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Chapter 5: The power given to organisations to overcome problems

After becoming familiar with the various organisational structures and forms of power presented/discussed in Chapter, let’s have a look at the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) and its power to fix/overcome technology glitches in several government organisations.

The government empowered the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) to review several IT projects, which failed to deliver the services promised to highly public organisations. Problems were encountered by the following governmental organisations:  The Australian Bureau of StatisticsAustralian Taxation Office and Centrelink.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics had a massive shut down in 2016 when thousands of Australians accessed the census website in order to fill in their details and the online applications couldn’t sustain the volume. As a result, that census night cost taxpayers about $30m.

The next organisation is the Australian Taxation Office, which experienced recently two outages in December last year and February this year. The online portals used by tax agents were inaccessible making it difficult for accounting professionals to accomplish their tasks.

The third government organisation to experience glitches is Centrelink. This time the system experienced a faulty data-matching result between Centrelink and Australian Taxation Office that drove to incorrect debt recovery announcements/messages sent to the public.

As a consequence of these incidents, the public lost the confidence in the government’s capacity to deliver digital services to the masses. Consequently, the DTA is taking control of these IT projects (around 100). The agency will overlook the government IT investment facilitated by “investment management office”. These changes will support “greater visibility and centralised management of IT projects”.

Angus Taylor, the assistant minister for digital transformation, announced that the DTA is in the process of helping the Department of Human Services with its debt recovery system. The agency will also intervene in other projects as significant problems arise.

The agency’s original role as an intervention focused and start-up-style service delivery agency shifted to a broader role in government IT projects. This shift occurred last year when the DTA encountered a restructure phase when procurement, shared IT services, expenditure, strategy and policy were embraced. Part of the agency restructure is the change from an “agile delivery body to policy lead and performance whip”, not very popular with the public service sector. The other change came along too – the changing roles of digital gurus, in some cases located across oceans, from building and delivering their own innovative services to be present at departments fixing IT failures.

Taylor pointed out that there is room for improving government IT delivery. However IT projects, either public or private, have a history of experiencing problems at one stage or other in their lifetime. He stated that what is important is dealing with problems as soon as they arise. Taylor considers that in spite of government investments in IT projects, building skills for modern IT in each department is difficult. Another issue is the “serious duplication” between the IT areas across various departments.

Together with the initiative of restructuring, the DTA will focus on delivering value for money outcomes to Australians and government.

Consider the following questions for discussion:

  1. Several organisations are involved in this issue – Government, the Digital Transformation Agency, Australian Taxation Office, Australian Bureau of Statistics and Centrelink. What sort of a structure do you think each organisation would have?  How could have their structure support their operations?
  2. What forms of power and structures can you identify in this story?
  3. What kind of power is used by the government? What kind of power is mostly used by the DTA?
  4. What kind of power does the public have in this case? 
  5. Which form (or forms) of structure and power do you think is most effective in this case?