The myGov future is here – but can they please let us know!
I logged into myGov last night.
This is the federal government website that brings all your government services together. Tax, medicare, centrelink and so on. In my less than 24 hour experience, it seems to work well. I had to fish out my login details from last year's tax records. I also immediately registered for myGov mobile phone security codes to help avoid identity theft.
However, on logging in, I had a problem.
Among the 17 unopened 'letters' sitting in my inbox, I had a tax bill from last financial year. Or rather, I had a tax bill issued in June, a reminder to pay issued in early August, and a demand for payment issued in late August.
I also had a notice from the Australian Tax Office dated April 2:
Welcome and thank you for joining ATO communications online. You will now start to receive some of your ATO mail in your myGov Inbox."
By 'some', the ATO, apparently means 'all'.
Apparently all my correspondence from the ATO has now gone electronic and I have to access it through myGov. This has probably occurred to everyone who lodged their annual income tax electronically last year (and had to set up a myGov account to do so).
I have no problems with going paperless. But to automatically shift people to paperless, informing them by the paperless system of this new policy, is a long way from best practice.
Benefits if handled correctly
There are big potential benefits from having an integrated federal government data base. It saves us time and money in record keeping and leads to fewer errors.
There are also big potential benefits from a single electronic government portal. It can save time, paper and personnel. The federal government has highlighted that it has a 'spending problem'. Internet-based products like myGov can lead to long-term lower expenditure with higher levels of service.
The technology needs to be handled carefully to ensure that people are not left behind. For example, I wonder if the indigenous child pictured at the top of the DHS myGov page has access to the internet? The government needs to make sure that there is not a two-track level of service: high for those online and low for those who, for whatever reason, cannot access online resources.
Implementation is key
Rolling out new technology, like myGov, requires four things.First, the product must work and be stable.
If in doubt, use beta versions to get customer feedback. And stress test the product to make sure that it will survive high and variable levels of use.
Unfortunately, this was not done for myGov and the ATO interface. So in early July, the site crashed.
"An internal source said the network link connecting myTax with MyGov was a "standard connection" which couldn't handle traffic above 2500 users at any given time, and had "never passed pressure testing"."
Second, the product must be secure. The federal government appears to have responded to early criticism about security on the myGov site. But is it secure? I will leave that to the IT experts. I am simply giving a user's perspective!
Third, it must provide a good 'in product' experience. If the interface is difficult to follow, if it is hard to find information, or, even worse, if it locks people out for 'no good reason', then the product will create user resentment. Instead of being a benefit, it will simply pass costs from the government back to individuals as they waste their scarce time trying to work out how to use the system or waiting for a helpdesk to answer their queries.
Finally, the product must be sold. People must be informed about the platform; what it can offer and why they should engage with it.
A private company that released new technology without covering off these four points would face financial loss.
Of course, government departments, such as the ATO do not face market pressure if they make new product mistakes. But the government will face voter pressure. Voters who have been forced to use myGov and have had a a less-than-adequate experience will remember this.
A 21st centry government?
MyGov – or something like it – is part of a 21st century government. It is the way of the future. But it needs careful development, testing, and selling.
In my case the cost of 'discovering' that all my tax letters were now in myGov was small. I spent about an hour on the ATO help line. The person who answered my queries was fantastic. It took a while because even he had not realised that all correspondence was now only via myGov. He also had to check if I could change back to snail mail. Apparently I can't! And if given the choice, I probably would have chosen 'all electronic' anyway.
But that is the problem. I was not given the choice. I was disenfranchised. And I wonder how many others are in the same boat – or are yet to realise that they have a tax bill sitting in their myGov account.
A 21st century government needs more than 21st century technology. It also needs 21st century deployment. And it needs a 21st centry public service who understand this task.
This article originally appeared in The Conversation.