Imagine what you could do with an extra 20,000 days!

Queensland’s Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) decided to make that figure a reality, by finding and eliminating inefficiencies.

So far, the Department has reclaimed 15,000 days of effort.

Now in the second year of the initiative, Chief Information Officer Sandra Slater says the 20,000-day goal is well within reach.

“The initiative aims to free up days of effort otherwise absorbed by manual, time-consuming internal processes and outdated ways of working,” she said.

“Our objective is to give back those 20,000 days to our staff.

“It is a concept. It was just a number; let's start with 20,000 and see how we go with that. It’s the underlying purpose of 20,000 days that is important.”

That purpose is primarily to instil a culture of continuous improvement across the department’s Corporate Division.

“It's not about looking for staff cuts. This has been done in a really genuine effort to improve our business and our customers’ experience by streamlining and digitising our work practices, processes and systems,” Slater said.

The big gains to date came from automation.

“If you've got 9000 people and you can save them each 10 minutes by automating even just one small element of a formal process, it all adds up and the overall gains can be quite significant,” Slater said.

“Another win is process improvement: How many approvals do we need? Can we cut red tape? Can we find simpler and easier ways of doing things?

“20,000 Days also has an element of competition built into it, where employees are encouraged to showcase what they've done to contribute to the initiative, even if it's only a few days effort that they've saved. Some really innovative stuff has come out of this,” Mrs Slater said.

IT as energy source

While much of the gains to date are from employee self-service improvements, such as digitised filing of expense claims, Mrs Slater said the initiative was resulting in broader improvements, including within her own IT domain.

“We deliver computers to staff's desks. We buy them in bulk, they get put in a warehouse, we go and collect the computer and my team would spend half a day imaging and testing them before they could be deployed,” she said.

“We reached out to the vendor and asked them to perform a ‘Just In Time’ image for us at the warehouse. That has saved 610 days of effort so far.”

The effort saved allowed TMR to divert resources to ICT training instead, helping employees make the most of collaboration tools like Office 365, Yammer and Skype for Business.

“Queensland is a vast state. Being able to connect to our remotely located people whose day job might be out there building roads but getting them to play a part of the improvement of processes and digital solutions is where our collaboration platforms can play a really big role,” Slater said.

20,000 Days has proven itself as an instigator of change. The challenge now is to build the practices it championed into the rituals of the organisation.

“The whole idea is to keep continuous improvement front-of-mind and everyone energised,” Mrs Slater said.

“What I want to do now is to turn it into a framework where it's embedded in management meetings and ingrained in how we naturally do business.”

Explode everything

20,000 Days is one of many efforts by State governments that demonstrate appetite for change and digital enablement.

When Chris Fechner, who is now Service NSW’s digital chief, was still in his prior role as CIO of the NSW Department of Planning and Environment, he toured Silicon Valley to learn from some of the world’s top startup incubators.

“One of the key things I came away with is that you have to actually explode existing processes to imagine them in different ways,” he told a summit for technology vendor Pega. “I think government especially needs to do that.”

The Service NSW model has become a model for digital improvement across state and territory governments as many try to emulate its success - with mixed results.

Service NSW is successful in part because of a government mandate to drive 80 percent of transactions through its digital channels, says Gartner research director Dean Lacheca.

“That drove a political commitment to deliver those outcomes. No other state [or territory] has really delivered that same level of transactional commitment at that level,” he says.

“There's now Service Victoria and Service WA emerging, and Queensland has had a one-stop shop for a long time, but it's not at the same level as where Service NSW is.”

Agencies of change

As is the case in other industries, government departments and agencies are pursuing a range of enablement programs to equip staff and teams with important skills for digital projects.

The NSW Government has DNA Labs, now in its second year. “We recognise that the skills required to deliver an awesome digital product are different to the skills government departments typically have on staff,” director of service design and digital delivery Marina Chiovetti says.

“Augmenting teams with User Research, Service Design, Product Design, and modern development skills has always been our bread and butter,” she says, adding the Labs added extra rigour to its engagement model in 2019 to ensure projects it became involved in were set up for long-term success, even once DNA stepped back.

Digital engagement in Queensland is largely driven out of the state’s DIGITAL1ST strategy, first unveiled in 2017. It lists 22 instances of digital innovation spurred by the strategy.

The Victorian Government has likewise defined overarching digital standards. It offers digital practitioners access to a whole-of-government digital group on Yammer, with individual agencies employing their own digital enablement staff, based on individual departmental and agency plans.

South Australia’s digital transformation strategy commits it to be digital by default and citizen-centric. “Digital does not mean doing the same things that we’ve done in the past and just putting them online, it means rethinking services for the digital age, in partnership with those we seek to serve,” it says. The ACT Government is on a similar trajectory.

