Chapter 6

Productivity and innovation

The sector's ability to meet growing community expectations and demands will be largely driven by the productivity and innovation of its component departments and agencies.

Despite the challenges of measuring productivity in delivering public value22, the sector is continuously focusing on how it can deliver more or better services with the same or fewer resources, or how it can deliver services differently. Achieving these goals requires efficiency, effectiveness, innovation and different ways of working.

Factors that can help boost productivity include improving contestability; applying innovative service and infrastructure delivery models; using technology more effectively; increasing workforce flexibility; delivering services in collaboration and partnership with other providers; and establishing a culture of innovation.

In working to increase productivity, the sector must:

  • determine the best way to deliver services, which includes costing and measuring activities and services against those of other providers, and/or genuinely collaborating with other agencies, non-government organisations, the private sector and customers – especially in terms of improving timeliness and quality
  • use technology to automate processes or to provide customer self-service options – the 2015 Customer survey showed greater satisfaction with online and digital government services than with some services provided in person
  • design processes that consider customer satisfaction as a performance benchmark as well as an important factor in improving services (see Chapter 3)
  • assess how its work affects consumers and businesses, which can help build a greater understanding of how regulations impact businesses, and lead agencies to combine efforts across the sector rather than duplicating work
  • develop leadership capabilities in a way that improves productivity, such as encouraging autonomy and giving leaders the freedom to explore creative or innovative solutions.

The sector has done well to act on these areas in the past four years. For example, a number of human services, infrastructure and maintenance contracts are now executed by non-government partners specialising in the relevant service being delivered, and this approach is likely to accelerate in the short and medium term. Innovative financing models, performance-based contracting, and reinvesting asset and service sales are some other examples.

Embracing these productivity drivers requires a capable workforce with the right culture, the right conditions and a diverse mix of experiences and skills.23 It requires a focus on what customers need and want, and the quality of service they demand. The ageing NSW workforce and projected decline in workforce participation rates make productivity an increasingly important focus point for the public sector. As is often the case, agencies may have to work out how they will do more with less.

All of these factors must be underpinned by strong leaders who can clearly communicate an agency's direction and vision, are willing to work across sectors and jurisdictions, and can manage significant change and reforms.

When managed properly, improved productivity can lead to improved employee engagement, and create a culture of creativity and innovation that aims to meet customer needs and achieve desired business outcomes.

This chapter looks at what the NSW public sector is currently doing to create a productive and innovative workforce driven by contestability, new technologies, collaborative ways of working and workforce flexibility.

The following sections will look at the sector in the context of:

  • the extent to which agencies have implemented and developed strategies aimed at boosting productivity
  • the size and shape of the sector
  • use of workforce planning to support changed delivery models
  • collaboration and co-design
  • technology
  • innovation.

Productivity initiatives

The Agency survey sought information about agencies' plans and strategies for productivity improvement. The results show more advanced implementation of strategies that allow flexible work arrangements (31% highly developed) and improve flexibility around common role descriptions and capabilities (21% highly developed).

In all other areas, the reported level of development was much lower; only 10–16% of other productivity initiatives were highly developed. Implementation was also lower (around 10–15%) in areas with a direct impact on productivity performance – such as improving contestability of services provided, and designing more flexible roles.

The results show that large parts of the sector are actively exploring how they can accommodate workforce flexibility reforms, but their progress in other areas is less advanced. Many of these efforts – such as redesigning reviews, processes and work arrangements – have been internally focused rather than being incorporated into broader strategies that can directly influence productivity.

Figure 22: Agency strategies to improve productivity

Diagram of 'Figure 22: Agency strategies to improve productivity'

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  % Highly developed % Developed % Basic % Recognised % Not recognised
Improving workforce flexibility via use for flexible work arrangements: 97% implemented 31 40 26 3 0
Undertaking systematic reviews, management and improvement of processes to improve efficiency and effectiveness: 95% implemented 10 53 32 4 0
Adopting new technologies with potential for transformative changes (e.g. automation, customer self-service): 94% implemented 14 55 25 6 0
Establishing a culture that focuses on productivity: 93% implemented 15 50 28 8 0
Improving workforce flexibility via generic role descriptions and common capabilities to allow movement of staff across multiple functions/services: 90% implemented 21 39 30 8 2
Improving workforce flexibility via role design flexibility to meet changing needs: 88% implemented 16 35 37 10 2
Conducting performance measurement and benchmarking: 85% implemented 11 41 33 13 3
Increasing the contestability of service provision: 79% implemented 10 33 35 15 8

Source: Agency survey 2015

The use of technology is an area of strength across the sector – most agencies have well-developed mobile, social and online technology strategies in place. The Customer survey highlighted growing customer satisfaction with self-service and other online technologies. Future surveys will reveal the full extent to which technology can improve productivity and deliver better customer experiences.

