Australia is a strong performer in e-government development, ranked fifth in the world according to the United Nations annual survey for 2020.
The Australian Government is accelerating reforms and investments to enable greater adoption of digital technologies, supporting the goal for Australia to be a leading digital economy by 2030. The APS is delivering the Government’s digital agenda to support community needs. The Digital Transformation Strategy sets the direction to delivery world-leading digital services for all Australians. Its focus is on making government easy to deal with, informed by users, and fit for the digital age.
APS reforms prioritise greater digital transformation through an enterprise-wide approach to investment in and development of ICT and digital systems. The APS will focus where possible on building and reusing common digital platforms to support APS-wide collaboration and problem-solving.
Investments will be informed by a clear picture of current assets and future needs, through a targeted review of the APS’ digital and ICT needs, capabilities and risks, led by the new Secretaries Digital Committee, established in September 2020.
The pandemic underscored the need for ongoing focus on digital transformation. In a high-pressure environment, reliable, accessible and secure tools are essential for effective incident management and communications within the APS and service delivery to the community.
During the pandemic, agencies reported a rapid uplift of technology to support business continuity and remote work–increasing bandwidth, licencing and IT equipment. For example, one agency increased its capacity to support remote work from 70 to 700 employees within 3 weeks, and others report implementing 2-year ICT programs within months.
Whilst digital systems are essential for business continuity and productivity, the pandemic also demonstrated the need for greater interoperability and common APS-wide enabling systems.
GovTEAMS is one such mechanism. It provides a digital platform for APS employees to work, learn and collaborate in a secure online environment. Uptake increased by 351% to 86,970 users over the 12 months to 30 July 2020, up from 19,285 registered users on 30 July 2019. Between 1 March and 30 June 2020, there were 454,497 community-wide chats on GovTEAMS; 4,761,034 one-on-one chat messages; 142,004 audio and video calls; and 193,874 meeting attendees.
Learning through change: Seamless, secure, digital
Real-time, high quality virtual communication among leaders and across teams, with industry, stakeholders and the community was essential at the height of crisis. Leaders required live communications with ministers, executive teams and employees.
A mixed ICT approach within and across agencies was required to support access to classified information, provide tools and technology to enable remote access, and to support new ways of delivering enabled by technology.
Many barriers to remote work were removed as ICT teams worked hard to uplift APS digital capacity: increasing bandwidth, expanding software licensing, and issuing equipment.
The value of common ICT systems to support enterprise-wise operations became clear: GovTEAMS provided a secure, shared platform for hosting critical resources, and offered many agencies a platform to host virtual meetings.
However, the digital experience differed across the APS and increased levels of collaboration and mobility highlighted where duplicate processes exist.
A continued focus on common or inter-operable ICT through the APS reform agenda remains essential for an efficient APS that can more readily deliver services.
Information and cyber security
The rapid rollout of physical equipment to homes, instructions for online collaboration tools, and clear guidance around asset, document and cyber security ensured work continued without disruption.
New ways of working prompts a rethink of standard security measures and training. Many teams adapted to ensure common security practices in usual workplaces were transferred to the home, and cyber security awareness was adapted to the new circumstances.
Case study: A balancing act in extraordinary times
Caption: ‘T’ for taskforce. The ACMA’s COVID-19 Taskforce meeting on Microsoft Teams.
During the COVID-19 pandemic the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) transitioned its employees to remote working, while addressing urgent regulatory actions requested by the media and communications industry sectors.
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted heavily on the media and communications sectors at a time when they were delivering critical services to keep Australians informed and connected.
The ACMA established a multi-disciplinary COVID-19 Taskforce to respond to industry requests for regulatory forbearance and other actions. The Taskforce considered requests across 49 acts and instruments, and more than 200 separate legislative provisions. Requests were considered on a case-by-case basis and decisions balanced the risk of harm for consumers with supporting industry to deliver vital services to Australians.
In February 2020, when COVID-19 cases were escalating around the world, the ACMA tested its ICT systems and placed advanced orders for IT equipment in preparation. Fortunately, the ACMA had already invested in its remote IT architecture and had moved all employees to laptops in 2018. This meant everyone could seamlessly transition from the office to home without any significant impacts on the operation of the agency.
In March 2020, due to the early preparation and an existing culture of flexibility, the ACMA was able to transition its 530 employees from offices to homes in less than 2 weeks.
A logistics centre was established in the ACMA’s Canberra office where IT equipment packages were delivered to employees across Australia. The agency also set up an opt-in ‘ACMA Alert’ text message system to communicate with employees in real time as the pandemic situation changed - 98% of the ACMA’s employees opted into this service.
The agency also helped support the mental health and social connection of their people while isolating. They established virtual social events, enabled online sharing of ‘working from home’ tips and scaled up internal communications to ensure employees remained informed, connected and engaged.
The COVID-19 pandemic presented the ACMA, along with government, business and the community, with many significant challenges. But the ACMA has learnt it can successfully work in an agile and flexible way through a crisis while supporting the Government, industry and the Australian community.
Case study: GLAMour under pressure
Caption: Anzac Day 2020. Seaman Lynton Robbins, Royal Australian Navy
Source: Australian War Memorial
Australia’s national galleries, libraries, archives and museums (the GLAM sector) are the keepers and custodians of the country’s history, collective knowledge, and national treasures. Behind the exhibitions and reference desks are dedicated APS employees with a passion for maintaining access to Australia’s archives and artistic expression.
Used to operating in face-to-face environments, the GLAM sector needed to change their ways of working and community engagement when the pandemic forced their doors to close. With the community confined to their homes, school excursions cancelled and cabin fever setting in, the GLAM sector stood up to deliver via digital means.
Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre did not stop supporting young people to learn STEM skills when it closed its doors to the public. Instead Questacon rapidly refocused to deliver a hub of online science resources and activities, and worked on creating new experiences in anticipation of reopening. See Questacon At Home—fun science activities for kids.
Temporary closure of the National Portrait Gallery, saw the team focus their efforts on increasing their digital programs so that their gallery floors could be explored and experienced across the country.
The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia launched a range of online events and programs that have reached not only Australians but also people overseas. Between 1 March and 15 May 2020 audiences around the world watched 8,254,980 minutes of footage on their channels, or 15 years of non-stop viewing.
Anzac Day in 1919 was disrupted by the Spanish Flu pandemic. Similarly the 105th anniversary could not be commemorated with the usual marches and two-up gatherings. The Australian War Memorial did not let the day go unobserved, working with the ABC to ensure ceremonies could be seen around the world. The Australian War Memorial has also developed Museum At Home which offers online learning resources and virtual tours, still available despite the reopening of the Memorial. See AnzacTV.
From February 2020 the National Library of Australia began working with its state and territory counterparts to ensure that the stories of Australians living through the pandemic are not lost in the annals of memory. The Library is preserving online content such as government advisories, news and support websites to ensure they are discoverable for generations to come.
 Commonwealth of Australia. (2020). JobMaker: Creating jobs and rebuilding our economy. Budget 2020-21
 Department of Finance data [unpublished]