The Western Australian Government has now funded its Office of Digital Government (ODG) to continue the state’s digital reform agenda for another four years.

And the NT Government published its first whole-of-government digital strategy in October 2018. It is intended to be a ‘living strategy’ that is updated annually.

Gartner’s Dean Lacheca says the states and territory governments, and the agencies under them, are often across what their peers are doing, partially to benchmark their own initiatives. However, he notes, in several of the larger states, digital is still largely the “big, separate departments executing their separate strategies”.

“There are whole-of-government digital strategies overarching them, but largely the departments and going down their own path and therefore they have different levels of digital maturity,” Lacheca says.

Capability uplift

Within TMR’s IT branch sits the Digital Capability unit, where the focus is “around capability uplift for the entire organisation,” Mrs Slater said.

“It's not about mandating digital. It's not about telling everybody you ‘have’ to do something but giving them the opportunities to all come on board.”

One of the unit’s key wins so far is the establishment of a digital capability development panel of providers. So far, 34 vendors, large and small, are on the list. They all bring different skills and capabilities to the table, and that provides a range of possibilities for TMR - and, in fact, any Queensland Government department or agency.

“We set it up as a whole-of-government panel so that all government agencies can get access to it,” she said.

“Some of these can be really little engagements where you're tapping into so much talent in the industry, including niche little companies out there who've got a lot to offer and a lot of energy to bring to finding new ways of approaching things.”

Separately within TMR, Mrs Slater’s team has created a Digital Advocate Network and a Digital Capability Development Network Together, and there’s now 650-plus employees across the organisation signed up. They talk and meet regularly with the aim of developing their digital skills and sharing them within their own business areas and domains.

“I think that's a really big part of cementing the opportunity and collaboration across the department, because they're taking it back to their business areas and showcasing it there,” she says.

“The business will drive their own maturity uplift.”

No future?

In the future it may not be enough for a state to be digitally enabled by itself.

The NSW, Queensland and ACT governments are already working with federal counterparts to map citizen “life journeys that traverse jurisdictional boundaries”.

In other words, citizens may simply deal with government in one way, regardless of which level of government their inquiry relates to.

“We love talking about a one-stop shop or a Service NSW, but in reality, if I look at it from a citizen's perspective, they don't really care that some things happen at a state or federal level, and when should I talk to state or federal,” Lacheca says.

“The continuum is what's important to them, which requires more data sharing and more connection of services. Being able to share across the different states will be a massive step forward in that space.”

NSW Department of Education builds a better portal

There has been plenty of attention on the computing devices school students and teachers use in Australian classrooms. But what about the digital information platforms they rely on?

More than 1,200,000 New South Wales school students, and their parents and teachers, use state government portals to access everything from timetables and reports to teachers’ annual leave balances.

These portals are now at the centre of a digital modernisation program led by the New South Wales Department of Education. Its goal is not just to make school information more accessible – it also wants portals that engage students and improve communication between them and the schools, as well as parents.

And the department sees an opportunity to use portals to reduce teachers’ paperwork, by automating administrative work.

Digital challenges

To achieve its goals, the department needs to provide a cohesive digital experience. For example, its portals must provide consistent communication and oversight of students’ progress. That’s no small feat, considering it has separate portals for students, parents and teachers, each containing lots of information categories.

Another challenge is engaging students who are familiar with modern, personalised app and social media interfaces. The department has spent years doing behavioural studies and market research to inform its customer experience strategy. But creating user-friendly interfaces is another matter.

Data privacy is another concern. That means controlling access for multiple types of users and securing myriad sensitive information.

A modern platform

To solve these challenges, the department is using the Liferay Digital Experience Platform (DXP). It began upgrading to the platform in early 2019, having used earlier versions since 2010.

Liferay DXP provides a common platform for the three education portals and a single view of up-to-date student, parent and school data.

It also makes it easier to personalise content. Audience segmentation capabilities make it possible to provide highly targeted information, without the department’s users needing coding skills.

Students, parents and teachers can also personalise their school portal experience. And responsive design ensures that the interface is easy to use on different devices.

To secure data, the department is using Liferay DXP’s identify management and access control features, including authentication and role-based permissions. Single sign-on simplifies user access.

Easier for IT teams

With such a large information platform, it’s important to minimise the digital workload for the IT team driving the project.

The all-on-one platform helps by reducing the need for custom code and simplifying integration with applications such as Office 365, SAP and Oracle.

These capabilities will be increasingly valuable as education portals become an increasingly important tool for 21st century schooling.