Audit Office review

The Audit Office reviewed24 productivity in the sector in 2015 and its findings tend to support much of the above discussion, although its focus was more specific.

The purpose of the review was to identify whether there was sufficient information to identify and assess productivity changes in the NSW public sector. The focus was on education in schools, transport, health, the police force and local courts.

Overall, the Audit Office findings provide a valuable insight into how well these agencies can measure productivity. The agencies examined, understood and reported on input, output and quality indicators, but did not have clear guidance or direction about how this information could be used to track productivity. Consequently, none of these agencies reported its productivity to Parliament. Agencies had a much better understanding of, and reporting for, efficiency, defined as cost per unit of output.

There are some examples of a significant shift, especially around contestability of services. In recent years, the range and scope of such services have increased as other sectors – including not-for-profits – have been able to compete in providing services, and have been able to address barriers to entry such as size, access to expertise and sharing of corporate services. Technology has also enabled closer connections between dispersed service providers, customers, funders and regulators.

The growth in commissioning has been significant in human services and infrastructure. This will introduce significant innovation and result in changes to the size and shape of the sector and the role of government. As a result, the sector will need to improve its capabilities in contract management, collaboration and co-design with other sectors, and how it responds to regulation.

Remuneration review

Limiting the size of the workforce has a direct impact on productivity but doing so can take some time to generate benefits and savings. Furthermore, reducing the number of employees can be a blunt instrument, negatively affecting the number and quality of outputs delivered, generating discontent in the community and reducing the public value delivered. Other approaches may drive greater productivity outcomes with fewer negative consequences.

The sector has been looking at a range of other macro factors relating to the workforce, including its shape and flexibility. The shape of the sector has changed significantly over the past 10 years. While it provides roughly the same core services, the proportion and number of senior roles has increased. See Chapter 4 for a discussion of the work being undertaken to streamline executive layers and reduce spans of control.

Effective organisational design is critical to high productivity. This includes having work undertaken by people with the right level of authority. Remuneration commensurate to the work is also critical in maintaining the sector's attractiveness as a place of employment, building staff engagement and thereby driving productivity.

A PSC remuneration review conducted across 2014 and 2015 assessed roles, remuneration and activities in a large sample of the workforce. PSC then compared these findings against similar data in other jurisdictions and in the private sector.

The review identified a growing imbalance in the responsibilities allocated to people at different levels. The majority of roles evaluated (70–80%) were assigned to people in grade levels consistent with their actual NSW public service grade level. However, 18–25% of investigated roles were over-graded; that is, up to a quarter of roles were assigned to employees in higher grades than necessary. Eighty-eight per cent of those roles were identified at the top two levels of awards: clerk grade 9/10 and 11/12. The assessment revealed a small percentage of roles (7%) were under-graded, or assigned to people in grades lower than required.

Figure 23 shows the changing numbers of staff at different levels between 2008 and 2014, and the fast rate of growth within this period. This shift is not a result of conscious workforce planning, and raises questions about equity, job design, performance management, and staff attraction and retention strategies. In addition, 9,049 full-time employees are classified as grade 9/10 and 11/12 managers, but as many as 36,972 are classified as professionals.25 In other words, the data suggests there is a large group of relatively well-paid specialists who are not managing people or teams.

