Turnbull's hand-picked disruptor disrupts disruption by departing

Digital Transformation Office/Agency head Paul Shetler resigns

Paul Shetler, the head of Australia's Digital Transformation Office/Agency has resigned.

A brief canned statement from the Agency offers no information on the reasons for his departure. Beyond a promise to appoint a replacement “in the new year” and a few boilerplate words expressing thanks for his contribution, there's no indication of why he's gone.

What we do know is that Shetler was hired largely on the basis of his work in the United Kingdom's government digital service (GDS). Then-communications-minister now-prime-minister Malcolm Turnbull felt GDS was an excellent model to all-but-copy for his pet project, the Digital Transformation Office (DTO), which he said would leave Australians quivering with excitement.

The Register understands that the DTO was not afraid to point out that Turnbull had a keen personal interest in the Office's activities: those who did not fall in behind its mission could quickly find themselves asked to explain their position to senior Mandarins from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

But the DTO's mission was recently changed: the organisation was re-named the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) and gained new responsibility for whole-of-government IT strategy. Shetler gained the new title of Chief Digital Officer, but was no longer the agency's head.

Shetler's legacy is perhaps best understood in the context of Australia's messy census, one review of which found that the survey's problems could in part be attributed to Australian Government agencies not yet having much experience at running digital services and lacking guidance on how best to do so.

While The Register learned that at least one agency had adopted the DTO's Digital Services Standards, there's not much evidence of wider impact.

Shetler's post on the DTO's first year doesn't offer much that suggests the agency had an impact beyond its walls. At least one of the achievements he mentions, a new alpha of the gov.au website, was by The Register's count the fourth attempt to research what citizens need from the site and how it could best be delivered. We understand three previous research efforts drew the same conclusions the DTO's effort deduced.

The agency also saw fit to test test single sign-on to Gov.au on the offshore, public cloud and then delete the GitHub repo for the identity effort.

Along the way, the agency tried to excite the populous by extolling the virtues of user testing and log file analysis.

Shetler also leaves behind a Digital Marketplace Beta and “six transformed ‘exemplar’ services”.

Whoever gets his gig has about three more years of planned work and funding to finish the job. ®


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