myGov pioneer lashes lack of progress

One of the architects of myGov says he despairs at the lack of progress in developing the online portal that delivers such services as Medicare, Centrelink, the Australian Taxation Office and My Aged Care.

Glenn Archer, now a visiting fellow at the Australian National University, was the inaugural national manager for e-government at Centrelink in the early 2000s. Under his remit, the Australian government delivered services via the internet for the first time.

A decade later, in 2012, Mr Archer piloted a significant upgrade to Centrelink’s online services, which led to the inauguration of the platform we know today as myGov. As the government’s chief information officer, he was a member of the myGov steering committee, which advised Cabinet on the 2013 upgrades to the platform.

Read: What is a myGov account and how does it work?

But now, almost another decade later, he laments the lack of progress that has been made with the portal since those pioneering days, and believes that outsourcing is one of the major reasons for that lack of progress.

“I despair over the lack of progress,” he said. “Having literally in November of 2002 turned on the very first four transactions, having watched that and having received multiple awards for that, to have watched its failure to continue to grow and develop is quite distressing.”

Early in 2020, the government’s rather grandly named Digital Transformation Agency commenced work on a new version of myGov. One of its first acts was to outsource the project to international consulting agent Deloitte.

Read: Labor pledges myGov overhaul if it wins federal election

As part of a contract worth not far south of $1 million, Deloitte was tasked with building a prototype of the new version via what was described as a “90-day sprint”. From there Deloitte was awarded a contract worth more than $30 million to turn this prototype into a working beta.

Two years on, what began as a sprint appears to have slowed to a crawl and, from the outside, Mr Archer looks on with obvious frustration, asking: “How in God’s name has it taken two years to make some fairly minor improvements to the user interface and user experience?”

Mr Archer believes he knows at least part of the answer to that question. “The argument has been that you employ consultants and commercial providers to do this sort of work based on the fact they have skills you don’t, but had it not been for the fact we’ve lost so many skills we wouldn’t have needed to do that.

“Agencies are somewhat compromised by no longer having lots of these skills in-house. Their capacity to move quickly to make changes to their own systems to support a joined up and tightly integrated myGov platform has clearly been compromised by that,” he said.

The incumbent government would argue there have been mitigating factors, not least being the COVID pandemic, but in the lead-up to Saturday’s federal election, the Labor Party has flagged the need for an audit and an overhaul.

Read: How not to fall foul of this Centrelink rule

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has promised change if Labor is elected. “Millions of Australians interact with myGov every day and rely on it to provide essential services,” he said. “It’s not up to scratch, and Australians deserve better. That’s why we will review myGov, and make improvements where necessary.”

Government services spokesman Bill Shorten said Labor would “help revitalise government service delivery alongside Labor’s existing commitments to stop closing Centrelink shopfronts around the nation and hire an additional 200 new Services Australia workers.”

If, as the polls forecast, Labor is elected to govern, myGov users will get a chance to see whether those promised improvements materialise, and whether they do so via a sprint or as slowly as past improvements.

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