As part of its broader digital transformation program, Service NSW is deploying new digital tools which aim to make it easier to open a cafe or bar in New South Wales. The ongoing service improvements are designed to address user needs, not just digitise paper forms.

The state government agency has, to much acclaim, been overhauled in a bid to become the digital “front door” for state government services. According to Service NSW, the change required moving from a traditional siloed teams and waterfall models to a more iterative, agile and collaborative approach.

Service NSW has set a goal of making NSW an easier place to open a business through its Easy to do Business initiative. One of the early focuses is the cafe and bar industry, traditionally beset with regulatory and licensing requirements across three levels of government.

During Gartner’s Application Architecture, Development & Integration Summit in Sydney today, a Service NSW spokesperson explained those extensive requirements create a “minefield” for prospective new businesses owners and often drags the process out to months.

“As government we shouldn’t be expecting prospective business owners to have to navigate all that themselves,” the spokesperson said.

The traditional method was the result of a waterfall approach to project delivery which achieved little beyond digitising forms. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the initiative “didn’t have the best uptake in terms of customers”.

Service NSW has since partnered with firm Pivotal a PaaS and consulting company that assists organisations undergoing transformations as part of its ongoing change. According to the spokesperson the partnership has helped Service NSW to transform their business service initiative.

“[We now use] that lean, user-centred design approach. We actually pause, instead of rushing to build we actually paused and really went out and revisited our assumptions.”

That exploration uncovered that often prospective business operators were confused and overwhelmed by the process from the very beginning.

“Giving the customers that guidance upfront was our main problem that we wanted to solve digitally.”

Service NSW then designed Easy to do Business accordingly, using autonomous teams and in-house engineers that focussed on user outcomes. The agency delivered an MVP within two months and is now releasing small features every week based on feedback.

“We’ve noticed a shift from features to customer value – to outcomes – and ultimately that’s what we are there for. As a government agency we’re there to increase public value, so we’ve really made that shift.”

The approach strengthens the argument that government services need to be designed around user needs and delivered through an iterative development process. Proponents argue that, essentially, citizens do not want to get a business licence, they want to open a business. So rather than digitise forms with the view to make the task more efficient, the approach should be to design a more user friendly and holistic way of delivering services, with the overarching guide of better enabling citizens to achieve the outcome they want.

Broader transformation 

The spokesperson also revealed how Service NSW’s transformation was progressing and the more holistic approach the agency now took to government services.

“[In the past] Service NSW was actually quite a project-focused organisation and quite vendor reliant,” a Service NSW spokesperson said.

That approach meant releases came slowly, projects were less accommodating to user feedback and, ultimately, the services and citizens suffered.

“To get to that next level of service we really needed to be able to deploy much quicker and be a lot more customer centric in our digital design.”

According to the spokesperson, the transformation had three key drivers; speed to market, innovation in customer design and stability, the last driver encompassing security, scalability and the best use of taxpayer money.

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