An interview with Andy Wood, Executive Director – Corporate Services, Department of Finance, Western Australian Government

“I don’t believe there should be limits to complete digital consolidation across government unless there are strict confidentiality, legislative or other practical reasons for separation. There are certainly opportunities for consolidation of core platforms across the public sector to service the community in a more streamlined and convenient manner.”
 

Andy Wood was last year named among CIO's Top 50 digital and tech chiefs in Australia. This is not by accident. Wood, as Executive Director, Corporate Services of WA’s Department of Finance, has been a key driving force behind the progressive transformation of the Government's once infamously laggard digital infrastructure. Not only has he been one of the chief stewards of WA’s whole-of-government GovNext-ICT reform agenda, but also the leading advocate for the finance department's migration from on-prem servers to the on-demand cloud – despite some fierce resistance from within to the transition.

FST Government speaks with Andy Wood on the progress of WA's comprehensive GovNext program and cloud adoption, the importance of progressing digital consolidation projects, and the challenges of delivering equitable digital services across one of the largest and most isolated states in the world.

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FST Government: WA’s digital transformation mission is embodied in the GovNext-ICT program, tasked with consolidating discrete government agencies through cloud technologies. Walk us through the progress of GovNext so far. What fruits has the project borne since its implementation?

Wood: The Office of Digital Government has overall responsibility for the delivery of GovNext across the WA Public Sector and is leading the Government’s digital reform agenda.

The Department of Finance has completed its transition to the cloud as a first step in its broader digital transformation. As a result of the move to Microsoft Azure’s cloud technology, Finance is no longer an infrastructure owner and operator but a consumer of cloud. We moved workloads from around 850 on-premise servers spread across three datacentres to 330 virtual servers in the cloud. As a result, Finance was able to streamline staff processes, automate repetitive commodity tasks, particularly power scheduling and scripts processing requests, and have the ability to flex to meet changing expectations and demands.


FST Government: Should there be limits to digital consolidation between agencies? Why is some degree of separation necessary or even desirable?

Wood: I don’t believe there should be limits to complete digital consolidation across government unless there are strict confidentiality, legislative or other practical reasons for separation. There are certainly opportunities for consolidation of core platforms across the public sector to service the community in a more streamlined and convenient manner.  

The whole-of-government website, WA.gov.au, is a great example of the Government’s intent to remove duplication and to create a unified, consistent, and customer-centric platform to improve the citizen experience. The Department of Finance is currently pursuing the benefits of transitioning its online presence to WA.gov.au and creating the blueprint for change that can be shared and reused.

Finance is working directly with customers to better understand user journeys, pain points, and expectations, so that information and services can be designed around customer needs and away from traditional agency-centric architectures.

The co-design approach will help validate design choices inherent within WA.gov.au and introduce features and services that directly benefit customers, including improving accessibility, increasing findability, and enabling access across a range of mobile-friendly devices. Customers of other agencies are likely to have similar needs, so developing the overarching functionality will enable it to be re-used across the sector.

Additionally, data.wa.gov.au is a great example of digital data consolidation. The WA Government offers open data sets sources from across government for use by non-government organisations, industry, academia, and the public. Uses of the data include financial and evidence-based policy decisions, strategic and targeted cross-agency collaboration, and development of innovative solutions. Better use of data also supports government efficiencies and savings and, for industry, it offers opportunities to develop new business and improved decision-making.


FST Government: What do you consider some of the hallmarks of the best digital governments?

Wood: The Department of Finance has looked to countries, such as Estonia and the United Kingdom, for examples of best practice digital transformation.

Estonia, in particular, has highlighted the need for continuous experimentation and in moving basic services into a fully digital model.

A focus on core customers and stakeholders is also a hallmark of a digital government. For the Department of Finance, we focus on the community, government agencies, businesses, and our staff who we serve, engage with, and who will ultimately reap the benefits of the Department's digital transformation.

We look to empower our customers through co-design and to also collaborate across the sector to stimulate innovation and maximise opportunities to deliver high-quality services.

Culture and engagement of staff are also critically important. Digital governments invest as much time and effort in skills, process, and cultural reform as they do in technology upgrades. Organisations need to be fully open to changing – and even disrupting – themselves, plus transformation should breed ongoing iterative change throughout the business.

Digital governments also spend a lot of time planning to guide design, validate thinking, and determine investment priorities to support customer interactions and back-office operations. As with any transformation program, the more time invested upfront in the planning and detailing phase, the more likely the execution phase is expedited. This also needs to be balanced against the move towards agile projects approaches, where short sprints are used to deliver value quickly and the project evolves as it goes.


FST Government: WA’s population is among the world’s most geographically dispersed, with Perth ranked as the world’s most isolated metropolis. How can the WA government best utilise technology resources to bridge these divides and ensure equitable services for all citizens?

