CIO50 2022 #11 Katherine McDermott, Service NSW

  • Name Katherine McDermott
  • Title Chief product officer
  • Company Service NSW
  • Commenced role September 2017
  • Reporting Line CEO
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Technology Function 750 in IT function, direct reports
  • Related

    Katherine McDermott, executive director, digital (chief product officer) at mega agency, Service NSW, has been at the vanguard of a push by Australia’s biggest state to completely transform how it interacts with citizens.

    Since taking the role in 2017, she has led an extensive program of complex, interconnected projects, culminating in 85% of all NSW government services now being available via digital channels.

    Two very high profile and important projects have been key to reaching this milestone, namely the Dine and Discover Program and COVID check-in via the Service NSW App.

    The Dine and Discover Program provided NSW residents with 4 x $50 digital vouchers to be used to dine out or on experiences across the state. The digital vouchers were used as a critical mechanism to stimulate the state economy for specific business sectors that were impacted by lockdowns due to COVID restrictions.

    A welcome and unexpected gift to NSW residents and a lifeline to thousands of businesses, Dine and Discover has, almost inadvertently, let to the formation of completely new digital channels for connecting and gathering data on businesses and customers alike.

    A staggering 5.5 million customers – almost the entire adult population of NSW – opted in and downloaded their Dine and Discover Vouchers, from a total of 8 million.

    The program was integral to building the business offering via the Service for Business digital experience, McDermott tells CIO Australia.

    “It was this program that created the case for a stand-alone Service for Business App for every eligible business across the state to scan vouchers. It also allowed the NSW government to better understand businesses across the state, as they were required to create a business profile [which] provides strategic value to start personalising services for business customers.," she says.

    A more urgent priority of course was Service NSW’s QR check in for COVID.

    Emerging amid the embarrassment of the federal government’s failed COVID Safe app, the Service NSW solution enjoyed rapid uptake, proving highly effective and stable from the outset, further boosting the stocks of former Premier Gladys Berejiklian as a pandemic saviour.

    The Service NSW QR Code Check In was developed and rolled out state-wide within three weeks and adopted by over 6 million customers engaging with the Service NSW App.

    You’d be hard pressed to find many better examples of speed-to-production, with just three weeks from an idea to development, security assurances, legislation and business engagement to roll out state-wide to millions of customers.

    McDermott stresses that the biggest and most noteworthy achievements of this program was that it automated contact tracing for the NSW Ministry of Health, allowing contact traces to use real time data to confirm close contacts rather than relying on lengthy, unreliable interviews. Further, Service NSW mandated all NSW businesses adopt the Service NSW app for COVID check-in to comply with mandatory health orders.

    The upshot was that NSW COVID case numbers belied its status as the biggest and busiest state, especially in terms of domestic and international transit.

    The Service NSW QR Code Check In also clearly nailed the ‘convenience’ factor.

    “Customer convenience was a major factor of success, as it allowed NSW residents to quicky and easily check in rather than them having to fill out a new digital form for the many solutions being adopted by industry,” McDermott explains.

    And while controversy raged around the purported privacy credentials of other COVID apps, McDermott and her team ensured they got this vexing part of the project right from the word go.

    “This solution, built with privacy and security by design, replaced many private, bespoke QR code check in solutions that were being adopted by industry that allowed personal information to be used for many other purposes,” she says.

    “Information [collected via Service NSW QR Code Check In] was protected by legislation and only able to be accessed for the purpose of contact tracing. This was essential for customer trust”.

    Shifting mindsets 

    “In just five short years, the Service NSW digital team has transitioned from a vendor-reliant, expensive, project-centric development model to a product powerhouse,” according to McDermott. 

    Achieving this meant radically changing how the agency works.

    “We value small, multidisciplinary teams to allow for less hand-offs, a manageable cognitive load, diversity of views and skills to reduce biases,” she explains.

    McDermott and the wider team have worked to adopt new mindsets, stressing the importance of effective ‘design’ to always ensure customers are in the frame. Also ‘agility’ and the breaking down of projects into smaller parts, while always trying to be lean with an ‘hypothesis’ driven mindset coupled with ‘extreme programming’ to accelerate time to a minimum viable product (MVP).

    McDermott reflects that achieving influence and getting buy in for such vast and all-encompassing projects means managing a huge number of relationships.

    “Every service, experience and transaction that Service NSW has delivered is through partnership with another NSW government agency. The Service NSW digital channel is the conduit between all NSW government agencies shifting from a transaction centric approach to ‘tell government once’ approach," she says.   

    Joining all the dots demands a significant level of cross-sector and cross discipline collaboration. 

    “Diversity of thought and expertise is crucial to ensure customer trust in digital,” says McDermott.

    For example, she notes that the Dine and Discover Program was overseen by a cross-sector steering committee, comprising NSW treasury executives, Department of Premier and Cabinet executives together with digital teams, cyber security, risk and compliance and service delivery. 

    Likewise, professionals from multiple agencies and disciplines came together to solve the problem that the Covid Check-in solution quickly managed to address.

    “The solution was a game changer for the Ministry of Health in managing a pandemic that [required] consultation with the Privacy Commissioner to ensure personal information was properly protected," McDermott explains.

    "Feedback from agencies, customers, businesses and industry groups was pivotal to build a product that was easy to use, fit for purpose and well adopted.”

    David Binning

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