The new IT crowd: APS bosses to be schooled in digital

The federal government is asking contractors to school its agency bosses as it looks to end a run of tech disasters and prepare the way for smoother digital upgrades in the bureaucracy.

As efforts by its Digital Transformation Agency mount to improve the government’s troubled efforts to adopt new technology, the public service commission is looking for private operators to bring high-ranking agency leaders up to speed on “digital disruption” among other tech issues.

The program will aim to help agencies’ top-level senior executive service staff lead efforts to modernise the bureaucracy by updating its technology and making online services easier for customers.

Public service bosses will get lessons in leading digital programs. Photo: Phil Carrick

In the push, first reported by ZDNet, bosses could sit in face-to-face and virtual classes, take webinars and contribute to discussion groups. Pilot programs start in March for a contract that will last a year, but which could be extended.

Parts of the public service have recognised bosses are crucial players in efforts to upgrade its IT, and former Immigration department chief information officer Randall Brugeaud told a business group last year digital disruption and innovation needed to be driven by the executive to succeed.

The main public sector union last year told a Labor party-driven inquiry into the government’s $10 billion tech spend that the Coalition should consider creating a “digital academy”, modelled on the UK’s, for intensive training for SES officers and online learning modules for all Australian Public Service staff.

The Community and Public Sector Union told the inquiry its members said the government’s digital track record would improve with better leadership from senior APS leaders.

The Australian Public Service Commission said the program reflected its commitment to “giving the APS senior leaders access to contemporary leadership development”.

Tech spending by the public service and military establishment has soared from $6.7 billion in the 2014-15 financial year to $9.3 billion in 2015-16 and it is projected to grow by another $300 million this year.

But a series of high-profile blunders, culminating in the “robo-debt” saga and the “censusfail” controversy, has shredded the government’s reputation for delivering digital services.

Peak ICT body the Australian Information Industry Association found in March only 16 per cent of people told a survey the federal government was using technology very well to deliver services to taxpayers.

Customers had much greater confidence in online services from banks, telcos and shopping sites, the survey found.

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