Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Digital Disruption - an interview with Marie Johnson

This is the first in a series of interviews I'm doing as part of Delib Australia's media partnership with CeBIT in support of GovInnovate. I'll also be livetweeting and blogging the conference on 25-27 November.

View other posts in this series.

Marie Johnson, Managing Director of
the Centre for Digital Business
A few weeks ago I sat down with MarieJohnson to discuss her presentation at GovInnovate and the thinking behind it.

Marie is currently the Managing Director and Chief Digital Officer of the Centre for Digital Business, and as a passionate technologist and innovator has had career that has spanned Executive rolls in the corporate and public sectors.

She now advises senior public servants and corporate executives on the new capabilities required by business, government and society to meet the challenges and opportunities of the digital age.

Marie says that digital has been truly disruptive to society and is one of the most serious challenges to government administration in a century.

She believes there’s two forms of disruption, unpredictable and predictable.

The unpredictable kind includes real breakthroughs in technology and new and unique emerging business models that no foresight could have predicted.

The predictable kind result from a series of incremental changes over a relatively long time – a ‘long tail’ of disruption based on the evolution of known technologies and business models.

While unpredictable disruption is exactly that – unpredictable and therefore difficult to plan for, the predictable kind gives organisations with the appropriate horizon scanning approaches an opportunity to prepare.

In her view government hasn’t been paying enough attention to predictable forms of disruption, “some innovations have been brewing for awhile and should not be disruptive to government where it has been monitoring and horizon scanning.”

Marie worries that government hasn’t taken all the steps necessary to adequately prepare for known trends,

“Let’s have a look at, say, the government online strategy in 2000. It looked at moving everything online while maintaining face-to-face and hard copy channels.

The strategy in 2013 said exactly the same thing – placing all high volume transactions online, but keeping hard copy transactions as well.

There’s been no progression in strategy over that time, and implementation over the period has focused on channel switching, moving services and forms online with little business transformation.”

Marie says this could be because digital hasn’t been disruptive enough – governments in Australia have been able to stave off transformational change by creating workarounds to existing systems and processes.

However the longer transformational change is delayed, the more expensive it becomes and the more likelihood there is of ageing system failing and creating far greater disruption for governments and society.

This risk grows as governments fragment their service delivery channels, attempting to maintain existing approaches while also seeking to exploit emerging channels to citizens.

She believes there’s a real opportunity at the moment for governments to be transformational in their thinking, not just linear, making interactions with government more intuitive and seamless.

For instance, Marie says, “agencies should be required to declare what they are going to put online, and what they will be taking away.”

Marie used the example of car registration stickers. Now that police have number plate scanners and integrated registration databases, there’s little need for drivers to display a sticker on their windscreen providing details of their car registration.

She says that most drivers’ license authorities in Australia have now abandoned registration stickers, removing a lot of the process and policy that supported the issue, printing and management of the sticker process.

“Another example is in the work I did with Immigration. We took away the need to have a paper visa label in passports to enter Australia.”

Marie says that Australia didn’t require paper visas, but was issuing about two million of them a year due to a range of reasons including a preference by some travellers who wanted to have a paper visa as a tourism souvenir and proof of their visit.

This process involved substantial expense – the design and printing of visas, their storage and distribution, staff time in sticking them in passports and the overhead of having people come to Australian embassies Immigration posts to get them.

She says that after a review process to understand the extent of the cost of paper visas and the corresponding impact in focusing on electronic ones, the decision was made to set a price signal for paper visas.

Marie says that “the government passed legislation requiring a payment to get a paper label – the electronic visa is still required. Now the issuance of paper visas is almost negligible – saving printing, storage space, staff time, processing and more.”

Marie believes there’s many areas in government that could benefit from transformational rather than linear adoption of technology – changing the way systems and processes work, rather than simply replicating them digitally.

She also believes that the notion of citizen-centricity needs more consideration, “there is no citizen-centricity in government as every agency has a different viewpoint and interaction with citizens.”

Instead, she says, we need to have a discussion about what services we can replace or take away, and how we inform citizens about doing so.

“This isn’t about cutting essential services, but removing unnecessary complexity that feeds on itself.”

She sees this issue in how government defines and manages ‘ICT’ projects,

“Look at audits and capability reports over the last 15 years on government “ICT projects” – how they have failed to deliver, have been very expensive and, on occasion, led to policy failure.

We’re still having the same findings today – how can that be? Why hasn’t government improved and learnt from the past?”

