CIO50 2021 #26-50 Jithma Beneragama, Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet
The Victorian government spends $3 billion annually on ICT. According to the Victorian Department of Premier Cabinet’s executive director, digital, design and innovation, Jithma Beneragama, there’s an opportunity to get a better return from this investment.
In late 2019, he wrote a paper proposing that the Victorian government needed to drastically rethink its approach to digital transformation. The paper suggested that to be more successful and efficient in its operation, improve its ability to deliver services and drive innovation, the government needed to be strategic in its approach to digital transformation.
It called for the development of a new agency to drive the Victorian government’s digital transformation. It would take a system-wide view of government, leading the development and delivery of digital policy and innovation, skills and capability, common digital infrastructure, standards, enterprise architecture and assurance.
“It would create the opportunity for a more integrated approach, except for a handful of whole-of-government platforms, each department builds its own digital infrastructure and capability from the ground up,” says Beneragama.
“Moving to a more integrated and coordinated approach would create opportunities to apply systems thinking and benefit from shared learning and collaboration. Creating common state-wide digital infrastructure for common and core services would also free up resources. This creates the opportunity for departments to drive innovation and service delivery in the areas where they create the most value for Victorians".
Most importantly, it would take a digital focus.
“Digital is not just about improving ICT systems. It is about how government operates in an increasingly connected and digitised world. This encompasses a cultural shift towards new public service mindsets and ways of working that enable a citizen-centred experience of government and use technologies and data to benefit citizens, government, and the broader economy,” Beneragama says.
In its 2020-2021 budget, the Victorian government provided $196 million to Digital Victoria, a new agency that would help grow the state’s digital economy. This completely changed Victoria’s approach to digital transformation.
Beneragama has worked on leading transformation programs across the state government and during this time, he identified reoccurring systemic problems in the government’s approach to building digital infrastructure.
When he led the digital response to the family violence royal commission, the main tech issue was siloed platforms.
“The solution we put forward paved the way for the state’s API gateway and standards. To deliver the technology reform required by the royal commission, we gained approval for an agile delivery approach and an ‘ecosystem-based view’ of the sector and its technology,” Beneragama says.
Meanwhile, the Victorian government was grappling with different websites that were delivering fragmented information to the community. This made it difficult to for users to find the information they need while making these websites costly and complicated to manage.
Beneragama and his team put forward a proposal for a single digital presence, an open-source platform that could be used to manage websites across the government. It allows for quick, cost-effective development of websites and simple applications.
The platform was rolled out and used extensively as part of the government’s COVID response with all nine departments using the platform and over 100 websites migrated and saw website usability scores increase by 39%.
Don't always mention tech
Making any conversation only about technology is an easy way to alienate your audience, Beneragama says. Tech execs will also do the same if they make technology and transformation an abstract concept that has little connection to the responsibilities of the stakeholders.
“To be successful in our roles, we need to be able to directly show how technology will better achieve the aims and goals of the business and help our peers succeed in their roles.
For example, when making the case for a whole-of-government API and new approach to integration, staff would want to know ‘what API stands for’ essentially making the conversation about technology, he says.
So, when Beneragama asked the Victorian Secretaries Board for a whole-of-government mandate for the transformation program, he didn’t mention technology at all.
“The conversation was about standardised ways of doing things and how this had worked in plumbing, railways and electricity. Then the conversation moved to other standardised ways of doing things in government. Only at the end did we talk about APIs and benefits we would create by taking a standardised approach to integration,” he says.
Secondly, with technology moving and changing so quickly, it is important to build trust with the organisation of both technology and the capability of teams.
“To do this, our team takes a human-centred design approach to transformation. Most of our work starts with a simple question, “What is the problem we are trying to solve?”