A couple of January 2016 articles in the Australian public service publication, The Mandarin, give radically different views of public service management. The first is titled Tabloid mole working in a mad, Mad public service world, which refers to an anonymous publication by a NSW bureaucrat in The Advertiser (an Adelaide paper) on 7th January. The writer, a self-described  “faceless bureaucrat”, notes that

After being made redundant from a large multinational organisation, entering the public service felt like I had gone back decades in a time machine. With the exception of the bland yet chaotic office, it was like stepping on to the set of Mad Men — handling reams of paperwork, lewd jokes, and an outsized gossip-to-work ratio.“

The article in The Mandarin points out that the original publication has been republished on News Corporation tabloid websites around the country and goes on to share some of the anecdotes, e.g.

The watching-the-clock narrative:

“During my first week, a colleague charged past my desk, where I was in conversation with our boss. ‘What, are youse stayin’ back or something?’ he asked. I let out a polite laugh in response before realising he was genuine. But there was no time for further conversation: it was 4:01pm, and the front door was closing behind him.”

Other anecdotes include: On handling complaints, Staff rostering, The lack of communication, Botched decisions, And dealing with ministers. See the Mandarin article for further details.

The other Mandarin article, on 5th January, paints a very different picture. The title is Coming soon: DTO’s first digital government services and the article reports progress on the DTO programme we looked at in our October article Whole of Government Agile. The October article quoted from a talk by DTO CEO Paul Shetler at a CEDA conference on Digital Government. The current article quotes Daniel Searle, DTO’s head of strategy and transformation, who reports that one of the DTO’s six projects reached the alpha prototype stage just before the end of last year and the beta version is due in March. This is the Department of Immigration and Border Protection project, which will make it easier to book citizenship tests. Searle explains:

“The team did user research to understand the experiences people have on the journey to become an Australian citizen. We identified several pain points in the process and focused on improving the most prominent issue identified — the rescheduling of appointments.”

The next beta version of a DTO product will be simplified processes for importing, which will go live in April:

“During Discovery and initial user research, we found two big pain points: that physical paper permits still dominate the process and significantly slow it down; and, that various government agencies’ services are not linked, meaning the importer must send their permits from one agency to another. We’re using what we’ve learnt in Alpha and have begun designing and testing prototypes to help address these problems.”

Projects which are due for a beta release April are an improved Medicare enrolment process and the  Queensland government project, making it easier to apply for senior’s concession cards. A beta release of an upgraded ACT Health system is due in May and in the 6th project, now at the discovery stage, the DTO is working with Service NSW and the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science to simplify and improve the “complex and fragmented landscape” of regulations and registrations faced by people starting a new business.

Progress on another government initiative is reported in a Jan 22 2016 ACS Information Age article  by Ry Crozier, How Data61 plans to turn Australia’s R&D fortunes around First CEO targets 0.1% of $1.6 trillion global research spend. This article gives an update from Data61 CEO Adrian Turner  six months after he took on the role which merged NICTA and CSIRO Digital Productivity. Turner’s 18-years as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur has helped him to identify two primary market failures at play in Australia’s innovation environment. These are “a lack of infrastructure in place to support the entrepreneurs to go out and build new businesses” and Australia’s business mindset, “I think one of the things that’s caught me by surprise coming back is we don’t have strong product management as a country in tech.”

The Information Age article  gives details of how Turner is addressing those primary market failures and of his Data61 goal.

“There’s $1.6 trillion globally spent on R&D,” he said. “Our goal there is to capture point one percent of global R&D [spend].

And when we do we will be ten times bigger than we are today … in terms of the money flowing through the Data61 network.”