Eleanor Hall: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull may be a digital enthusiast, but the head of the Commonwealth Digital Transformation Office (DTO) that he set up, says the Government is failing in its online services. Indeed, Paul Shetler says that if the Federal Government were a private company, it would have gone out of business. Susan McDonald visited the agency to find out what it actually does.
Worker: You should have a look at this really cool stuff.
Worker 2: Yeah, I really want to see that.
Susan McDonald: Workers in casual clothes, sitting on comfy couches with laptops. It's a sight not usually seen in a public service office.
Worker 2: Nice, love that.
Susan McDonald: Malcolm Turnbull set up the Digital Transformation Office as Communications Minister. It's an example of his business-like approach made clear from the very beginning of his prime ministership.
Malcolm Turnbull: Today I'm announcing a 21st century government and a ministry for the future.
Paul Shetler: I think it's a great vision, we're actually taking what are basically commercial best practices that have grown up in whether financial services or media or retail and now we're applying them to government.
Susan McDonald: That's Paul Shetler, a former UK government digital expert who now heads Australia's DTO. He's discovered that the public service is failing the majority of online users.
Paul Shetler: When they're accessing government services or information, more than 55 per cent of them have a problem. It's not where you want to be right, so if this was a private sector firm we'd have real, real problems.
Susan McDonald: Paul Shetler goes as far as saying it would go out of business.
Paul Shetler: I think if government actually had to offer services on a commercial marketplace yeah of course it would. They wouldn't be able to compete.
Susan McDonald: The DTO is working on a series of projects with tight deadlines. It's been given nine weeks to develop a prototype website to direct people based on what they need to do. With the click of a button, those wanting to set-up a business for example would be in touch with multiple departments. But Paul Shetler says it doesn't mean the end of call centres and face-to-face contact.
Paul Shetler: We want to make it so that our services on digital channels are so good that the people prefer to use them. We know that there are a lot of people who, for whatever reason, whether it's lack of access or eligibility all kinds of reasons, won't be able to use digital services, right, and we have to provide a pathway for those as well. So when we look at service design we don't only look at digital channel. We also look at telephony, we also look at shopfronts.
Susan McDonald: With online transactions comes the potential for online fraud. Security analysts have found multiple security flaws in the existing MYGOV website. And Medicare has been scammed recently with over 300 suspected cases of identity theft. Paul Shetler acknowledges online security is a key concern.
Paul Shetler: We want to have a way of verifying that people are who they say they are when they deal with governments and we've been asked to do that. To me this is probably the most critical part of what we do.
Susan McDonald: The DTO is hiring what are called "ethical hackers" to test their new systems.
Paul Shetler: And this is somebody who's got deep experience, who actually understands how systems work, understands the potential holes, understands how you can also socially engineer your way into a system not just on a technology side but by pretending to be somebody or figuring out how you can get a weakness inside of an organisation to break in and this person's coming into our organisation to go through every single thing we deliver and try to break into it.
Eleanor Hall: That's the head of the Commonwealth's Digital Transformation Office, Paul Shetler, speaking to Susan McDonald.