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Sustaining Digital Transformation beyond COVID Times

Sustaining Digital Transformation beyond COVID Times

Delivering a Modern and Digital Economy to Drive Australia’s Future Prosperity

Michelle Dowdell

First Assistant Secretary at the Digital Technology Taskforce

Australian Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

At the recent Sustaining Digital Transformation Beyond COVID Times event as part of the Digital Government and CX National Insights Series, we heard from Michelle Dowdell, First Assistant Secretary, Digital Technology Taskforce, Australian Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet as she delves into delivering a modern and digital economy to drive Australia’s future prosperity. In this article she explores:

  • Embarking on a whole-of-government (WoG) transformation journey to create a leading digital economy and society by 2030
  • Investing in strategic digital projects to support the digitalisation of 100% of Australian government services
  • Enhancing service delivery by streamlining and simplifying digital record platforms, including MyGov and My Health Record

Was the pandemic really a catalyst for change?

Apart from being a health crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic brought about chaos and uncertainty to most industries and most communities. Although this chaos was in many ways confronting and had negative implications for people’s lives, in some cases it was a catalyst for positive change. That was certainly the case for the digital economy in Australia. Michelle Dowdell, the First Assistant Secretary at the Digital Technology Taskforce at the Australian Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, says that “digital is now much more central to our economy and our society, and that COVID-19 saw the acceleration of this transformation.”

From a numbers perspective alone, “over 50 million telehealth services were accessed in just one year in Australia; nearly a quarter of all businesses changed what they delivered in the first three weeks of the pandemic; and almost nine in ten Australian firms adopted new technologies.”

Since the start of the pandemic, it is estimated that in just five weeks, Australia vaulted forward five years in the adoption of digital technologies. But these trends didn’t start and will not end with the pandemic.

The truth is that for over a decade, “online interactions have been increasing and new business models have been emerging.” It is just that the pandemic hastened the push of some of these tools. Technology has been “reshaping” the way many of us have been doing business for quite some time, and it is anticipated that “by 2034, technology will augment 4.5 million Australian workers.” Considering that even just a few years ago many paper invoices were still being issued, this transition to “instantaneous online functionality” has meant that in many ways, running a business is now “easier, with a better delivery of services to consumers.” However, the recovery from the pandemic and the country’s prosperity beyond that will very much depend “on how well we keep pace with these changes.”

A 2030 vision – the Digital Economy Strategy

To ensure that Australia keeps pace with the changes, in May 2021 the government released the Digital Economy Strategy,[1] which “sets out how Australia will become a modern and top ten digital economy by 2030.” By doing this, and leveraging digital technology, “Australia’s productivity, in both the public and private sectors, will deliver as much as $315 billion in economic benefits over the next decade, and create some 250,000 jobs in the near future.” One of the reasons why the government can make such projections with some level of certainty is because “we are not starting from scratch.” Ove the last decade or more, there have been a number of initiatives and programs, and this current strategy brings them together and “defines a pathway to 2030.” Essentially the strategy is “built on three pillars:”

[1] https://digitaleconomy.pmc.gov.au/

  • The right foundations to grow the digital economy – “Investment in digital tools and processes as a foundation for growth, including digital infrastructure, cybersecurity and the skills to build the digital capabilities for future workforces. It also includes regulations and international engagement.”
  • Building capabilities in emerging technologies – “Better understanding the technologies of today and preparing for the technologies of the future will ensure we are well placed to embrace these new technologies. Some of these new ones include artificial intelligence (AI), Blockchain and Quantum.”
  • Lifting our ambition: digital growth priorities – “There are four priorities where government and the private sector can partner. These include lifting the digital capability and adoption by small businesses, and small to medium enterprises; supporting new ways to work and do business; supporting modern industry sectors to be globally competitive at the digital frontier; and a dynamic and emerging tech sector for secure and efficient government services.”

The strategy and these three pillars have a number of measures for success “to ensure we know if we are on track to achieve our vision.” These are quite ambitious and include:

  • “100% of government services are available online.
  • All new businesses are ‘born’ digital.
  • 95% of small businesses are using e-commerce tools.
  • Digitally intensive industries employ more than 10% of the Australian workforce.
  • More Australian sectors are operating at the digital frontier.
  • All Australians have access to high speed internet and the ability to use it effectively.”

It is intended that these be updated regularly so that progress can be seen and also “so that we know where we need to take further action.” Furthermore, the government has committed “to the strategy being a living strategy that will continue to evolve and see further investment reflecting the dynamic nature of the digital economy.” On that note, to go along with the strategy, and to ensure that it can be implemented, the government has invested over $2.3 billion since 2020 under the Digital Business Plan.” Some of that was committed in late 2021, six months after the strategy’s initial release. To date, some of that investment has gone into “the National Broadband Network and 5G networks, digital skills needed for our future workforce, and unlocking new business opportunities.”

The Digital Economy Taskforce is also currently looking into “capitalising on significant opportunities being created by new payment and crypto technologies, and mandating the use of e-invoicing by government agencies,” as well as encouraging the use of e-invoicing in the private sector. Each e-invoice that replaces a traditional invoice saves $20. The taskforce is also developing a National Quantum Strategy, and has an AI Action Plan, which is trying to “transform Australian businesses and government, and making Australia a global leader in responsible and inclusive AI.”

A framework for broader initiatives

Whilst the Digital Economy Strategy is the centrepiece of the government’s investment and development in this area, it is part of “an overarching framework” of other initiatives released in 2021 to ensure “a coordinated and cohesive approach to the digital economy.” These include:

  • Australian Data Strategy – “Sets out how Australia can become a modern data-driven society by 2030.”
  • Digital Government Strategy – “This is about how the government will adopt a digital-first approach.” It is also about enhancing MyGov. “There are now over 19.8 million active MyGov accounts and over half a million logons daily. The government has invested $200 million to deliver a better, more tailored MyGov that makes it easier for people to access and manage the government services they need. It is also the basis for our ‘tell us once’ approach, and will include an upgrade of My Health Record as well, giving health care providers easier access to health information and the latest results from GPs.”
  • Cyber-security Strategy – “which creates a more secure online world for businesses.”
  • Blueprint for Critical Technologies – “which maximises opportunities offered by critical technologies.”
  • International Cyber & Critical Technologies Engagement Strategy – “which sets out safe goals.”

Ultimately, the strategy and these broader initiatives “sets the vision for how government will work with citizens and business,” to create a scene for the “digital economy to be the key for Australia’s prosperity.”