CIO50 2022 #3 Greg Wells, NSW Government
The NSW Government’s chief information and digital officer, Greg Wells, bravely recalls his biggest career mistake. At one point, he made a significant ‘go live’ call based on inputs from the wrong groups, which ultimately put people at risk.
“I learnt that technology is the easiest part of programs, the success of complex change programs is always a function of the data you migrate and how it helps your support staff do their job,” Wells says.
The best approach, he says, is always to start small; design with users, get products in their hands quickly and then course correct.
Wells says the NSW Government’s Digital.NSW takes this approach every day and its Digital Restart Fund (DRF) has been built to fund this customer-centric way of working.
Since 2018, Wells and his team have led DRF, a new way to fund iterative, multi-disciplinary approaches to planning, designing and developing digital products and services in NSW.
Wells says the fund has resulted in significant reform that is unique to Australia. It is broader than a funding mechanism and breaks down the typical large waterfall delivery and prolonged procurement processes to allow for agile delivery which delivers incremental value along the way.
“The DRF keeps clusters accountable for delivering to customers in weeks and months rather than years,” he says.
It’s a far cry from traditional funding approaches across the NSW government that resulted in digital projects being funded once a year alongside other essential programs. Projects are now funded quarterly and prioritised according to direct customer benefit and how digital investments will deliver against the priority of government.
“We incentivise iterative and agile projects that will deliver value early and continuously to NSW customers and the solutions can be reused across the state," Wells explains.
Challenges around digital adoption
The top three challenges around the adoption of digital solutions by government – siloed strategies and decision making, business culture blocking change and insufficient funding – are all addressed through the DRF.
So far, more than 30 million customer interactions have resulted from this investment, with 79,531 hours saved and an 88% ‘thumbs up’ response from people interacting with services. The average project delivery time is 58 weeks and 54 new digital services have been launched to proof-of-concept stage.
The fund is also stimulating the NSW economy with a forecast of more than 4,000 jobs being created over three years, more than $4 billion in economic returns so far, $45 million invested in smart cities, and $385 million committed to rural and regional areas of NSW.
Finally, it is helping build a more resilient NSW government, Wells says. For cyber security, there are 45 projects at a cost of $278 million across eight clusters. More than 55% of initiatives are using multi-disciplinary teams as pat of agile ways of working, and 136,502 public servants are now trained in cyber security.
A broad influence
Wells has transformed the perception and demonstrated the tangible benefits of digital across NSW Government from technical teams through to Cabinet where he regularly presents digital and customer initiatives for funding and reports on progress.
He led the sponsorship, strategy development, funding and implementation of a ‘digital identity and verifiable credentials program’, which he says is one of the government’s most important digital initiatives for the next decade. This program requires significant collaboration with several clusters, in particular The departments of Communities, Justice and Transport, he says.
Wells co-sponsors Live NSW, a program with Infrastructure NSW that will involve all major infrastructure entities within Transport, Health and Education.
Cabinet also recently endorsed the NSW Connectivity Strategy, which required Wells to influence deputy secretaries and the Department of Regional NSW. This initiative ensures people in regional areas and disadvantaged customers, have better access to digital services.
Disadvantaged customers include those people who have certain accessibility needs, an area where Wells admits he initially had a ‘blind spot.’
To address this, the team established Accessibility NSW, a small group that focuses on inclusion and accessibility in every project.
“More people have a vision impairment than red hair. More people have dyslexia than are left-handed so I am thinking about my oversight daily and what I, and Digital.NSW, can do to help,” Wells notes.
And he adds that the team already had the technical skills for inclusive design, development and deployment, researching and testing with diverse users and setting practical and actionable policies so the accessibility rules in NSW are clear.
“Our digital products and services (internal and external) are compliant with long-standing international standards and we work with vendors to make sure we buy accessible products in line with these standards.”
Finally, digital services have played a key role in the NSW government’s emergency responses, particularly through a global pandemic and floods.
“We are including imagery of incident management across NSW through spatial services, and delivering critical radio communications to first responders and essential services to keep people and places in NSW safe through the telco authority,” Wells says.