The expectations for senior leaders in public sectors have changed

The expectations with regards to digital capabilities and understanding of digital transformation for senior leaders in the public sector have significantly changed and grown over the last few years, and ongoing digitalisation across almost every organisational role has put extra pressure on all senior leaders to adapt a digital mindset.

Also, chief information officers are no longer the only ones who need to look at the organisation through a ‘digital lens’ and the attitudes of historical leaders who were “the complete owners of their analogue businesses” will need to evolve as organisations are becoming largely reliant on technologies that underpin their processes.

“It was our jobs to think about their business through digital lens. That does not cut it anymore,” Mark Sawade, Chief Information Officer Digital Services Division, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, who was a panellist at the 8th Annual FST Government Australia 2022 event held in Canberra, said.

He stressed that leaders need to understand that organisations are completely reliant not just “on people sitting at their desks using Microsoft Office” but actually on operational technology to run their entities and deal with the volumes of future-proofing the organisations.

Also, he said, it was important to uplift leaders and give them digital confidence and capability by separating digital leaders, who understand the ecosystems of their stakeholders and the way they are working with each other digitally and the way the government needs to interact with them, from the technology itself, which comes down to the way systems are built and required more technical expertise.

“I would say that rather than having a chief digital officer for an organisation every business leader [and] every senior leader should be their own chief digital officer. We should have a chief analogue officer because that is now the exception to the role,” Sawade added.

According to Rina Bruinsma, A/Deputy Australian Public Service Commissioner, Australian Public Service Commission, who was also one of the panellists at the event, the way the public service responds to the challenges and the complexity of environment helps build trust in government institutions.

“[Therefore] if you are a public servant, you can no longer get away with not adopting a digital mindset and a user-centred designed approach, because that is definitely an expectation of people who use the government services,” she noted.

“I think now data and digital skills are becoming the core skills of the public service so we need to do a capability uplift across the whole of public service, so everything that we are approaching whether that is a regulation, policy, program, research – all of these things are looking at the business and the customer that is the recipient of the benefits of that service.”

According to Bruinsma, one of the problems at her organisation was high reliance on the private sector when it comes to digital skills.

“We have a very high reliance on the private sector to offer skills to us, but there is a global skills shortage so it’s no longer sufficient. We can’t even get the skills we need from the private sector, so we need to start growing our own and building a capability across the whole of public service,” she said.

One of the solutions was to attract students directly from school and university and train them while rolling out the training programs for all public servants at the same time.

Gen Fields, Head of Solution Consulting – Australian Federal and Defence, ServiceNow, said it was also important to hear what a customer mindset really means for people with different responsibilities within the IT organisations.

“We had a really interesting conversation on the roundtable [earlier today], where we heard from people from a range of different agencies, with different roles within the IT organisations and some other, and just seeing a different take on what customer mindset means was fascinating. We heard from people in security and digital experience and also business continuity and service delivery, and I guess what is important is understanding your role in that and how actually that links back up to that senior messaging coming down.”