More has emerged on the behind-the-scenes tension over the government’s digital agenda that culminated in the rebranding of the former Digital Transformation Office in October and the departure of digital chief Paul Shetler in November.
It has now become apparent that one of the victims of the policy battleground was the DTO’s vision for a single, easy-to-navigate, government website, called GOV.AU. That vision has since been swapped for a more diffuse strategy to give the existing fleet of Commonwealth websites a usability makeover, and to trim their number.
The decision to scrap the one-website-to-rule-them-all strategy – first reported in The Canberra Times – is said to have been made by Assistant Minister for Digital Transformation Angus Taylor at the eleventh hour in August 2016, at least partly to repair relations between the digital hub and an increasingly disgruntled public service.
A spokeswoman for Taylor’s office confirmed to iTnews that “late last year the government decided not to proceed with the DTO’s proposed approach to achieve these objectives (which was based on a single government website) due to the projected costs and high level of complexity.
“There was no consensus view across government agencies on the DTO’s approach,” she explained.
The DTO had been working on a prototype, minimum viable product version of a single GOV.AU website since late 2015.
The team – which has since been re-named the Digital Transformation Agency – was due to release a beta version for public feedback sometime after August 2016, but these ambitions were never realised.
Then DTO boss Paul Shetler described the site as an effort to obscure the nebulous nature of government in favour of an approach centred around customer life stages and their different needs at different times.
“Obviously government has a lot of complexity in the way it operates, but we don’t need to rub this in our users’ faces," he told a Canberra conference at the time.
“If you order something on Amazon or you want to view something on Netflix there is an awful lot of stuff happening behind the scenes that is very complex. But it is all hidden from you."
The decision not to proceed with the single website plan meant the team working on GOV.AU went from a headcount of 53 workers to a current count of 12 after it was “determined that fewer resources were required” to implement the revised approach, the Assistant Minister’s office said.
Shetler has since resigned from the government, citing a “fundamental disagreement on philosophy and working approach” with Taylor.
While Australia now seems unlikely to get the kind of single-stop, thematic website operated by the likes of the UK and even South Australia, Taylor’s office insists it hasn’t abandoned the web transformation project altogether, setting its sights on trimming its 1500 website tally and lifting digital standards under the same GOV.AU brand name.
“The December release of an alpha version of the new myGov site is the first example of how the GOV.AU project is improving government sites. It has a simpler and more appropriate comprehension level for users,” said a spokeswoman.