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Speech by Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello at the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) event 'Evolution of Customer Service'. 


Thank you for the invitation to speak today. I am here to give you a snap shot into the innovative approach that the NSW Government is bringing to service delivery. It genuinely is a tectonic shift that starts from a people centric front line to a digitally enabled engine room.

First, a short story

Let me take you back to the year 1628, in Stockholm, Sweden. The King of Sweden is about to launch a grand warship called the Vasa.

Years in the making ornately decorated with 64 guns, it’s one of the most heavily armed ships to have been built for its time.

But there’s a problem.  The ship is barely seaworthy.  The Vasa was supposed to be a medium–sized ship but, under pressure from the King, it strayed from the original plans. The King demanded it be built wider and longer with extra gun decks and grander decorations.

To test its stability, the Admiral orders 30 men run across the ship, back–and–forth. The ship rolls so violently that the Admiral halts the demonstration, for fear it will fall over in the dock. But nobody dares tell the King that the ship isn’t fit to sail.

Sure enough, the ship sails out into Stockholm harbour and barely gets two miles out before a light gust of wind hits the ship. The ship topples over and immediately sinks to the bottom of the sea.

There are many morals from this story.

The King did not focus on the needs of the customer in this case, the customers were the admirals and captains who need to sail the ship, and ultimately and critically the citizens who needed the King’s protection.

The old approach to service delivery (IT)

There are similarities between the story of the Vasa and big government IT failures.

Too often in the past, government has delivered technology projects that are viewed through the lens of government requirements, not the needs of the customer. They try and define the whole solution upfront, at the time when we know the least about the problem. They take 4 or 5 years to deliver, and generally end in risky ‘big bang’ releases that often go awry.

And when the service finally gets into the hands of the customer, it’s too difficult to use because it was never tested with actual customers along the way. What happens next? Well, along comes another 5 year IT project to fix it.  Rinse and repeat.

Speaking of big 5 year IT projects, let me ask you: what kind of technology would you buy today that is 5 years old?

Would you buy an iPhone 6, released in 2014?  Of course not, Apple don’t support it anymore. Or a 5 year old drone? No, they were clunky to use and didn’t even have a camera. What about a smart watch or a 3D printer absolutely not – because 5 years ago, they hadn’t even been released. So with this pace of change, why does government lock in technology for 5 years or more?

With compoundingly bad execution, over time you end up creating this technology spaghetti.  However, unlike pasta that gets better the next day in the fridge technology spaghetti is old, stale, brittle, and on every measure just plain bad. There’s nothing to like about old technology spaghetti. Even your loyal dog Rusty would walk away from it.

But look across government and we have it in spades. Lots of platforms that all do the same thing, like taking payments, sending notifications, issuing licences. The systems don’t talk to each other, the data is all over the place, and they were never designed to be changed quickly, so you can’t respond to your customer feedback.

The old approach to service delivery (customer experience)

Bad IT inevitably equates to bad staff experience which translate to bad customer experience.

Customer expectations outside of government have changed. In government, customers have to navigate across hundreds of different websites and learn how government is structured to try and get things done. If you’re going through a big change in life, like having a baby or moving house, you have to repeat yourself to different agencies and fill out stacks and stacks of paper forms.

It’s lamentable – but the only thing that is often consistent inside of government is that everything looks different.

The new approach to service delivery

So what does good service delivery and customer service look like? Let’s look at Netflix…

If you want to watch Stranger Things, you don’t have to go to three different departments to sign up for an account, to find a show to watch, and to get it playing on your TV.  If you did, Netflix would be out of business overnight.  Accessing government services should be as intuitive as using modern digital providers.

A modern maxim of service delivery is that: customer expectations increase as technology improves.

Long gone are the days where we have to buy our own servers, run our own data centres, and be stuck releasing software only twice a year. Thanks to the cloud, I can spin up vast amounts of computing power in seconds, and run advanced data analytics and machine learning on demand.

The digital leaders in this space are constantly testing and tweaking new features based on real–time customer feedback and performance data. They break down the big problems and start small to find out what works. They deliver services into the hands of customers in weeks, not years – and then they keep iterating and iterating making hundreds of changes a week in the pursuit of continuous improvement and a seamless user experience. To them, design is not just about how it looks, but how it works:  the ease and speed in which a customer can use it to get something done.


Can I focus on feedback for a moment – because it is something I am particularly passionate about.

