CIO

NSW govt signs cyber, training, AI ethics MOU with Microsoft

Aims to create digitally savvy public servant pool to work across government

The New South Wales government has signed a five year memorandum of understanding with Microsoft, to collaborate on cyber security, artificial intelligence ethics, training and data-based decision making

Raising the technology capabilities of public servants is "the key one" said the state government's chief information and digital officer, Greg Wells.

"The most exciting bit to me is around capability...Unless we build up our capability and do a lot more in that space, that's going to be our biggest hurdle to actually get governments digital ready," Wells told media at Microsoft's new multi-million dollar 'Microsoft Technology Centre' in Martin Place, Sydney.

His department – NSW Department of Finance, Services and Innovation – is already working with the Public Service Commission to train up government workers to "work digital," an effort which will be boosted by the Microsoft partnership, Wells explained.

"That means they can get into programs, work in small cross functional teams, they can work quickly, they can focus on customers. That's not something that's natural to every public servant at the moment. And Microsoft's got a really big role to play there," Wells, who commenced in the role last year, said.

Although there is no target number yet for the number of public servants that will be adding to their skills, the ultimate aim is to create a pool of experienced staff that can work across government digital transformation projects.

"If there was a pool of those people across government we would do a lot better," Wells said. "That's the target – it's a real practical thing."

Today's announcement follows a digital skills 'hiring blitz' at the end of last year from the department, in an effort to establish a cross-government pool for digital service delivery.

"[Getting] The skills we need is our biggest challenge," Wells added.

The training will take place at Microsoft's new technology centre, at government offices and online.

"We're really excited about the potential this partnership will have to improve the quality of digital services that are provided to New South Wales," said Microsoft Australia's managing director Steven Worrall.

"Ultimately the goal is for NSW to continue the work they've been doing for some time to use data to drive outcomes, and to improve the quality of services that we all use," he added.

AI ethics

Included in the MOU is consideration of the ethics of artificial intelligence, particularly within governments.

"We're at a really early stage in the use of AI, and there's a lot of questions coming up about how will the technology permeate and how will governments and organisations engage with it," Worrall said.

Worrall noted Microsoft had been open with the company's general principles around AI. The company recently publishing specific guidelines around human-AI interaction and use of facial recognition technology.

"And they are important. But it's the application of those principles and how government, which represents all of us at the end of the day, put it into practice. Working side by side with government, is the best way to think about how are we dealing with the issues associated with the technology," Worrall added.