myGov re-architecture on the cards

Government services minister Bill Shorten has flagged a possible major re-architecture of myGov, potentially modelled on – or even using components of – the e-government systems of Estonia.

In a speech yesterday, Shorten said he found parts of Estonia’s digital government approach – particularly its open source X-Road data exchange backbone – “very convincing” on a recent tour.

Estonia regularly hosts delegations wanting to learn about its e-government systems. 

Many of the underpinning software and platforms the country uses are open-sourced and/or exported to other parts of the world – and it appears a recent tour has impressed Australian government officials as well.

A recent audit of Australia’s myGov uncovered some substantial challenges to increase its usage.

Shorten sees “huge” potential in a revamped myGov and already has some ideas about what that might look like.

“Every element of myGov will operate under the framework of choice, control and transparency,” he told a meeting of business executives yesterday.

“It must be people-led. And we want it to deliver services tailored to individuals from multiple layers of government.”

Following an agreement for NSW to add credentials to myGov earlier this month, Shorten said a meeting last Friday had secured a similar commitment from “all states and territories”.

He also said the federal government would work on “a whole-of-government service catalogue to help bring together payments and services to customers from their myGov dashboard.”

But Shorten also flagged a larger piece of work that could fundamentally re-architect myGov, modelled on Estonia’s e-government system – and potentially making use of some of its componentry.

Shorten said he visited “Estonia, Belgium and Denmark last year to … find practical examples of innovation in government service delivery that we can translate to an Australian experience.”

“ The [Estonian] government’s approach is simple – it’s a distributed architecture and is based on open-source software – and it works,” Shorten said.

“These service-oriented type architectures are tried and true. Twenty countries are now using the code-base Estonia uses.”

In particular, Shorten said that he “found the security outcomes of the distributed data layer very convincing.”

One of the foundational pieces of infrastructure Estonia uses is X-road, a distributed data management infrastructure intended to eliminate duplication of data held about citizens, while also not storing all of it in one central place.

“Health data, for example, is distributed across seven databases – referred to as registers,” Shorten said.

“For hackers to get a citizen’s full health data, they need to infiltrate seven environments in real-time. At any time, a citizen can enquire who has used it.”

Shorten said that Estonia had also made good use of the private sector to grow the number of digital services available.

myGov, by contrast, currently offers a very limited number of federal services, in part because of the complexity and cost of modernising backend systems so they can be accessed through a ‘digital front door’.

“I spoke to Government leaders and officials, and a number expressed the view that Estonia’s history of public-private partnership has been integral to its success,” Shorten said.

“I like the Estonian approach that if a private company can deliver something cheaper than the government, the government outsources this to the private sector, and then buys it back.

“There are more than 3000 services available in Estonia’s digital ecosystem, many of these are delivered by the private sector. 

“The on-boarding is streamlined where providers can self-serve until the last step.”

Digital identity

Estonia’s e-government approach is also notable because one of its foundational elements is a mandatory national ID card system that is used to authenticate into online government services.

Shorten said the government wanted to fast-track Australia’s own digital identity plans, but suggested it would be opt-in, and based on the government demonstrating the scheme has value.

“We have to coordinate across multiple portfolios – but I can assure you this government recognises the need to get cracking,” Shorten said.

“We won’t charge to create a government ID and you won’t need to give private companies your government photo id to prove who you are.

“So, how will we know when we’ve created a successful digital ID? I’d say it’s when Australians opt to take up the offer of having their personal information securely stored.

“When it is functional, reliable and tailored to the circumstances, or change of circumstances, of the individual.

“When it ‘wraps around’ Australians in times of crisis by connecting Commonwealth, state and local governments.

“When it gives people access to the full catalogue of government services; and when it restores trust in the government.”

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