IP Australia chief digital officer (CDO), Damian Giuffre, isn’t worried his job title could become obsolete by 2022.
Like IDC analyst, Sean Ashari, who made the bold statement predicting the CDO role could be gone by the year 2022 - and instead its job responsibilities spread across the executive team - Giuffre agrees with the vision - and is encouraged by it.
“Everything becomes more and more digital over the next ten years and those non-digital executives start to disappear into the wind. Everyone is becoming more of a tech company.
“It’s starting to happen here as well. Pretty much all our investment now is largely some form of digital investment - some form of technology initiative. There’s very little going on - besides building works - that’s not technology related. It’s the logical end point.”
IP Australia is the government agency that administers intellectual property (IP) rights and legislation relating to patents, trade marks, designs and plant breeder's rights.
Certainly, Giuffre is at the coalface of improving the digital technology platforms underpinning Australia’s IP system. At the department for 12 years - ranging in roles from IT project and program manager to director of digital futures - he scooped the CDO post nine months ago.
He’ll agree he’s one of the main players - along with CIO and general manager Robert Bollard - leading the government department on its digital transformation journey. Chief data officer, Kevin Jeffery, is leading the charge on the data front, as reported in CIO Australia last year.
“We’ve been on a digital transformation journey for a long time. It’s never finished. There’s always the next thing, the next stage, or the next iteration, or the next modernisation,” Giuffre said, explaining the journey started in 2012 when it moved from a paper-based world to digital where customers could file electronically.
In 2014, the department saw 12 per cent of customers dealing with IP Australia digitally - today that number sits at 99.6 per cent in terms of digital uptake, he noted.
“We’ve seen a significant shift over the last few years. It’s been a range of things that have contributed - from making our channels better and more accessible, to introducing more effective ways to communicate with the digital channels. We’re empowering people to stay in that preferred digital channel - using behavioural economics on our correspondence to encourage the digital channel preference.
“It’s been an interesting journey - it’s a powerful platform that we can innovate from now. Now that we’ve got everyone dealing with us digitally.”
Giuffre said there’s lots of activity in the backend with its legacy applications as well.
“Rob Bollard, the CIO, is driving a fairly aggressive change agenda across all of our platforms. My focus is on the customer side and the digital experience side. This involves moving to a more modern platform for our customers to interact with us.”
He said a key piece of work is the rollout of the ‘transactional digital services program,’ that covers customer transactions - for example, when a customer files an IP trademark or a patent. He said it involves transforming IP Australia’s digital business model.
“There’s some very legacy outdated ways and systems that we manage to do that - so part of what I’m focusing on is moving to a modern API-based platform and reengineering, rearchitecting and reimagining our digital experience for customers.
“Thinking of it less as a place where everyone has to come to do business, but opening up some of our digital assets, through APIs and through API marketplaces, in enabling software developers and customers to actually innovate off of our services.”
This large piece of work will then lead to IP Australia’s modernisation of the web experience and the digital experience of the customer, who come in all shapes and sizes, he noted.
“We’ve got a highly diverse customer base. We’ve got highly expert, sophisticated users to non-expert, trademark self-filers, who are unrepresented and they don’t really understand the background or context of intellectual property. We have very diverse consumers that we have to cater our system for.”
To aid the process, the department is building its APIs in MuleSoft. “That’s going to be our API platform and through that we’re going to expose our services out to the public for developers and users. We’re also building a lot of functionality in AWS through point solutions.”
In the backend, there’s connectivity via Pega, its core case management system, he added.
Importantly, he said the department has bought into the API-led connectivity approach. “We’re letting those APIs drive our innovation agenda and enable us to expose things for people to make use of - letting our assets become useful for other people to create value from.”
Alex on call
Another top priority for IP Australia is its use of advanced analytics and the push towards machine learning and AI.
Giuffre said the department was an early adopter of chatbots and introduced Alex a few years ago - initially under the covers - but which now has evolved and is proving successful.
“She’s now answering more questions. She’s a central piece in driving that digital engagement and keeping people in the digital channels - and trying to solve their queries upfront. That sort of technology combined with a better web experience, a better digital experience, will enable us to minimise enquiries and issues and complexities for customers.
“We’re seeing a general trend in call volume since we’ve modernised our website and implemented Alex. We’ve gone from 12,000 calls a month, down to 5,000 over the last three to four years.”
At the same time, he acknowledged it hasn’t always been a smooth ride on the digital transformation journey.
“There’s always challenges and complexity. When new technology is adopted there are challenges with internal capability - and how we build and develop an IT shop that’s able to come along for the journey.
“Moving to cloud and moving to APIs is much better adopted by some than others - and it’s a constant journey of learning for a lot of our staff. Recognising and enthusing them about the potential is really a massive change leadership issue.
“We’re trying to paint a vision of the future of where we want to go - where staff can buy into the journey - and be a part of the new world and embrace AI and machine learning and more modern ways of delivery.”
As a result, he said the department will be able to continue to move towards a much more agile workplace - move towards more devops - and deliver customer-driven value.
“There’s some really highly progressive thinking going on at IP Australia - and that excites me the most in terms of being here, pushing forward with devops and continuous delivery, and embracing an agile mindset.”
Bucking the trend, he said IP Australia is an “exciting government IT shop” that’s pushing the boundaries in not just its technology choices, but in its delivery approaches as well.
“The wheels are turning with most government agencies. We’re probably further ahead than the majority. It’s a factor of having fairly progressive leadership in Rob Bollard and others before him, who’ve set the tone.
“We do want to push the boundaries. We want to lead government in the way we deliver innovative services. And in order to deliver those innovative customer experiences, we need to be progressive and deliver value fast. The only way to really do that is to embrace continuous delivery and embrace devops.”
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