In reality, she says, these are not ICT projects, they are focused on policy and service delivery and have simply been defined as ICT as they involve the use of technology to automate and integrate policy and service delivery.

“So when the Audit office looks at them and there’s a capability review, it looks at them primarily from an IT perspective and can overlook the real reasons for project failure or who should be updating and changing their approach.”

Marie says that agency ICT teams in government are under enormous stress, struggling under an increasing load of business as usual work, maintaining existing systems, with limited capital budgets for replacing legacy systems.

She says that many ICT teams are reaching the point where they have little or no capability to able to maintain existing systems, implement new business projects and innovate, “I think this is one of the challenges for the APS.”

She also says that the whole issue around the client/citizen experience has only recently started to be looked at.

“In the recent egovernment strategy, there is no mention of the client experience. Instead it speaks of heavy and light IT users and is very much a production view rather than looking at what that means for the delivery of policy and citizen experience.”

Marie says her question to agencies is, “can that egovernment strategy support the new welfare reforms from the government? My view is that it probably can’t.”

Marie believes government needs to focus more on becoming a platform, as increasing social complexity and advancing technology blurs and removes the lines between traditional portfolios.

“Where we have the connected car, RFID chipped livestock generating data and highly pervasive connected services – what does this mean for government services and government policy?”

“Rather than having each agency doing their thing independently and in a self-sufficient manner, like factories in the early industrial age, government needs to become more of a utility and a platform - actively sharing skills across policy and service delivery areas, rather than persisting as ‘stove-piped’ bureaucracies.”

Marie sees one of the biggest current areas of disruption as being in finance, with emerging mobile peer-to-peer payment models, crypto-currencies and crowd-lending already beginning to disrupt traditional banking and transaction models.

“We have a lot to learn with what is happening in growing markets such as Kenya, where innovative models of payment delivery are changing how financial systems and currencies operate.”

She says that in Kenya, a country with little in the way of infrastructure, phone-based peer-to-peer payments through a network of payment providers, called M-PESA, has become a leading characteristic of their economy.

Marie believes Australian bureaucrats need to look at how nations beyond the anglosphere are addressing modern challenges. She says there’s many areas in our government where public policy innovation could occur through learning from what’s happening in other countries.

In particular Marie says governments need to broaden the scope and range of inputs on policy development.

She discussed a case study from the UK’s Great Ormond Street Childrens’ Hospital (GOSH), which during the 1990s was trying to understand the very high mortality rates for surgery in congenital heart disease.

Doctors identified one high risk area being the patient’s transfer from the operating room to the ICU.

They identified this complex task as being analogous to that of a pit stop in Formula One, and doctors from GOSH visited a pit crew in action in Italy to gain insights into how hospital procedures could be improved.

In a pit stop a lollipop man waves in the car and oversees all the work done to get it back on the track. All the mechanics and technicians have clearly defined roles to perform concurrently, designed so as not to interfere with each other.

The doctors videotaped the handover process in GOSH and sent it to be reviewed by the Formula One team. Out of this analysis came a new handover procedure.

The anesthetist was given the same role as the lollipop man, to step back and look at the big picture, making safety checks.

These changes led to significant reduced errors and reduced mortality rates.

Marie says this type of cross-industry learning is vital for government – looking beyond traditional sources of advice and support, “Agencies can’t keep doing the same things and consulting the same people. We need to confront digital disruption.”

Finally Marie said that government should offer a user experience that is on par with the very best in any other domain.

She believes the reason this doesn’t happen is that there is a massive capability gap in government in what she calls ‘capability architecture’.

Marie says that different parts of government, agencies and groups in agencies do their own jobs well, however there is no one specifically trained, mandated and responsible for ensuring those jobs all align and fit into the larger architecture of a policy or service.

Instead, she says, they end up being connected together by manual workarounds, third parties and individuals accessing the services.

“In other words government is creating wonderfully designed parts, but not flawless systems.”

She sees a place for what she calls a ‘Transformation Commission’, responsible for future scanning and aiding agencies to adopt transformational techniques.

In conclusion Marie believes that that fossilised ICT systems that are not fit for purpose for the future are becoming a critical concern for agencies.

However if government can adopt a transformational approach to policy and service delivery, improve internal and external collaboration, improve its trend detection and reaction, and connect all these disparate threads together, Marie sees a much brighter future ahead.

You’ll be able to hear more from Marie at GovInnovate on 25-27 November.

More of Marie’s thinking is available through her blog posts, including:

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Craig - some great stuff there.