Figure 23: Distribution of public sector employees by grade, 2008 vs. 2015

Chart of 'Figure 23: Distribution of public sector employees by grade, 2008 vs. 2015'

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Clerk Grade 2008 (FTE) 2015 (FTE) Difference
Clerk Grade 11/12 2,810 (8%) 3,699 (10%)
Clerk Grade 9/10 4,679 (13%) 5,619 (16%) +20%
Clerk Grade 7/8 6,031 (17%) 7,128 (20%) +18%
Clerk Grade 5/6 7,566 (21%) 7,150 (20%) -5%
Clerk Grade 3/4 8,306 (23%) 6,951 (19%) -16%
Clerk Grade 1/2 6,364 (18%) 5,414 (15%) -15%

Source: Grades relate to administration and clerical awards; employees are FTE

While senior executives are in the process of transitioning from a complex executive structure to a simpler one under the GSE Act reforms (see Chapter 4), similar challenges exist for non-executive staff. There is still a need to further redesign the sector's workforce – including its hierarchical structure – and the level of responsibility for people employed below the executive grades. In the coming years, the sector will need to focus on initiatives to keep non-executive employment structures in check, and in line with the service expectations of the NSW community.

Sick leave

The amount of sick leave taken in NSW is similar to that taken in the Australian Public Service and less than in all other states and territories except Queensland.26 Nonetheless, an upward trend in NSW raises concerns about the health of the workforce and the impacts on productivity.

The average amount of sick leave taken by NSW public sector employees rose by 7.9% in the past five years. Indeed, in 2015 to date, the average amount taken rose by 0.9 hours per person compared with 2014, to 61.4 hours.

Figure 24: Sick leave trends, 2010–15

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2010 2012 2013 2014 2015
56.9 58.3 59.3 60.5 61.4

Source: NSW Workforce Profile. Average hours of leave per FTE (non‑casual). The 2011 data is incomplete

Sick leave allowances vary across NSW. For example, nurses receive 10 days (76 hours) per year, while employees under the Crown Employees Award receive 15 days (approximately 105–120 hours).

Patterns and implications of sick leave in the sector are complex, and rising sick leave figures are putting pressure on service delivery. The annual NSW Workforce Profile is a rich data source for understanding the patterns and incidence of sick leave. Certain patterns remain stable over time; on average older people take more leave than younger staff members, and those in some occupations that call for a lot of interaction with the community, and in jobs that are more physical, tend to take more sick leave. Whether this is due to levels of engagement, the nature of the work or other factors requires further exploration.

While these patterns remain consistent, the overall hours of leave taken have increased over time. The variation in figures for different employment and demographic groups should guide human resources leaders and staff managers in developing more sophisticated workforce planning practices.

The ageing workforce is an important consideration when discussing sick leave. Employees, especially men, tend to require more sick leave as they age. The average annual sick leave taken by those under 50 is 54 hours, compared to 72.5 hours for those aged over 50. Compounding this, the proportion of public sector employees aged over 55 increased between 2011 and 2014, and with the average retirement age rising, this trend is expected to continue.

The data also shows that on average, people in higher grades take less sick leave than those in lower grades. This may imply there is a connection between sick leave and engagement levels – if those in lower grades are less engaged in their work and more willing to take leave – but it may also indicate that work pressures and accountability lead managers to take less leave, even when they need it.

Figure 25: Sick leave variation by age and income group

Line chart of 'Figure 25: Sick leave variation by age and income group'

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  $57,256 to <$97,883 $97,883 to <$113,212 $113,212 to <$146,499 $146,499 to <$242,801 $242,801 to <$305,401 $305,401 & above
15-19 0 hours per FTE 0 hours per FTE 0 hours per FTE 0 hours per FTE 0 hours per FTE 0 hours per FTE
20-24 44 hours per FTE 0 hours per FTE 0 hours per FTE 0 hours per FTE 0 hours per FTE 0 hours per FTE
25-29 58 hours per FTE 39 hours per FTE 35 hours per FTE 0 hours per FTE 0 hours per FTE 0 hours per FTE
30-34 57 hours per FTE 41 hours per FTE 37 hours per FTE 23 hours per FTE 0 hours per FTE 0 hours per FTE
35-39 60 hours per FTE 46 hours per FTE 41 hours per FTE 27 hours per FTE 0 hours per FTE 0 hours per FTE
40-44 62 hours per FTE 50 hours per FTE 41 hours per FTE 29 hours per FTE 32 hours per FTE 0 hours per FTE
45-49 64 hours per FTE 51 hours per FTE 43 hours per FTE 28 hours per FTE 10 hours per FTE 0 hours per FTE
50-54 69 hours per FTE 55 hours per FTE 45 hours per FTE 35 hours per FTE 25 hours per FTE 10 hours per FTE
55-59 77 hours per FTE 72 hours per FTE 60 hours per FTE 47 hours per FTE 40 hours per FTE 15 hours per FTE
60-64 89 hours per FTE 85 hours per FTE 81 hours per FTE 54 hours per FTE 50 hours per FTE 20 hours per FTE
65+ 101 hours per FTE 88 hours per FTE 70 hours per FTE 63 hours per FTE N/A N/A

