People and partner-driven digital transformation at the Department of Finance WA
The Western Australian Government’s Department of Finance has undergone an important period of innovation and change, driven by disruptive technologies and a people-first approach to both its customers and employees. Andy Wood, the Department’s Executive Director of Corporate Services, has led Finance’s transition to cloud-based operations and continues to encourage a focus on data analytics and the exciting possibilities afforded by AI and automated services. “Adopting a digital approach is absolutely vital in everything,” Wood says. “With it, we can drive practical, cost-effective and quality outcomes across government, which will ultimately benefit the people of Western Australia.”
At the root of the Department’s digital transformation is its approach to vendor management - building a strong level of symbiosis between provider and customer. “If you really want true success or innovation, you've got to treat them as partners,” says Wood. “This helps them provide the best offerings to enable and achieve strategic outcomes.” Wood describes this as a paradigm shift in procurement thinking, where traditionally vendors would offer their best price to deliver a service or product to exact specifications, limiting the ability to understand the problem and collaborate on solutions. “We take an approach whereby we select a small number of strategic partners which not only challenge us and our preconceptions but also look beyond technology in isolation and rather understand the full scope of Finance’s digital transformation.” Of its vendor-partners, Microsoft has been important through the Department’s digital transformation journey, particularly as a provider of vital cloud capabilities. “Our previous operating model was very heavy and lethargic in that we would buy a piece of kit, we’d put it in place and it would stay there for 10 years and we’d never innovate with it,” said Wood. “Cloud computing has become a building block of Finance’s digital transformation. It's what our strategy is built upon and the key foundation of everything we want to achieve.” Over the next decade, the Department plans to continue its prolific usage of cloud technology across its infrastructure services, creating a Platform as a Service (PaaS) for each of the software and service offerings it provides to its customers.
The adoption of cloud has also given the Department a more complete understanding and access to its data, enable it to drive increased efficiency through data-driven insights. Its cloud-enabled data platform collates information sets, not only from within the Department itself but also different areas across government, to enrich decision-making processes, and its swift uptake has resulted in positive impacts. “Business intelligence has been rapidly adopted across the organisation,” notes Wood. “We started out with a small proof of concept to get 50 people from the organisation using Microsoft’s Power BI to visualise reports from the massive data source we have. Within 12 months, it has exploded to about 350 users actively investigating and developing reports both in the front and back ends, meaning they can be reused across the organisation. This was a massive step forward for us.” The Department is now moving towards harnessing data to be more predictive, particularly regarding cash analytics and optimising cash flow to mitigate wasted spending and accurately forecast the Department’s financial situation over given lengths of time.
In order to achieve continued success, the Department recognises the importance of engaging staff and instilling a culture of innovation and disruption. “In any transformation there are three questions that need to be answered: the strategy question, the technology question and the people question. The people question is the hardest to answer but is absolutely paramount, and how well you answer it ultimately determines the level of success you’ll have,” says Wood. A culture of embracing change has come through instilling an understanding that challenges along the way will ultimately benefit every stakeholder in the business. A key element of this is affirming that people, not technology, are leading the transformation. By incorporating Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model to ensure new capabilities are incorporated into processes effectively from both an operational and skills-based point of view, the Department has ensured that staff remain focused on their end goals and aware of the mounting benefits throughout the journey. “Keeping people focused on the endpoint, which in many instances was only six to eight months away, saw us through. You instill a common understanding about what we’re collectively working towards and what we’re trying to achieve, while inspiring them to believe that they are responsible, the creators, of the future state,” says Wood. “That really is what drives cultural change.”
Cybersecurity was also a priority of the Department due to the enormity of financial, operational and sensitive data that it accrues. In a report released by CompTIA this year, it was found that 60% of IT professionals in Australia and New Zealand deem employees to be the biggest risk factor to keeping data safe, and Wood is with the majority. “We treat cybersecurity as more than an IT issue,” he says. “Fundamentally, the weakest point of any organisation’s security practices is its people.” To that end, the Department has ingrained a culture of awareness and vigilance amongst its employees to mitigate this risk as much as possible. The Department has also established an information security management framework that complies with the ISO 27001 international standard, with around 114 security controls in place. At an IT level, its transition to the cloud has benefitted again from the Department’s close work with Microsoft, enabling multi-factor authentication through the Azure platform along with proven concept trials around Azure data protection capabilities. “It’s about framing the metadata within documents and adding different security controls around how and with whom those documents can be shared, and preventing the ability to share externally if certain parameters are not met,” says Woods. “For us, it’s a top priority not only for the data we hold but also the data that’s shared with us from other government entities or third parties.”
Wood outlines the five key goals of Finance’s continued digital transformation:
- Empowering customers to interact with the Department in the ways that best suit them;
- Converting every transaction to a digital format;
- Maximising the value of data through generating increased actionable insights;
- Developing and maintaining a strong cybersecurity culture that ensures information is shared with relevance and responsibility;
- Ensuring that the Department is prepared for the digital future.
This final goal, the future-proofing of the organisation, has already partly taken effect to the extent that this is what’s driving the achievement of the others. “We’re in a position now where we’ve freed ourselves to be able to look at new technologies as they appear, assess them quickly, and decide if it’s something we want to spin-off as a proof of concept,” he says. “Under our old operating model, we couldn’t do that. We were too busy just trying to get the lights on.”
The future is certainly bright for the Department of Finance WA; positively positioned for its ongoing digital transformation with a culture that embraces change and finds excitement in a digital future in place.