When people ask for feedback – it shows that they care about you and your views and your thoughts.

Imagine going to a restaurant, you have a meal – the waiter gives you the bill – what happens next – well if the meal was really good then all is good in the world.

But what happens if the meal is really bad? Most people don’t want to make a scene, they will quietly make a judgement.

You might tell your friends how bad the meal was and you definitely wouldn’t go back to that restaurant.

However if after the meal, the waitress asks for feedback – “is everything OK?” or “how was your meal?” – the dynamic changes. You would give your feedback. The waitress would then have an opportunity to listen to your concerns and hopefully sort out a solution. You would go home, you might tell your friends about the bad meal but you would equally tell them that the waitress listened to your concerns and you probably would go back to that restaurant and give them another chance.

When it comes to customer service – feedback is everything – it spawns both innovation and excellence.

The problem with government is that historically we have been reluctant to ask for feedback or if we do, the feedback mechanism is buried away out of sight – so that not many people can find it or use it. Maybe this is a function of arrogance in that essentially government is a monopoly provider of services. Maybe like the King, governments focus too much on what they want, rather than what the customer needs, but as the saying goes – the customer is always right – and come election time, rest assured the customer will provide their pent up feedback!

Governments have to enter the 21st Century and be brave enough, humble enough and caring enough to ask for feedback in a way that is intuitive and easy – they must then act on that feedback to improve services.

In this way people are given an opportunity to cast a micro-vote and collectively participate in a micro-election every time they use a government service. This is what empowerment looks like. If customer service is done well, it is a powerful accountability tool and therefore strengthening of our democracy.

What the NSW Government has done

I turn now to what the NSW Government has done.

NSW has quickly become a world leader in government service delivery.

Six and a half years ago we created Service NSW, which has dramatically improved the way people interact with government for things like getting a driver’s licence, or accessing our huge range of cost of living programs. Customers tell us they love it.

Four years ago I launched the Data Analytics Centre, creating the capability to aggregate and analyse data at a whole–of–government level, using the insights to solve our state’s strategic challenges and improve the lives of our citizens.

Three years ago, we opened up Service NSW to small businesses, helping café owners, restauranteurs and bartenders save up to 6 months in getting their business up and running.

But we haven’t rested on our laurels. We are not just benchmarking what we do against other governments around the world, like Estonia, but in NSW we are aspiring for user experiences that are as good – if not better – as those outside of government, that people use in their everyday lives.

These are lofty aspirations – so how are we going to get there? Let me speak to 3 areas of change.

Our focus on delivery

First up, since the March election, we have embarked upon the biggest and boldest machinery of government changes that I have ever seen.  We have essentially changed the very engine which drives government.

Let me explain…

All governments around the world are run by committees. The most powerful committee is cabinet – where all the ministers sit and make political decisions. The next most powerful committee is the Treasury Committee, also known as ERC – this is where funding decisions are made and Government priorities are determined.

There are numerous other committees – such as infrastructure, social policy, advertising, etc. – but essentially the 2 major committees of governments around the world are Cabinet and Treasury.

We have changed this.

Obviously we have kept Cabinet and the Treasury committees – but we have replaced.

In their place we now have the Delivery and Performance Committee, or DaPCo.

DaPCo is chaired by myself and the Premier. DaPCo also has the Deputy Premier, the Treasurer and the Deputy Leader of the National Party as its members.

DaPCo’s role is to ask the hard questions on delivery – how are you actually going to get it done?

If you want money, then show me that you’ve mapped out the data architecture, show me that you understand your customers’ needs, and show me that you’re following the Digital Design Standard. I want to see working prototypes of services, not big business cases.

For example, in the past, most IT projects got started by taking a big business case to the Expenditure Review Committee of Cabinet, asking for hundreds of millions of dollars upfront and I mean hundreds of millions and reams and reams of paperwork to back it up.

Now for IT projects – and for that matter any other project that has a delivery aspect, which cover most proposals before government – they first have to come to DaPCo. In DaPCo I have 3 main questions: what is the data architecture (for example, is the data being shared), what is the digital design (for example, are we providing simple customer feedback options), and what is the customer lens (for example, are we adopting a tell-us-once approach)?

If these are covered off – then you can go to Treasury and ask for money based on a ROI or cost–benefit ratio – and if that’s signed off then you go to cabinet for a political go/no go decision.