Source: NSW Workforce Profile 2015

Agencies need to put in place strategies that help them monitor sick leave figures and trends; create strategies for preventing and managing the impact of unplanned leave; and create plans for addressing the ageing NSW public sector workforce. This may require a more developed and nuanced approach to workforce planning and management. PSC plans to launch a Workforce Dashboard for all agencies by the end of 2015, which will bring together various data sources – including the NSW Workforce Profile, People Matter survey and recruitment statistics – to enable a more sophisticated approach to analytics and planning.

Workforce planning

Managing the workforce of the future requires sound, strategic planning. Using data to generate deeper insights into workforce capabilities, demographics and composition is a key step in developing strategies that address current and future labour needs and gaps – such as internal and external labour market shortages, job redesign, imbalances in different employment types and grades, and shortfalls in the number of people who can fill critical roles. Workforce planning also includes succession planning, so it is essential for addressing the future impacts of the ageing population.

The Reform review revealed that although agencies are aware that workforce planning has significant potential to help address current and future capability needs, progress to date has been limited. Departments that participated in the review were more likely to consider and react to short-term changes than to focus on strategic, structural change and long-term workforce requirements.

Workforce planning needs to be business-led and viewed as a business enabler, not just the responsibility of HR. The Reform review found that agency stakeholders are not widely aware of what workforce planning aims to achieve; agencies are just starting out on their workforce planning journeys and no cluster has a clearly defined approach. The sector needs access to better evidence and data on the effects of workforce management, but does not currently have the capability to translate the relevant data into insights.

The Agency survey supports these findings. Although implementation of workforce planning has increased over the past year, it has mostly focused on the immediate to middle term rather than planning for the longer-term challenges that are likely to face an agency.

Promisingly, the survey found that 84% of agencies undertook operational (resource) workforce planning for the next 12–18 months, and just over 70% have a documented strategic workforce plan that aligns capability requirements with business objectives for the next three years. However, only 8% and 10% of agencies (respectively) reported that these strategies were highly developed; 98% identify current staffing and capability needs, but only 50% identify the number and type of employees the agency will need five years from now.

Workplace planning is especially important in an environment where government and service delivery models are constantly changing. Wherever there is a burning platform for change – such as a significant shift of workforces to other sectors – line managers can work with human resources teams to apply workforce planning strategies, allowing senior executives to make evidence-based decisions for the future.

Snapshot – Department of Family and Community Services

The Department of Family and Community Services (FaCS) is in the process of undertaking a significant commissioning exercise. Some services it has previously delivered directly to the community will now be delivered by providers in the non-government sector.

FaCS has taken a pragmatic approach to workforce planning to support this strategic direction, by planning for significant transitions of staff and services to other providers while also being able to provide the capability and capacity needed to deliver services today.

Comprehensive workforce plans address workforce transitions, industrial issues, communications/message planning, culture and morale programs, knowledge transfer and operational issues. A critical challenge is planning and decision making to retain the capability, knowledge and capacity to meet today's demands and address the future roles the department will play.

The department has undertaken detailed scenario planning to assess the different types of transitions. They include timing, numbers of staff, different service providers, regional shifts and service types. This granular approach informs various pathways to transition.

The department has explored a range of pathways, including the characteristics and capabilities of the groups, logistical support requirements, and different risk and treatment strategies to help assess the best likelihoods of success. This approach also includes some cost and benefit modelling.

These plans were developed and then devolved to those managers who, over the next year or so, may need to closely understand potential changes. These plans provide the evidence and data to support critical decisions made by senior executives in the department.

This example shows how workforce management is essential in achieving strategic goals including those that drive productivity savings and better outcomes for customers. It also shows the need to devolve workforce planning capability to line managers.

Workforce mobility

Mobility is one of the key objectives of the GSE Act. A mobile workforce enables agencies to deploy people to the areas where they are most needed to deliver high-priority services. Mobility also gives employees opportunities to broaden their range of experience, acquire a wider range of capabilities, enhance their own career options and prospects, and, if they so choose, develop into well-rounded future leaders.

