Governments Should Stop Thinking Like Cavemen

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Ershova_Veronika

People who live in Sydney are used to paying tolls to travel around their city. But under recent regulations, anyone who spends more than AUD 1,300 a year on tolls — or AUD 25 per week — has some of these costs rebated against the registration fees for their vehicle.

Fortunately for users, they don’t have to stand in a queue in a Government office to do this, or even make a claim online.

The New South Wales Government systems are now good enough to recognize who is who and link toll payments through the eTag system to vehicle registration. The rebate is delivered automatically, saving time for both drivers and the Government.

This is what the NSW Government’s Victor Dominello calls “smarter regulation”, and he’s on something of a personal crusade to extend some of these principles across the whole of Government services. Dominello was the inaugural Minister for Better Regulation in NSW, and he is now the state’s first Minister of Customer Service.

“Politicians normally yell ‘we must slash tape, regulations are killing industry’,” Dominello told a webinar hosted by Australia’s RegTech Association last week.

“But that is so 20th century. You can have regulation which produces quality and safety. We should not measure how long it takes to wrap the ribbon around the regulations, we should measure the time it takes to comply.”

Disrupting government thinking

Bad regulation, says Dominello, is when it takes business 30 days to comply to 100 different pieces of regulation. The challenge for good Government service is to convert those 30 days down to one day.

“In order to do this, you need to redesign Government,” says Dominello, whose administration has been a national leader in implementing eGovernment services in Australia, to the point that the NSW model is being emulated throughout the country.

“Unfortunately, a lot of Governments are still operating in the 19th and 20th century because their IT systems are still bogged down with systems which date from late last century or early this century.”

The key to improvement, says Dominello, is a “tell us once” approach which relies on the sharing of data, often in real time.

This saves on time and compliance costs with users. It also enables Governments — which traditionally have a multitude of agencies — to move to a single source of contact, with IT systems which share the information.

Dominello uses the example of installing smart meters in NSW to monitor energy generated from home solar panels which was being fed into the state-wide energy grid.

The Government previously had a rebate for home generated energy fed into the grid. It rolled out the smart meters as the system was winding down and the Government wanted a better way of monitoring accurate payments.

“With dumb regulation, providers would install the smart meter and then put all the information into a spread sheet and send it to us once a week,” Dominello says.

“Smart regulation means looking at the design process. I want real-time information, so when the provider installs a smart meter, they get the data in real time and share it with us.”

This has more advantages beyond accurate payment systems. If, for example, there were pockets of system failures — such as electrocutions — under the old system, entire sections of the power grid would be shut down, creating significant disruption.

But with real-time monitoring and data sharing, the system can isolate and see if the problems were the responsibility of a particular installer. It creates a “heat map” of incidents to target the investigation without impacting on the wider system.

“So rather than destroying the whole lawn with poison, we just pull out the weeds which are the problem, and we are using digital design to do that,” Dominello adds.

Another work in progress is a better way of dealing with homeless people in NSW. Many were subject to repeated interviews and assessments from a variety of Government and non-Government agencies to the point that many were “completely disillusioned” and eventually disengaged.

A new system would digitize all relevant information in a central repository. With the permission of the person, the information would then be shared with all relevant agencies. This would not only save the agencies time but help gain the confidence of the homeless person and enable better service outcomes for them.

“Smart service can also be used in dealing with the most vulnerable in our community,” says Dominello.

Trust is still crucial

The bedrock for any improvement, however, is trust because this will drive confidence in the sharing of information.

“Technology is not the barrier, it is the cultural problems,” says Dominello.

“You need an appropriate privacy posture, good cyber hygiene and transparency so you can open up data and wrap that all around with ethics. On trust you can build anything. So, don’t let Government be a caveman and measure the tap, be like Einstein and measure the time.”

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Ershova_Veronika