Air NZ example for high-tech public service - Key
ANDREA VANCE AND TRACY WATKINS
Prime Minister John Key is citing Air New Zealand check-in times as a model for the public service to follow as the Government pursues smart phone and other technological advances to replace over the counter contact.
But he conceded that it would require a huge investment by the Government. He confirmed previous reports that an IRD upgrade alone was expected to cost $1 billion plus.
"I think we've got a very good public service but we can't stand in the way of technology...and nor can we stand in the way of some of the advantages of having shared services," Key said.
"I have it in some of my ministries I'm looking after and I'm convinced I can deliver for less money, better results."
Key said the Government was looking at various options, including outsourcing the job of upgrading public service technology, to cope with the changes and confirmed IRD alone "could be up for the better part of a billion dollars for a new computer system".
But the lack of the latest technology meant IRD was unable to make radical tax reforms.
"What happened was they built the system I think in 1991, they've bolted on lots of different applications but it's a highly inefficient system. If you go and look at your capability with online banking....and contract that with your ability to actually look at your student loan, have up to date information, make early repayments....all of those things are not there."
He rejected criticism that replacing workers with technology would lead to a poorer service saying: "Go and have a look t Air New Zealand. Frankly, there's less people checking you in but you can check-in faster. It's the same thing for the public service...so much of what we do, people want to be able to access technology ....to get better services."
He said part of the problem lay with the failed police Incis computer upgrade which cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
"If you have a look at Incis, it did a lot of damage to parliamentarians. Government ministers became very nervous about failures around big projects and that's all well and good but if you look the world's moved on and we actually need to deliver world class technology and we've got to get over ourselves and start doing it.
Key had met executives from internet giant Google as plans to shake up the public sector gathered steam.
Virtual jobs would replace staff as the sector moves away from frontline services to call centres and online interaction.
Key said yesterday that people wanted to use their smartphones to apply for passports and other tasks, rather than wait in line in offices.
"It really doesn't matter if there is a street frontage there ... We are living in an age where kids have iPads and smartphones. That's the modern generation ... and they actually don't want to walk in, for the most part, and be in a very long queue and be waiting for a long time."
He foreshadowed more mergers and job losses, as the Government continues its quest to slash $1 billion from the state sector. More than 2500 public service jobs have been cut in the past three years.
Key would outline proposals in a keynote speech later this month. He would "make no apology" for trying to make the public service more efficient.
As well as further mergers, there would be a sharing of back-office work and human resources and personal data between agencies. The Treasury has estimated $230 million a year could be saved by amalgamating "backroom" services.
Housing New Zealand was using new software and opened a call centre in Manukau, South Auckland, while cutting 70 jobs.
There was speculation last week that the proposed $1b computer system would allow Inland Revenue to cut 1000 jobs.
Last year Key met Google officials twice.
The Government was also asking "some hard questions" about the services it provided in areas such as policing and education, he said. The police force was examining how it could charge for policing private events.
Labour leader David Shearer said National were selling off assets and slashing the public service in lieu of a plan to grow the economy.
"I think most New Zealanders will see right through it I think we should have a plan about what we're trying to do here."
However, he said the public service should be efficient and there were always ways to improve it.
"As technology comes on board, so long as it works, it's the way to go. But we've gotta remember that out there there's maybe people who don't have access to technology."
Labour state services spokesman Chris Hipkins warned that vulnerable people, such as the elderly and low-income families who might not have access to technology, might slip through the cracks. Others would "spend hours on hold, talking to digitally automated answering services".
"The regions are haemorrhaging public service frontline staff [which] is centralising in Wellington. The effect of that is regular, ordinary citizens outside Wellington have less and less contact with real people in the public service."
Public Service Association national secretary Brenda Pilott said it was crucial to distinguish between "transactional" services – such as applying for a licence or requesting a form – and more complex services such as dealing with child abuse or personal care.
"I wouldn't care to dismiss the idea, but I think it's really important the Government doesn't get carried away with savings."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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