I recently had the pleasure of congratulating Chris Fechner on his appointment as the new Queensland government chief customer and digital officer, a position announced by Minister for Digital Technology Mick de Brenni late last year. Chris leaves behind the role of chief digital and product officer for Service NSW, which itself was only created in 2018. In a related move, Andrew Mills is also ending his tenure, making him the last Queensland government chief information officer since the position was established in 2011 with the mandate to optimize whole-of-government IT investment.

With Andrew’s departure, the responsibilities of the Queensland government chief information office (QGCIO) have now merged with the Responsive Government program to create the Queensland government customer and digital group under Chris, who will in turn report directly to the director general of the Department of Housing and Public Works.

Governmental Changes Reflect Increased Customer Centricity

Chris’ new title and the merger of the traditionally inwardly focused QGCIO with the outward-facing service-delivery improvement program is just one example of the consolidation, fresh positions, and new agencies that have emerged in Australian governments over the last three years. The driver behind all these changes? Jump-starting customer experience (CX) and digital agendas.

Our politicians are also espousing similar messages at the policy level, with both Australia’s labor and liberal governments at various levels adopting something along the lines of “Government is placing its customers — the people — at the heart of everything we do, so our customers can have confidence and trust that we are listening to their needs.”

This shift to customer-first is certainly welcome, but we still need to address the elephant in the room:

There are a plethora of digital visions and aspirations issued by governments worldwide, but the majority struggle with execution.

This problem was beautifully illustrated in the high-resolution Services Australia Vision video posted on YouTube by the Australian government’s Digital Transformation Agency this month. It’s a video that makes promises far and wide about the world we could live in but lacks any explanation of how, or by whom, these promises will actually be delivered.

Poor Digital Transformation Has Real Implications

From our research, we know that government organizations that improve digital service delivery in the form of elevated CX also strengthen the foundations of the political system as a whole (see the report “Why And How To Improve Government CX“). Why? Because even small CX gains boost:

  1. Pride in the country.
  2. Optimism about the country’s future.
  3. Belief that the government functions well.

For example, for each 1-point improvement in Customer Experience Index (CX Index™) score, nearly 4% more of an agency’s customers agree that the quality of service is how government interactions should be. Let’s put this in perspective: In the US, just 11% of customers who have a very poor experience with a federal agency agree with this statement versus 70% of those who have an excellent experience.

In an age when trust in government and other institutions is at an all-time low, agencies’ ability to shift perceptions is critical. Indeed, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, in the majority of markets, less than half the population trust their institutions to do what is right. Australia is no exception. The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer’s special report, “Trust in Technology,” reveals that our population’s faith in the use of technology for good by institutions has fallen by 6% — the fourth-largest drop across 26 markets.

But Execution Barriers Can Be Overcome

In response to the recent independent review of the Australian Public Service, myself and colleague Zhi-Ying Barry sought to unpack how public sector CIOs and other senior decision makers could accelerate their own digital transformation efforts, improve CX, and ensure mission success to help restore faith in government service delivery. We found that:

  • Customer obsession must guide digital transformation.
  • Engaged customers ensure mission success.
  • Incremental approaches won’t work.

Ultimately, government agencies must follow the lead of their private sector counterparts and become customer-obsessed. This means reinvesting in government organizations so that they systematically use their knowledge of and engagement with customers to drive their leadership, strategy, and operations in ways that ensure mission success.

As someone who has spent much of his career working with (and in) the public sector, I hope the time for talk is over and that we have reached a turning point where actions speak louder than spin.

You can read the full report here.