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Friction, fellowship and flexibility: Three key takeaways from Digital Summit 2019

There’s a fraction too much friction in government but, as Zeroseven’s team discovered at the inaugural Digital Summit in Canberra, government departments are on a mission to make things smoother and convenient for the people.

That, and learning how the Digital Transformation Agency is helping government agencies deliver better digital services to Australians, were just some of the big ticket conversations being had by Australia’s digital development community.

The Summit brought together digital experts, leaders and practitioners from all levels of government and industry to celebrate digital transformation success stories and see how government services are being made simpler, clearer and faster.

Here are three key themes that we reckon reverberated throughout the program.


Non-friction is becoming vital for governments

If you’ve ever used a government service online, you know it can be a frustrating experience. But the Digital Summit left no doubt that the Australian Government’s Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) is working to fix that.

A key focus of this inaugural summit was on creating ‘frictionless’ experiences. In other words, government services and digital agencies are being urged to put themselves in the shoes of their users and create experiences that are genuinely straightforward and stress-free.

Government services are often quite complex, and administering them requires a deep knowledge and understanding of legislation and procedure. Providing them in a digestible digital format that users can operate themselves is more of a challenge than people might realise, but it’s one the government is taking seriously and putting a significant amount of time and resources into.

There was a particular focus at the Summit on ‘life events’ as a driver of online activity, and how the designers of digital services should consider the user journeys involved in major life experiences such as having a baby or farewelling a loved one. What forms are people required to fill out online as they go through these experiences, and how can that process be streamlined so they don’t have to keep providing the same information over and over again?

The goal should be to create a frictionless experience for users from beginning to end — quite literally, in these cases.


Teamwork makes the dream work

In order to provide frictionless experiences for users, government agencies will need to work together to share knowledge and ensure best practices are being followed across the board. That’s why cooperation and collaboration was another key focus of the Digital Summit.

There was a major emphasis placed on bringing people from different agencies and departments together to share their learnings and concerns, create opportunities for collaboration, and forge stronger relationships.

It’s about seeing the bigger picture, and delivering digital services that don’t just satisfy the requirements of accessibility and compliance, but also take into account the larger ‘agency service delivery ecosystem’.

The Australian Government Digital Awards (formerly known as the Australian Government ICT Awards) were held as part of the Summit, which provided a great opportunity to showcase successful examples of this type of collaboration.

There was actually an entire category devoted to multi-agency partnerships, some of which extended beyond Australian agencies — the winning entry was a collaboration between the Australian Treasury and Taxation Office andNew Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

It just goes to show what can be done when government agencies work together to deliver a united service.


Agility is everything

A particularly promising development from the Digital Summit is the DTA’s willingness to shift to a more agile and reiterative development process.

It’s the nature of government to focus on big, flashy launches and announcements — when a product is released to the public, the government’s perspective has traditionally been that the product is ‘finished’, whether or not it actually proves to address people’s needs in practice.

It was encouraging, then, to hear that the DTA is attempting to move the government away from big ‘kapow’ moments and towards smaller, more digestible release cycles. The goal is to connect with the community and make gradual changes as needed, rather than insisting on grand strategic rollouts that aren’t appropriate for the modern era. Everything happens so quickly now, and when people want changes to their services they want them immediately, not in three years’ time.

Reiterative development allows you to be flexible and fix the things that don’t work the way you thought they would on the fly — all the better for delivering those frictionless user experiences.

There’s an assumption that the government is stuck in the Dark Ages when it comes to the digital landscape, but the exact opposite proved to be true at the Digital Summit. The Digital Transformation Agency is clearly encouraging government agencies to embrace innovation and place a premium on future-facing trends and techniques.

The inaugural Digital Summit was a success, and we’re looking forward to next year’s installment already.