The concept of a mobile workforce is relevant to most if not all of the drivers of high performance referenced in this report, and has a particular impact on productivity. Mobility is one of the more tangible elements of workforce flexibility, and can allow a large, diverse, siloed sector to work as a more cohesive body. Moving the right people with the right capabilities to the right areas quickly and cost-effectively improves productivity for those delivering and receiving services.

The Agency survey found that the percentage of agencies with a documented mobility strategy has increased significantly from 28% to 61% since 2014. The number of agencies with a mature mobility strategy (19%) also increased in the past year, and 27% of agencies reported having a developed or highly developed program to promote mobility. Most of these current mobility strategies relate to opportunities within the same agency.

The Reform review showed that agencies are well aware of the potential that mobility offers to the sector, even if they do not harness it regularly. Secretaries are already using mobility to manage senior executive employment. This practice has yet to extend into other layers of the workforce.

Manager capability and mindset is critical to facilitating mobility. For managers there is a prevalent culture of 'owning a resource', which increases reluctance to release employees.

Procedural and bureaucratic processes can make it difficult to capture information about resources and skills, and then match them to potential opportunities while providing visibility of opportunities to interested employees. Previous People Matter surveys have shown that although employees may feel they have the skills and willingness to work elsewhere in the sector, they lack awareness of what opportunities are available, or the processes and rules around mobility, transfers or secondments are confusing.

Human capital management systems (HCMS) can help address some of these process and technology barriers. They provide managers with a complete picture of the available workforce, allowing them to support their team's development while aligning work efforts with business priorities.

HCMS are being rolled out across the sector, and will support all aspects of workforce management including performance, learning and recruitment. Nearly 10,000 employees in three departments are already using performance modules, and other agencies are in the process of implementing learning, development and succession modules.

HCMS should also improve employee visibility regarding the opportunities they have to grow, develop and realise career goals. And by better understanding their people – including capabilities, opportunities and results, all in one place – agencies can make more informed decisions.

As this roll-out moves beyond the early adopters, agency-based HCMS will become commonly used tools that can integrate with those in other departments and with the jobs.nsw portal, removing some of the systems, processes and awareness gaps that have limited the use of mobility to date.

Collaboration

Collaboration is essential for delivering services more productively and effectively to meet government priorities and customers' needs. A 2014 PSC study identified a span of collaboration, with activities ranging from simple to complex (see Figure 26). It found that most public sector collaboration is focused on coordination and cooperation within and between sectors. Arrangements across sectors are predominantly contractual rather than being formal alliances or partnerships that require joint missions, purpose, authority and control, plus sharing of risk, resources and benefit.

Collaboration generates productive outcomes in a number of ways, and is not limited to the following:

  1. By bringing a broad array of talent, thinking, experience and skills from across many agencies, jurisdictions, sectors and customers, collaborative ways of working can deliver a solution more quickly, in a more targeted and relevant manner, and with less duplication of effort. When done correctly, the right resources are dedicated to the right problem at the right time for the right amount of time. While this may require more effort initially, clearer articulation of requirements, better understanding of feasibility, better-quality solutions, better planning and less rework mean the overall outputs from such an arrangement are likely to be more productive.27
  2. As more traditional government services are likely to be contested, the sector will need to form collaborative partnerships to realise planned benefits. This means co-designing future services and the appropriate performance- and outcomes-based contracting mechanisms; clearly defining delivery roles and accountabilities; and identifying ways to realise projected benefits, and to evaluate and continuously improve. Commissioning services without collaborative work practices will eventually deliver sub-optimal results.
  3. Greater collaboration across agencies, jurisdictions and sectors is likely to result in greater innovation by combining experiences and insights from those who have previously worked on different solutions.
  4. Collaboration done correctly also allows teams to predict and address the impacts of decisions – especially around policy and regulation – early in the process. This creates productive outcomes by reducing duplication of work and potential redesign.

Figure 26: Variation in types of collaboration

Diagram for 'Figure 26: Variation in types of collaboration'

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The 2015 Agency survey results show that most agencies have guidelines in place or a culture of collaboration that encourages people to identify and act on collaboration opportunities (91%) and most felt that these practices were well developed (71%).

Almost all agencies indicated they have formally collaborated with other NSW public sector agencies and within their own agency during the past 12 months. Agencies were relatively less likely to collaborate with other sectors or jurisdictions, although the number of agencies that had done so was still significant.

