Service NSW wins the 2023 Supernova Award for Digital Safety, Governance and Privacy
In something of a rarity, Constellation Research has recognised a major government for innovation.
New South Wales (NSW) is the largest state of Australia. Within a federation rather like the USA and Canada, Australian state governments are responsible for hospitals, schools, community colleges, policing, most land-based public transport, land management, real estate registration, births, deaths & marriage registration and so on.
Service NSW is the customer-facing delivery arm of the New South Wales state government. Service NSW is a one-stop shop for citizens and businesses dealing with most state G2C and G2B services, such as driver licensing, local business compliance, trade licensing, vehicle registration, traffic violations, and home building, among others. Service NSW operates a network of physical service centres and omnichannel online services.
Declaration: The author has been contracted from time to time by the government of NSW as a privacy adviser. He undertook some of the privacy impact assessments mentioned in this article.
Mobile first but with care
A key asset of the agency is the MySNSW mobile app.
The Service NSW technology posture has shifted to mobile-first over the past several years but with great attention to access and fairness across the community (more in this below).
MySNSW includes Australia’s first Digital Driver Licence, released in 2019. The app has become a multi-function digital wallet, including vehicle registration, small business registration, boating, fishing and trade licenses, home building permits, seniors card and so on.
As well as presenting credentials, the mobile app is able to read and verify selected credentials from other MyNSW wallets, enabling citizens to check important bona fides of other people. Every NSW citizen is able to check car registrations, trade licenses and Working-With-Children Checks, among others. I will explain a little later how this capability proved crucial in the government’s pandemic response.
Interoperability pilots are underway with Australian federal government credentials. The technology baseline is in the process of being upgraded to cryptographically verifiable credentials.
Service NSW innovation
The Supernova Award was awarded to Service NSW with particular reference to two extensions of the mobile app in the COVID-19 pandemic, which exemplified how digital technology can empower individuals and protect their digital safety and privacy.
COVID-19 contact tracing
Early in the pandemic, Australian public health authorities mandated that most public venues instigate customer and visitor check-in to support contact tracing.
At first, there was no standard for this, so each venue approached the record keeping requirement differently. Very quickly, third party mobile apps emerged to help automate visitor records. QR codes overnight became synonymous with COVID check-in.
But where was this data being sent and how was it being safeguarded? The NSW government perceived that Australians would have greater confidence in contact tracing if public health authorities handled check-in data, since community acceptance of COVID management was generally high.
COVID Stimulus Program
Pandemic lockdowns ordered by the authorities created enormous economic challenges for citizens and businesses. The NSW Government resolved to help mitigate the impact through an economic stimulus program targeting the tourism and hospitality sectors.
How could a large amount of liquid funds be distributed securely and quickly to citizens? Service NSW had the answer, leveraging the agency’s existing banking relationships with businesses and the high level of customer engagement with the MySNSW mobile app.
Four $25 cash-equivalent vouchers were allocated to every adult in NSW, redeemable at qualified food outlets and entertainment venues.
Service NSW was already assisting businesses with COVID-Safe training, compliance and customer communications. All public businesses in NSW were required to demonstrate COVID-Safe practices and be registered as such. Service NSW built on that footprint to quickly generate venue geolocation specific QR codes for every registered business.
Remember that the mobile app can read credentials. So, with a software update, businesses were suddenly able to use MySNSW to read and process the $25 COVID Stimulus vouchers presented by customers.
From the day that the government decided to allocate COVID Stimulus funds to citizens through the digital channel, money was flowing to customers within 16 weeks.
I rate this performance as world’s best practice in digital delivery.
The product team undertook business and customer UX research, upgraded the mobile software, integrated it with the B2G payments channel, undertook a privacy impact assessment, completed user acceptance testing, and deployed the solution in just 16 weeks.
The successful COVID stimulus vouchers program subsequently served as a prototype for the delivery of further state government family assistance such as subsidies for school holiday and children’s physical fitness programs.
The Supernova award highlights Service NSW’s best-in-breed digital transformation program. The government’s mobile app has proved to be a robust and agile platform for delivering multiple waves of meaningful digital customer services. Privacy, safety and good governance are embedded in the government’s product development.
More details about the MySNSW app are available at the Supernova awards page.
Get ready for the 2024 Supernova awards here.