

The Australian Taxation Office is scheduled to join myGov in March 2014 through its e-tax product and new web and mobile services. MyGov recently added a digital mailbox service to provide a secure electronic mail delivery channel for official correspondence. This service links with the Australia Post Digital Mailbox facility and also has potential to link with commercial providers.

The Commission understands that the myGov service has just over two million registered members and is accessed by over 150,000 users each week. A further two million users are anticipated to register by mid 2014, with the service further expanding to link with State, Territory and local government services.

In addition to myGov, a range of other government services available online.

  • The Australian Taxation Office has offered online tax returns for individuals for many years. It has also introduced Standard Business Reporting that allows firms to lodge tax returns and other financial information with government agencies directly from the software they use for financial reporting, reducing the reporting burden on business. The recent introduction of the SuperTICK service for superannuation funds to check client identity is another example.
  • The Department of Immigration and Border Protection has processed visas electronically since the 1990s through the Electronic Travel Authority, which links into airline booking systems.
  • The Australia Customs and Border Protection Service uses electronic cargo manifests to risk assess imported goods and is increasingly giving eligible travellers the option to self-process through passport control using SmartGate, the ePassport and face recognition technology that performs customs and immigration checks usually conducted by an officer.

However, there is still a long way to go to realise the potential benefits of online service delivery in Australia.

In 2012, 50 per cent of services provided by the Department of Human Services were not conducted online. The ATO reports it is required by legislation to send over 10 million notices of assessment in hard copy. A further 17 million letters are sent by the ATO on activity statement material.

Take up rates for Standard Business Reporting are also substantially below original targets and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection maintains a significant proportion of visa categories which are not electronic.

At the State government level, the Queensland Government (2012) has become the first jurisdiction in Australia to have a formal e-Government ministerial position – the Assistant Minister to the Premier on e-Government.

The eGovernment Directorate of South Australia (2014) is designed to manage government online service to societies. Through enterprise solutions, innovation platforms and strong links to partner organisations and government departments, the South Australian Government is developing online citizen services aligned with the Ask Just Once Strategy and South Australia's Strategic Plan.

Internationally, the Republic of Korea is ranked as the world leader in e-Government (United Nations, 2012). Other high performing countries include the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Denmark, the United States, Canada, France, Norway, Singapore and Sweden. The survey also states that Australia continues to be the leader in the Oceania region.

In the Republic of Korea, the Government has developed an integrated portal where the public can access almost every government service on both a national and local level. The integration across many departments offers a powerful search engine allowing search lists by websites, services, and news. Provision of downloadable mobile applications for citizens to access services easily is a key reason for the Republic of Korea’s continued leadership in e-Government.

The United Kingdom Government Digital Strategy 2012 outlines that from April 2014 all services brought online will comply with the ‘digital by default’ standard. The strategy estimates savings of £1.7 billion to £1.8 billion each year through delivering services digitally.

Since the introduction of a single government website, GOV.UK, in October 2012, user satisfaction has been increasing as more government department activities are moved onto the site. As at October 2013, GOV.UK was receiving 9 million visits per week by 6 million unique visitors (United Kingdom Government, 2013c).

Denmark has established a national services portal as the gateway to the entire public sector. Through this website, citizens can report changes in address, income or marital status, apply for student loans or a state pension and modify tax issues. A mail box called E-Box is designed to collect mail from government or private companies for the citizen.

Under its eGOVERNMENT strategy 2011-2015, the Danish Government expects to save DKK800 million (approximately A$166 million) by using a digital post solution. By 2015, it will be mandatory for citizens to use digital solutions to communicate in writing with the public sector. All citizens will also be required to use online self-service once printed forms and letters have been phased out.

Cloud computing

Cloud computing is a way of leasing computing services over a network. It allows costs to be shared across users, with rapid scalability on demand and fast access to new computing applications and systems as they become available.

Public cloud computing offers the greatest savings by amortising costs over millions of users globally. It can produce significant savings in the total cost of ownership, of infrastructure costs. Private cloud facilities are more expensive but offer benefits such as increased security.

IBM (2012) has estimated that reducing ICT ownership in favour of leasing arrangements can produce savings of between 20 and 30 per cent of infrastructure costs, including by eliminating redundant networks, server consolidation, standardising applications and consolidating data and data storage.

A KPMG (2012) study on Modelling the Economic Impact of Cloud Computing reported that significant operational and capital savings can be made by governments and firms adopting cloud technologies. Savings are available across all three typical cloud service offerings: software, platform and infrastructure.

The same study also estimates that Australian GDP could grow by $3.3 billion by 2020 if the adoption of cloud services across the Australian economy rises.

The emergence of cloud-based technology offers the potential for better efficiency and service standards across government. Savings are available across all three typical cloud service offerings: software, platform and infrastructure.

In May 2013, the Department of Finance and Deregulation released the Australian Government Cloud Computing Policy (Australian Government, 2013) to assist government agencies in their use of cloud computing services. In line with this policy, Finance has also developed guidance for government agencies on the adoption of cloud computing, including advice on implementation, privacy and security.

However, the Commonwealth Government has been slow to adopt cloud computing. A reliance on bespoke, legacy systems, concerns about the security and privacy of placing public data in the cloud, and general risk aversion all impede progress.

By contrast the private sector has embraced the new technology. In 2012, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia reported saving tens of millions of dollars through the use of cloud computing. The bank reported reducing its infrastructure spending from 75 per cent of its ICT budget to 26 per cent (Foo, 2012).

Under its Cloud First policy, the United States Government (2010) mandates that agencies take full advantage of cloud computing benefits to maximise capacity utilisation, improve ICT flexibility and responsiveness and minimise cost. Government agencies are required to consider cloud options before making new ICT investment.

The United Nations E-Government Survey (2012) reports that cloud computing has enabled the Municipality of Copenhagen in Denmark to cut the number of servers it uses from 638 to just 32. It not only reduced the cost of maintaining infrastructure for holding data, but also lowered carbon emissions by 77 per cent.

References

Australian Government 2012, Advancing Australia as a Digital Economy, Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, viewed December 2013, <http://www.archive.dbcde.gov.au/2013/september/national_digital_economy_strategy>.

Australian Government 2013, Australian Government Cloud Computing Policy, Australian Government Information Management Office, Canberra.

Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) 2012, Data Equity: Unlocking the Value of Big Data, Report for SAS UK, London.

Danish Government 2011, E-Government Strategy 2011-2015, Copenhagan.

Davies, T 2013, Open Data Barometer – 2013 Global Report, Joint Project of the World Wide Web Foundation and Open Data Institute, London.

Deloitte2013, Market Assessment of Public Sector Information, Report for the UK Government, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, London.

Department of Finance 2013a, Australian Public Service Big Data Strategy, Australian Government Information Management Office, Canberra.

Department of Finance 2013b, Online Service Delivery Survey, Canberra.

Department of Finance and Deregulation 2012, Australian Public Service Information and Communications Technology Strategy 2012-2015, Australian Government Information Management Office, Canberra.

Department of Finance and Deregulation 2013, Australia Joins the Open Government Partnership, viewed February 2014, <http://www.finance.gov.au/blog/2013/05/22/australia-joins-open-government-partnership/>.

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