Figure 27: Agency collaboration within and between sectors

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Other NSW public sector agencies 99%
Within your agency 98%
Private sector 87%
Federal government agencies 82%
Not-for-profit organisations 78%
Other state and territory public sector agencies 77%
Local government agencies 73%

Source: Agency survey 2015

The focus of collaboration was most commonly around service delivery (77% of agencies), and program design and management (71%). Collaboration on policy development and regulation was less common (63% and 54% respectively).

Further analysis suggests that similar levels of collaboration focused on these four functions occurred at the intra-agency, NSW public sector, federal, and other state and territory public sector levels. However, there were variations in the private sector – at this level, collaboration on service delivery, and program design and management functions was much more common than collaboration on policy development or regulation. Collaboration on these last two functions is critical to developing a sense of real partnership and co-design, as well as managing impacts on other sectors (for example, due to over-regulation and excessive red tape). There is a similar pattern for collaboration with local government.

Collaboration with not-for-profit organisations recorded the largest variation – just 27% of agencies that collaborated with this stakeholder group did so in relation to regulation, 52–63% collaborated on policy or program design, and 85% worked with not-for-profits in relation to service delivery.

Despite high scores from the Agency survey, much of the collaboration remains within the sector, which highlights the sector's inherently internal focus.

The relatively low levels of collaboration with not-for-profits on regulation, policy and program design reflects findings in PSC's 2014 research into the private and not-for-profit sectors (see page 59). This research found that public sector activity focused primarily on simple forms of collaboration, with relatively few formal alliances and partnerships. From the perspective of potential partners, there are a range of barriers to success, including power asymmetries, a risk-averse public sector culture, excessive red tape and reporting requirements, and a focus predominantly on contractual arrangements rather than service delivery partnerships to improve customer outcomes. Some excellent models of collaboration such as the Newpin family support program28 already exist, but further work is required to identify the extent of public sector activity in complex partnerships.

Innovation

Innovation is a means of developing new solutions to improve productivity and the customer experience. There are many examples of highly innovative agencies in the sector, particularly in the area of service delivery. They regularly survey customers, and try to understand services from the customer's perspective. Agencies that closely assess developments in other jurisdictions or in the private sector are likely to share and reuse ideas and thoughts. The process of sharing increases innovation and improves services, while also reducing costs.

Leaders have a crucial role in driving innovation. In the 2015 Agency survey, the majority of agencies said their senior leaders provided clear authority and support for innovation (94%) but the level of those that did so at a highly developed level was much lower (15%) (see Figure 28). The majority of agencies are actively engaging stakeholders to come up with new or better ways to do things (96%) but only 16% say this practice is highly developed. Implementation levels were lower for allocating resources (76%) and systems to monitor and promote innovation (73%), and the number of those reporting highly developed systems was again significantly lower.

Figure 28: Agency strategies to improve innovation

Diagram for 'Figure 28: Agency strategies to improve innovation'

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  % Highly developed % Developed % Basic % Recognised % Not recognised
The agency actively engages both internal and external stakeholders to come up with new or better ways to do things: 96% implemented 16 47 33 4 0
Senior leaders provide clear authority and support for innovation in the workplace: 94% implemented 15 50 29 6 0
Resources are allocated specifically to take advantage of identified innovations: 76% implemented 10 36 30 20 3
There are systems in place to monitor and promote innovation: 73% implemented 5 34 34 22 5

Source: Agency survey 2015

Technology

Technology can have a significant impact on productivity, by minimising and simplifying inputs, streamlining processes and improving the quality of the final output. It automates processes, accelerates complex processes and allows customers to self-manage their interactions with the services they receive. Well-developed systems can also reduce error rates and eliminate the need for multiple handling and sign-offs. However, these benefits can be offset by the long development times, and the significant investments and project risks involved in creating an effective technology solution, not to mention the risk of low adoption rates among employees and customers alike.

The NSW public sector has made significant progress in its use of technology. It has engaged in innovative forms of investment and has cleverly used digital tools to support partnerships and its customers.

Digital reforms have helped build a public sector that is more efficient, responsive and customer-focused in its delivery of simpler, more connected services. This has required a sector-wide cultural shift focused on adopting customer-centred services, and connecting with research and industry bodies to inject challenging and new ways of thinking into government agencies.

