The current NSW government funding model is not appropriate for delivering digital government services, according to Greg Wells, the new state government digital chief. Wells called for a more agile approach to funding that also adapts to the shift from capex to opex expenditure.

“At the moment the funding model is broken. I think treasury recognise that, we recognise that. What we’re working with treasury on is how do we fix that.”

Wells made the comments during an industry briefing in Sydney today where he outlined a 10 year roadmap for how state digital services can be delivered in a more citizen focused and holistic way.

Wells, who was appointed as the whole of NSW government chief information and digital officer in July, argued the funding model must change and the relationship between Treasury and his department, Finance, Services and Innovation, needs to improve if state government digital initiatives are to succeed.

NSW Government Chief Information and Digital Officer, Greg Wells

According to Wells, government services should be designed around citizens and their life events,  a strategy that requires government agencies to work seamlessly together in a more agile way.

“It’s not building that website that says do this and then this. That can be done in a week. It’s [about] really understanding what the real problem is [for citizens].”

However, the Treasury’s current funding model is not cohesive to this approach as it still views ICT investments separately from digital initiatives, Wells said.

“We think that there is a different way and there should be a different way to fund. If you want to segment digital initiatives and more of the heavy ICT initiatives, [actually] those two things need to work together.”

The NSW government is not alone in this challenge, Wells said, and no jurisdiction had got it “completely right”.

“Through this process we’ve been on the phone to everyone that’s done pretty well and they say this is the biggest problem: how you fund that and make that work.”

Treasury relationship

Changing the digital funding model will require the cooperation of Treasury, a challenge when the two departments struggle to communicate effectively, Wells said.

“Treasury don’t understand our language, we don’t understand theirs. That’s very obvious,” Wells said.

It is still a struggle to communicate the benefits of some digital initiatives and the more agile open model they require, Wells said.

“Their first comment is ‘we don’t understand what you’re talking about’.”

But there are signs the relationship is improving, Wells said, explaining Treasury executives had been directly involved in digital initiatives.

The key to demonstrating those benefits may rest in a “fast lane” digital investment fund, Wells said, where smaller high priority initiatives designed around customer journeys and pain points receive early funding. Those initiatives could be utilised by several government agencies to jumpstart larger agency initiatives, according to Wells.

It is still “early thinking” for the fast lane model but Wells was adamant there should be a larger shift from capex to opex, a point Treasury understood.

“They do realise that big heavy capex programs, doing it that way, is not going to work.”

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