Last August the centrepiece of the Australian government’s digital dream came to an end. The Canberra Times this week described how “the Turnbull government has quietly killed off one of its biggest plans for ‘digital transformation’; the hugely ambitious gov.au website project”.
The abandonment of the project was an ignominious end of the plans for a Prime Minister who had promised so much at the time of his appointment, and that a cabinet submission would be pulled minutes before it was due to be tabled indicates the convoluted politics behind it.
Bizarrely, that story ran the same day the Federal Treasurer revealed the government would be running a ‘pilot project’ to put more services online as part of their attempts to harness the digital economy.
That the Australian Federal government is looking to run some pilot projects this year is remarkable given twenty years ago, in 1997, the then Prime Minister John Howard announced all appropriate government services would be online by 2001.
Australian taxpayers would be well justified asking what has happened over the last twenty years.
It could be argued that Australian governments are not particularly good at technology projects given ongoing disasters like the current Centrelink debacle, the failure of the 2016 Census and the collapse of the Tax Office’s portal shortly before Christmas.
Probably the main reason for Australian governments’ technology failures is the lack of focus, as shown by the Digital Transformation Office barely surviving one year.
That lack of focus is even more problematic as digital transformation projects are more about changing cultures than revamping technology, often making them a decades-long process.
Without a long term commitment to projects and policies, initiatives such as the Howard government’s 1997 Investing for Growth or Turnbull’s 2015 Innovation Agenda are doomed to failure. Until Australian governments commit to longer term visions, it’s unlikely any of their digital dreams will be achieved.