Service NSW is an example of an agency with which customers can now complete 800 different types of transactions at a one-stop service centre. Service NSW has also set up a number of digital stores to help customers complete their digital transactions.

Data is another key element in the shift towards welcoming technology throughout the NSW public sector. Plans are underway for a data analytics centre where agencies can share data that was previously stored behind traditional organisational boundaries. Sector-wide access to this previously siloed data will help identify new ways to design customer services and deliver better policy outcomes.

The NSW Government has established an ICT Investment Process aimed at improving organisational productivity through coordinated ICT investment, smart procurement, use of emerging technologies, and cloud-based and networked computing.

A workforce with the skills and capabilities needed to deliver world-class digital services is vital to achieving optimum productivity. To address this, PSC and the Department of Finance, Services and Innovation have developed a comprehensive sector-wide ICT workforce strategy that sets out role descriptions, helping agencies identify, attract and develop an ICT workforce of the highest standard.

Snapshot – Sydney Local Health District

Sydney Local Health District encourages and supports innovation through The Pitch, its workplace challenge.

The Pitch empowers staff members to 'pitch' their innovative ideas – big or small – to improve systems, the patient experience and healthcare delivery, as well as minimise waste.

The Pitch:

  • infuses a culture of innovation
  • encourages junior and senior employees, clinical and non-clinical, to compete for resources and funding
  • allows employees to quickly identify where to invest adequate resources
  • showcases six or seven new presentations each quarter with up to $50,000 in prize money for each winning pitch
  • supports winning ideas and project teams through further coaching, mentoring and project management training by the District's finest clinicians and project managers.

The Pitch program was launched in August 2014. Since then, 11 pitches have been accepted from 70 applications received from over 30 departments across the District. Successful applications so far have included innovations for community mental health, dentistry, operating theatres and medical records.

Service delivery has been greatly enhanced by these innovations. For example:

  • Nasendoscopes for speech pathologists assess swallowing on a hospital ward and allow faster access to the safest diet, reducing discomfort for patients and limiting the risk of malnutrition and aspiration.
  • The Fire Training Simulation Centre allows staff to respond to fire situations in a range of controlled scenarios to ensure best patient care in the event of an emergency evacuation.
  • The Environmental Decontamination system for burns rapidly reduces the time taken to disinfect a burns care isolation room, meaning patients can be admitted to a unit without delay and with a reduced risk of infection.

To the next level

Productivity is central to the sector delivering services effectively, efficiently and to the level of quality expected by consumers, businesses and government. However, there is much work to do in developing the sector's response to issues in this crucial area.

Using technology and workforce mobility to streamline systems is already an area of strength that allows the sector to deliver services more efficiently and from a greater number of locations.

It is crucial for agencies to develop the culture and conditions that foster productivity and innovation, and that includes building strong leadership. Many factors can help enhance productivity, including a tone from the top that sets a culture of creativity, encourages an element of risk taking, and welcomes the use of new tools, technology and ways of working.

Employee engagement is also critical to high productivity; sick leave and other unplanned absences can have a significant impact on productivity and performance. Appropriately grading the workforce and allowing greater responsibility across more layers of staff is another step that will improve productivity while also helping to expedite processes, enhance accountability to customers and increase employee engagement.

Data from the Agency survey and Reform review indicate that agencies are already putting in place the right reform mechanisms to strengthen productivity and innovation across the sector. However, there needs to be a greater focus on understanding how data analysis and more effective technology use can boost productivity in the sector.

  1. Moore, M & Khagram, S (2004), On Creating Public Value, John F Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
  2. NSW Public Service Commission (2012), How it is: State of the NSW Public Sector Report 2012
  3. Audit Office of NSW (2015), NSW Auditor-General’s Performance Audit Report, Identifying productivity in the public sector
  4. The method of interpreting and coding occupations in workforce information systems may have produced an underestimate in the number of managers
  5. Caution is required in comparing jurisdictional sick leave as there is variation in the ‘what and how’ of data collection
  6. Mankin D and Cohen SG (2004), Business without Boundaries and Roberts P (1997), ‘Group Genius’ in Fast Company
  7. The Newpin Social Benefit Bond funds the New Parent and Infant Network Program managed by UnitingCare Burnside. Social benefit bonds are a new way of building innovative partnerships between the public, private and not-for-profit sectors to deliver measurable social outcomes