Australian government urged to pursue 'digital by default' strategy

Out-Law News | 01 May 2014 | 4:58 pm | 2 min. read

Australian government services should be "digital by default" and the government should adopt the UK's 'cloud first' approach, an Australian spending watchdog has recommended.

The National Commission of Audit (NAC) said a chief digital officer should be appointed by the government to lead the "transition to e-government" in the country.

"The [digital by default] strategy should specify an explicit savings target to drive change," the report said. "It should act decisively to remove legislative barriers to digital transactions. It should set concrete milestones, including switching from an ‘opt-in’ arrangement for myGov to a default ‘opt-out’."

"The strategy should require agencies to make services available through mobile applications. It should have clear and ambitious timelines. It should aim to simplify departmental processes – there is limited value in collecting electronic information from citizens to feed into manual processes in departments. The strategy should also strengthen the myGov online credential. This could be done through the addition of face-to-face verification or biometric information. It would result in a credential that could be used to prove identity in both the public and private sectors. The strategy should cover citizens and business," it said.

The NAC was set up last year by the Australian government to review the "scope, efficiency and functions" of the government in a bid, in part, to find efficiency savings and opportunities to help grow the country's economy. Its report said that "the adoption of new technologies in service delivery and within government" was one way to help achieve those objectives.

The NAC said that the Australian government was right to pursue outsourcing arrangements where the benefits outweighed the risks but called on improvements to be made in how products and services are procured and how supplier relationships across government are managed.

"The Commission recommends that the government ... [take] a more strategic and professional approach to procurement and contract management; make greater use of standardised contracts for procurement; and develop a whole-of-government user charging framework that improves efficiency, accountability and transparency," it said.

One major project that the NAC said the government should outsource is the development of a new government payments IT system. The NAC said the existing system was "obsolete" and that perseverance with it "poses a significant risk to a core function of government".

The NAC also said that the government in Australia should adopt a 'cloud first' policy, similar to the one that applies to UK government departments, when purchasing IT products and services.

"In accordance with the approach being adopted outside of government, for example in the banking sector, the Commission considers that a ‘cloud first’ policy, particularly for low risk, generic ICT services should be clearly articulated and enforced by the Government," the report said. "Over three to five years, this could progressively reduce ICT costs as cloud computing becomes the default option."

The NAC said that a "cloud computing provider panel" from which departments could obtain quotes for services "as the need arises". The creation of the panel would "confirm the viability, capability and costs of large-scale cloud computing providers" and help departments "source cloud services with confidence", it said.

"Competition should be maintained in the market for cloud providers by adding new vendors and services as they become viable," the report said. "This would also allow government to establish standards for such services. The range of offerings in such a panel would allow agencies to procure public or private cloud computing services, with appropriate levels of security."

The Australian government was also urged to take steps to improve the way it uses and published anonymised data it holds and prioritise "several 'big data' projects in major service delivery agencies".