Monday, November 20, 2017

Digital Goverment? Sort of.

I regained my sense of excitement about digital technologies during my two days at the NetHui2017. Maybe it was the unusual gender balance at the front of the room: three keynote speakers - all female, a female MC, one all-female panel and 50-50 split on the other panel I attended. Maybe it was the agenda* set by the new Minister with a portfolio of all things digital, which seem to embrace the values and priorities of the Internet community in New Zealand (*start video at 27:00). Maybe it was reconnecting with the community after several years mostly working outside New Zealand. Whatever the reason I came away rejuvenated and motivated to resume this blog.

This post is about my recent application for New Zealand superannuation (“National Super”) with scores for digital on a scale from A+ and F at the different stages.

It started with an A+: the government knew that I would turn 65 in December and wrote me a letter telling me how to apply - a return on investment for all the time I spent completing my date of birth on government forms. Proactive notification of entitlements to citizens shows how government can use information that it has collected, rather than placing it in write-only storage. Some may require a digital notification for an A+, but I see proactive service delivery as transformational.

The letter explained that I should call an 0800 number to get a client reference number, After 20 minutes wait time, I explained what I needed and was transferred to the National Super call centre. Why not give the correct number in the proactive notification letter?

Armed with my client reference number I started the online application process. I used the option of logging in with RealMe, no need for another password to access a government service.

My wife had applied for superannuation earlier in the year with all of her details and many of mine. Some of the information she had provided was already prefilled in my online application; some was not and I needed to re-enter the same data. The date she arrived in New Zealand was incorrect – had the data from her application been manually re-keyed into another system?

I was told I needed to visit an MSD office with my wife to present evidence of my identity, was offered an appointment the next day and received immediate confirmation.

I needed to bring documentary evidence of my identity and address. Asking my computer screen why I needed to do this, when Government had already provided me with a RealMe verified identity provided some release of my frustration but no answer. 

The meeting started at the scheduled time and was moderately efficient, although there did seem to be some work involved in copying information from one computer screen to another.

I provided my passport, driving license, and the letter the government sent me to start this process. The officer made photocopies of these documents (which had all been produced from data in government computers). It was only later I realised that I had taken my expired rather than my current passport. The officer asked whether I had signed the online application; I said that I had ticked the box and submitted the form online. She printed the form for me to sign physically, and the meeting was over. The officer explained that the physical interview was not needed for applicants born in New Zealand and this might be extended to people born overseas in the future. It was not clear why my wife needed to be there.

Some may consider a “Fail” to be a bit harsh. I appreciate the need to verify identity before setting someone up with a regular government payment for the rest of their life. However, I already have a verified digital identity issued by the government, the interview itself added no value, my wife did not need to be there, and government is now storing photocopies of my passport and driving license for no reason; this is clear evidence of unnecessary “make work”.

I score the overall process as a B; there were some very good aspects, such as proactive notification and confirmed timely appointments. However as a digital experience it fell well short of what is possible. A citizen who has lived at the same address in New Zealand for more than 30 years and holds a verified digital identity issued by the government should be able to complete the whole application online. 

The government target is that 80% of the transactions for the twenty most common public services will be completed digitally by 2021. Application for National Super was not included in the original list of common public services, but has recently been added.  It could be an “quick win”  for online uptake, but process redesign is needed to achieve the full potential of digital government.

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