Wood: The Western Australian Government is mindful of the digital divide and its effect on people particularly in remote areas, the elderly, and people at higher levels of socio-economic disadvantage. In response, it is investigating and implementing strategies that consider access, abilities, and affordability as we move services online.

Finance, specifically, is focused on improving the digital literacy of its staff to enable its workforce to offer improved customer services. A flexible and responsive approach to digital education ensures that staff will be better prepared to empower customers in the future.

There is a significant focus placed on empowering customers through co-design of technology and tailoring solutions to meet the needs of individuals. Finance, in particular, has a large and varied customer base comprising individuals, businesses, non-government organisations, and other government agencies and government trading enterprises. We are committed to putting more power into the hands of customers by tailoring the design of our services to meet their needs and delivering services online when and where required.

Omni-channel technology is also seen as important across government to improve the user experience, particularly for the elderly, as it allows them to transact using a channel of their choice.


FST Government: With the rise of AI, social engineering attacks, and state-based threat actors, governments today are under increasing risk of cyber breach. What do you feel is the best action agencies can take to mitigate persistent cyber threats and protect sensitive data assets?

Wood: There is a heightened focus on responsible management and protection over both public and government information and assets. The Department of Finance is not immune, with a large volume of financial, operational, and sensitive client data that it accrues.

As an initial approach to cybersecurity, The WA Auditor General has introduced an annual IT Controls Capability Maturity Model Assessment, which determines the effectiveness of computer controls across the public sector to support the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information systems. Finance has a strong commitment to improving its controls and safeguards and improvements made compared with previous years.

In addition, Finance views cybersecurity as more than an IT issue; rather, we ensure that all staff are armed with the appropriate tools and information to keep data safe. Finance is utilising the Azure Information Protection technology stack, running a successful pilot and formulating plans to improve the ease and intuitiveness for staff to adopt information classification, labelling, protection, and monitoring. Finance aims to ensure that data is well understood, appropriately classified, and that corresponding handling requirements are consistently applied by providers and consumers throughout the sector.

The Department has also ingrained a culture of awareness and vigilance amongst its employees to mitigate cybersecurity risks as much as possible, and it has also established an information security management framework that complies with the ISO 27001 international standard, with around 114 security controls in place.

Finance has assisted the Office of Digital Government in leading whole-of-government discussions surrounding its adoption of contemporary cybersecurity measures – namely, Multi-factor Authentication (MFA) and Advanced Threat Protection (ATP).


FST Government: While hot on the heels of its state counterparts, WA still noticeably lags behind the Eastern seaboard governments in digital capability. Which governments or organisations have inspired WA’s digital innovation program and is there a push within the state to catch-up to – or perhaps even exceed – the capabilities of the digital trailblazers of the East?

Wood: All jurisdictions regularly consult and liaise with each other, which is one of the strengths of the public sector. Additionally, when it comes to digital capabilities, I believe that the communication lines between the public and private sectors have become less restrictive than they have been historically, and the focus is now on what you can learn rather than who you can learn from.

There are many organisations across a wide range of industries and sectors that have digital expertise, so the key is now identifying who you can learn from, leveraging their experiences and then applying any lessons learned.

In the case of the Department of Finance, our focus is not on catching up to or even exceeding the digital capabilities of our peers on the east coast. The focus always remains on developing our own digital capabilities in a way that improves the citizen experience in the services we provide to Western Australians and makes sense for our context.


FST Government: Before entering the public sector, you had an extensive history in banking and superannuation sectors – among the most digital-progressive industries in Australia. What lessons can governments take from financial services in delivering customer-centric service innovations to citizens?

Wood: The approach to vendor management and the importance of a genuine partnership is a key lesson I have brought to Finance from my private sector experience.

If organisations want true success, true innovation, iterative change, and improvement, they have to treat vendors as partners and let them into the organisation. Vendors must understand the organisation and the wider aims in order to provide the best offering and enable achievement.

Finance recently transitioned to cloud-computing and, following a period of market sounding investigation and competitive pricing evaluation, secured Microsoft as its vendor. Whilst Microsoft was Finance’s vendor, it was treated as a partner and, as a result, Microsoft invested itself into the program and challenged Finance on its thinking.


FST Government: As a distinguished digital leader, what wisdom can you offer to aspiring chiefs to get the best out of their staff and technological resources?

Wood: Digital Transformation isn’t just about the technology – it’s about people. The strength of digital technologies – mobility, agility, cloud services – doesn’t lie in the technologies themselves. It stems from how organisations integrate them in order to transform how their businesses operate and the way their people work.

To get true value out of digital transformation, you can’t just look at the technology in isolation. You actually need to step back and start to understand why you want digital transformation, what does that future state look like, and what you’re hoping to achieve.

Our Digital Transformation isn’t about the technology – it never has been. It has, and always will be, about our people. It's how we operate, how we innovate, and how we partner with industry. And, ultimately, it’s how we will deliver better outcomes.


 

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