Going digital by 2020 doesn’t have to be slow and painful
The Digital Continuity 2020 Policy is a primary driver of the Australian Government’s digitisation goals – and potentially the biggest information management challenge the public sector has ever faced. It is structured on three principles:
1) information is valued,
2) information is managed digitally, and
3) information, systems and processes are interoperable.
For most agencies, larger ones in particular, the second and third principles pose the greatest hurdles. With the agency set up to oversee the digitisation process – the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) – less effective than had been hoped, agencies have been largely left to their own devices when it comes to digitisation. While they remain tasked with realising the second principle by 2020, they lack a clear directive on how to achieve it.
An Administrative Appeals Tribunal employee who spoke to us on condition of anonymity was frank: “We’d like to get these things in place, but with minimal support it’s just not that easy.”
The Policy’s third principle (interoperability) refers to creating information, systems and processes that are common to multiple government agencies. “[This] takes time,” the Digital Continuity 2020 Policy explains, “and requires interoperability to be planned, designed and integrated from the initial stages… there is still much to be done.” Being largely contingent upon the second principle, this planning, design and integration of inter-agency assets can only occur to the extent that the initial digital transformation succeeds.
The other major obstacles to complete digitisation by 2020 are the twin issues of operating budget limitations and staffing caps. Caps can mean that agencies are unable to dedicate personnel to establish new initiatives or training programmes, or to engage in other non-official functions. While smaller agencies find it easier than large ones to change their processes, they are more often restricted by cost. Efficiency dividends can add to this difficulty. Despite being designed to help government departments make better use of existing resources, they can make budgets unpredictable and inflexible, limiting the ability of agencies to commit meaningful resources to cross-agency cooperation.
To tackle these challenges, government agencies are increasingly turning towards external information management solutions. Although the third-party solutions currently used by agencies are not interconnected, their adoption is an important step towards satisfying the goals of the Digital Continuity 2020 Policy and the requirements of the PSPF.
Experienced information management firms can rapidly convert many years of paper archives into a variety of digital formats, making these files available electronically within intuitive systems that can be precisely customised to agency needs. For most government agencies scrambling to meet the 2020 digitisation deadline, engaging a competent information management provider will ensure they reach their goals well ahead of schedule. Where agencies may have struggled to allocate sufficient staff due to staffing caps, a third-party solution removes that obstacle. Rather than affecting operating budgets, the cost of contracted digitisation can be absorbed by much larger capital budgets. It also allows additional services to be requested at the same time, such as a full audit of existing paper files.
The tailored access systems provided by the best information management companies have the added advantage of integrating with existing systems and indexing conventions to dramatically reduce the cost and time of retraining staff.
Find out more in Grace’s FREE in-depth information management report for government agencies – available exclusively at www.grace.com.au/information/government
 “Turnbull’s ex-tech guy Paul Shetler slams ‘predictable’ government IT disasters” in Australian Financial Review on 3/2/2017 [www.afr.com/technology/enterprise-it/turnbulls-extech-guy-paul-shetler-slams-predictable-government-it-disasters-20170203]