If you get those 3 green lights, then the Minister and agency will be tasked with delivery and importantly they must also report back to DaPCo regularly to ensure the implementation is on track.

This reform – is cultural and it is whole of government – it is the hard stuff the messy and complex innards of government that nobody likes to talk about and hew understand. It’s not shiny but it’s one of the biggest enablers for digital transformation and service delivery which is why we’re committed to getting it right.

Making government easier to deal with

Second, we’re doubling–down on making government easier to deal with.

We’re building on Service NSW to deliver the vision of Tell Us Once, so you won’t need to tell government the same information about yourself over and over and over again.

With our counterparts in the federal government, we’re making big advances in designing services around complex life events – we’ve already launched a prototype to help people through the end–to–end journey at pivotal moments in life, like what to do when somebody dies, so you don’t have to go to 10 different government departments.

Building capability

Third, we’re building capability. There are two components to capability – technology and people.

We are diversifying our technology supplier base making it easier for small and medium businesses across NSW to bring their skills to government.

Through the buy.nsw platform, we’re simplifying the processes that have long–inhibited small businesses from selling to government – and creating an open procurement marketplace that demonstrates that government is open for business.

You don’t have to look far across the NSW Government to find great digital stories.  In the NSW Police Force, a new community platform is making it easier to report crimes. Sydney Water are applying world–leading spatial technology and the Internet of Things to reduce service interruptions.

Critically we’re also investing in our people, developing the design and technology skills for our staff to continue delivering great services into the future, from practitioners all the way up to senior leaders.

Last year we launched the Digital Design System – it’s my how-to bible for digital service delivery in government – and sets the standard against which we’ll measure how good our services are. We’re continuing to grow this to include everything needed to deliver great services.

Further, we know that creating a great environment and culture for our staff translates into better customer service. We are proud to get the thumbs up from our staff on our People Matter survey, with high engagement scores across the board.

Don’t just take it from me.  One of my favourite quotes is from Richard Branson who says: “If you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers. It’s that simple”.

With that, I am so proud that Service NSW has made history this week as they are the first government agency ever to be named in the ‘top 10 places to work in Australia’.  Just think about that a government agency is one of the best places to work. We even beat Atlassian – how great is that.

The Managing Director of Great Place to Work described the result achieved by Service NSW as “remarkable” and “showed people they can have a great career in the public service”.

Unfortunately we didn’t manage to top the Hilton (who finished in 3rd) but we certainly thank them for their excellent hospitality here today – that’s my real-time feedback.

This is all just a taste of our Customer Service Strategy that we are launching this year, going beyond digital.

Trust in government

Before I finish – as the person responsible for leading digital transformation in NSW – it is incumbent upon me to talk about trust.

You might ask why service delivery is so important to me. Why are we spending so much time on digitising government services? It comes back to trust when government services fall behind citizens’ expectations, their trust in government falls and disillusionment in politics rises. Politicians are generally high on the rhetoric, big on money but poor on delivery.

I know from my years in Aboriginal Affairs that it is easy to offer inspirational rhetoric, throw a truck load of money at the problem, but it’s the delivery that matters and delivery for what the customer needs.

And what are bedrock needs for all customers in a world of digitally enabled service delivery? In one word: TRUST – in 4 words, Privacy, Security, Transparency and Ethics.

On privacy, we’ve just completed a public consultation on building in additional privacy safeguards into government services.

This year we established the Cyber Security NSW centre that is a new point of co–ordination across the whole of government for capability building and incident response.

On transparency, when we open up services through APIs, and publish more open data, we can create an ecosystem of others who re–use and build on our platforms.

And on ethics, we are currently developing NSW’s first AI Strategy and Ethics Framework. I encourage you to get involved with the consultation already underway, which will culminate at our first AI Summit at Parliament House in November.


To wrap up, what is the future of service delivery? Well, imagine a world where interacting with government is as seamless and intuitive as using your iPhone, where all your licences are in a digital wallet on your mobile or on your wrist.

Imagine being given more and more opportunity to easily and quickly provide your feedback and where your feedback is being acted on in real–time to innovate and improve the services. Imagine where privacy, security, transparency and ethics are all baked in to the design architecture rather than retrofitted as an afterthought or as a response to a crisis.

I’m so excited to share the customer service journey that we are on in NSW. I give you my word, in NSW when it comes to customer service we are not just changing gears we are changing dimension.

Thank you for listening.

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