Bureaucracy is still trumping the brave, new digital future in the halls of many of New Zealand's government departments and public service agencies.
Despite being 9th in the UN's government rankings, those rather simplistic measures mask that New Zealand is behind the likes of Estonia and Belgium when it comes to real digital transformation, says major professional services company KPMG.
Steve Graham, a director at KPMG specialising in digital transformation, says some good work is being done within the public service to simplify end-users' interaction with government and its agencies.
But the public service is still struggling to adapt to the new digital world - and form-filling, phone calls and frustration look set to remain the norm for some time yet.One example from the business world: anyone wanting to start a new restaurant in an urban area reportedly has to deal with up to 17 government agencies before opening.
From the education realm: our future leaders often find their first steps in tertiary education are also their first taste of the reality of dealing with bureaucracy.
As the new academic year kicks off, thousands of university entrants around the country have had to complete a multi-agency enrolment marathon. First, there's the application form, including giving universities access to NCEA results. Then they may have to apply for halls of residence, for courses and scholarships.
Then they have to apply to StudyLink for a student loan. That means getting a Justice of the Peace or similar to sign off on a copy of your birth certificate or passport - or establishing a RealMe identity, which entails a visit to a PostShop.
Students from low-income families applying for further support must provide their parents' income details, certified by IRD or by an accountant - plus bank statements, evidence of course costs and living costs.
"It's a lot of questions, a lot of time, and you can't find out in advance all the information and the documents you'll need to provide," says one new university entrant. "The online thing, that you can do it all from your couch, is a myth."
Graham says things are changing but there is still a long way to go: "There are a range of individual initiatives that aren't necessarily joined-up and aren't necessarily helping with the customer experience. When we do see innovation, it tends to be isolated, and it's really digitisation of the knowledge process of an old service rather than new ways of providing a really new and differentiated experience."
He adds the biggest inhibitor of truly "joined-up government" is a lack of "foundational work", the basic buildings blocks on which the digitisation process should be built."What's needed is good, solid guidance and re-usable solutions. But they don't exist in an accessible way, so each agency tends to go over the hurdles time and again, which creates waste and delay in achieving the outcomes they want."
For the public or business users of government services that is highlighted in processes that are part-online, part-offline. Retirees need to fill in a multitude of forms - frequently supplying information the government already has - to qualify for superannuation."That makes it difficult and frustrating for people," says Graham.
Graham acknowledges RealMe, a secure online verification service, as a "foundation stone" project, and acknowledges the Department of Internal Affairs-led BABII project, which will bring together all services needed by expectant parents.
"But the lack of other foundations is preventing the whole sector from moving together and exploiting new technologies and ways of working so you can get those joined-up and connected types of service."
KPMG director Brent Chalmers says part of the problem is governance, management and working practices haven't kept pace with new digital ways.
"We still see all these projects bogged down in the old way of working, in terms of trying to come up with the perfect strategy and the perfect business case," says Chalmers. "But they are hamstrung by processes such as the capital budgeting cycle. In today's capital budgeting world, you'll be out of date by the time you've got approval to spend the money."
The public service already talks of the "life events" that make it necessary for individuals to interact with government. The real difference for end-users, says Chalmers, will come only when they can engage once to bring all the relevant government services to bear on the problem.
He says the New Zealand public sector isn't lagging behind traditional benchmark governments overseas, but has a long way to go to catch up with Belgium - whose government can ask citizens for the same information only once - or Estonia, the current "poster boy" for digitally joined-up government.
"Engaging with the government sector should be a single, seamless experience. We have a tremendous opportunity, being a smaller nation, to drive change much more quickly."
orgianally published in the NZ Herald