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Australia to launch Digital Transformation Office, with no budget

Malcolm Turnbull gets the e-government catalyst/startup he's hinted at for yonks

Australia will launch a Digital Transformation Office (DTO) within the Department of Communications “so that government services can be delivered digitally from start to finish and better serve the needs of citizens and businesses.”

The new agency will aim to “... use technology to make services simpler, clearer and faster for Australian families and businesses”, prime minister Tony Abbott said in a joint statement with communications minister Malcolm Turnbul.

Turnbull's been talking up digital services delivery for ages, so the establishment of this new office looks to be the vehicle he'll use to deliver promised services like a single citizen inbox.

For starters, the DTO will look to deliver single sign-on for all Australian government services.

The outfit's wider aim is that “... government should design its services in the most user friendly way,” so that “Interacting with government should be as easy as Internet banking or ordering a taxi through an app.”

“By designing digital services that are consistent and simple to use, fewer people will need to come into a shopfront or make a phone call.”

The DTO is to “operate more like a start-up than a traditional government agency, focussing on end-user needs in developing digital services” and will be staffed by “ a small team of developers, designers, researchers and content specialists working across government to develop and coordinate the delivery of digital services.”

If that sounds a lot like the UK's government digital service, that shouldn't surprise because Turnbull's an admirer of blighty's approach to e-government. Readers may also notice some similarities in the language used above and that used when discussing Service NSW, the State of New South Wales' service-delivery agency.

News of the new Office broke on Friday afternoon, indeed on the Friday afternoon before along weekend, traditionally the dumping ground for news governments don't want scrutinised too closely.

There's no word on the Office's staff, location or budget. We've asked the department and Turnbull's media spokesperson for those details.

Update We've just been told the DTO will have no budget. "The government already has significant expenditure on service delivery and it is anticipated that much of the DTO’s work will be funded through existing expenditure," said a representative of the Department of Communications. That spokesentity also said recruitment for a leader for the office will get under way "shortly".

"Suitably qualified digital transformation experts from both the private and public sectors encouraged to apply."

We've also been told "In-line with the work of the UK’s Government Digital Service, the DTO will develop services and present information using a common ‘look and feel’ through"

+Comment Political commentators often suggest that Malcolm Turnbull may still harbour leadership ambitions, but that political realities mean his time has passed. An immensely capable and ambitious man, Turnbull's done very well to turn NBN Co into a more predictable outfit, but also clearly craves the chance to make a bigger - and perhaps historic - contribution during his time in government. The DTO looks like a vehicle designed to give him a vehicle with which to make such a contribution.

So clamber aboard, Malcolm, and let's see how you go. And seeing as the DTO shares a mission with the GSD, please don't forget the UK effort has sparked internecine argument, struggled to deliver single sign-on, shifted the goalposts when it misses targets and created deeply unlovely software. ®

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