An interview with Victor Dominello, New South Wales Minister of Finance, Services, and Property.
A conversation between Paul Harapin, SVP and GM of Domo APAC and Japan, and the Hon. Victor Dominello, the New South Wales Minister for Finance, Services, and Property, on taking a data-driven approach to government.
Paul Harapin: Thanks for joining us at CEO.com to talk about leadership in government and digital transformation. Could you tell us about your journey and portfolios that you’ve had since you joined the government in 2008?
Hon. Dominello: I’ve had a lot of portfolios over the years since I joined. In the past, I’ve looked after the Better Regulation and Innovation portfolio, and when we actually formed the current government in 2011, I had the Ministry for Aboriginal Affairs, Fair Trading, and Citizenship position. Currently, I’m the New South Wales Minister for Finance, Property, and Services.
Since taking your current ministry with finance and property, you’ve overseen a number of reforms related to this area. What was the spark that made you dive so deep into digital transformation?
When I became Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in 2011, there was an emergency happening in one of the remote communities around a community challenge within the first six months. We organized for myself, as well as the Minister of Health, the Minister of the Family Community Services, the Minister for Police, to all get into one room and discuss how we were going to solve this problem for the community. The first thing that the bureaucrats—the senior public servants—were telling me was that, although they could give me some information, the data was about three to six months old. I said to them, “How do you want us to make decisions today that will impact your lives tomorrow, based on information that is three to six months old? It’s going to take you another six weeks to get me the information I need.” It was just crazy and it wasn’t good enough.
That frustration has stayed with me and I’ll never forget it. As I say to people at the time: “It’s like you’re asking us to go into an emergency room, into a situation where we have to make really big decisions. And imagine saying to your fellow doctors in that emergency room, ‘Let’s operate, but I’m happy just to rely on X-rays that are six months old. I’m happy to rely on MRIs that are two years old.’ It’s not good enough.” Normally, as soon as you are in the emergency theatre, you’re hooked up to every machine known to mankind, getting real-time information so you can make real-time decisions. That’s what we need to do in the public sector, and that’s how we’re moving. A bit slowly, but we’re moving, and we’re getting there.
How have others around you reacted to you changing the status quo? To demanding real-time information and being able to make decisions off of that?
Initially, people thought I was crazy. They thought I was just on an adventure of my own. But more recently I think it’s fair to say that the ministers around the cabinet table are seeing that this has to be par for the course. It has to be the standard operating procedure from this point forward.
Do you have any approaches that you’ve used to bring everyone around you on that journey?
Yes, I show people the effect of it. There’s nothing more powerful than if I can show people through a mobile device that this is what I’m seeing and what I’m tracking, and this is the outcome we’re getting.
With real-time information at your fingertips, what are some of the decisions that you can make now that you just wouldn’t have been able to previously?
I love real-time feedback because I can then track it and identify any consistent themes. For example, in relation to service delivery on a reform, I can see what the customers—or in my case, the citizens—are saying to me. Sometimes it’s that they’re not understanding a certain issue or don’t like the way it is being rolled out. I can then pick up the phone and say, “Look, this is tracking in a certain direction and it’s been tracking this for a number of hours, days, weeks. Let’s change to respond to the citizens’ needs.”
How do you look at digital transformation in government?
Well, I’ve got a lot of government experience now. I’ve been in the public life for about 10 years. I’ve seen different governments around the world and how they apply different theories around digital transformation. I’ve come up with about 10 points: The first is that it has to be data based. Second, it needs to be digital. Third, it has to be direct. The fourth, it’s got to be displayed, so we can see it. Domo is a great tool for that. Fifth, it has to be dissected, it has been analyzed. Sixth, it must be part of your DNA. Seventh, it’s got to be part of the future, such as the third dimension, and where we’re moving towards in super exciting areas. Eight is defence and cyber security, because we’ve got to lock that down. Ninth is around what we’re doing in relation to what will happen if you don’t do all these points—which is, you become a dinosaur. And of course, the point is delivery. To be honest, that’s the most important one, because if you don’t have delivery, then everything else is academic. If we can deliver, then we can get outcomes. If we get outcomes, then we’re serving our citizens.
You mentioned DNA. We see that the cultural aspect of change, particularly with information and the ability to react so fast, is one of the biggest challenges. It’s not necessarily the technology. How have you been able to address that cultural change in government?
Without a question, cultural change is the hardest. It’s easy to change a mind: it’s much harder to change a heart, and the DNA goes to the matters of the heart. It’s really changing the way you think and see the world. The only way to do that, from my experience, is through strong leadership. You need to continually be on the case for reform and for change, and you need to constantly say, “If we don’t do this, then we get left behind in the past.”
One of the key areas you initially focused on was the CTP (Compulsory Third Party) green slip efficiencies, which has been very successful with a large number of people getting refunds and a very high satisfaction rate. What are some of the other areas that you’re looking to dig into with data?
There’s a lot of opportunities, but one of the things I’m looking at is property DNA. We’re already tracking our own DNA, which you can now do for about $2,000. We’re starting to map the human brain, so why can’t we map our property—the bricks, the mortar, the nails, every element of the body or the property structure? This way, when we have a Grenfell-esque disaster, we can see exactly what properties got to which elements. We can press a button and find out where they are. This is where we need to start tracking in the future.
These are very forward-thinking ideas. How do you get everyone to agree and get them executed together?
A lot of it has to do with passion. If you’re passionate about something, then that’s infectious and people can see that. If you’ve got a vision and you’re passionate, then a lot of people will join you on that journey, especially if you can demonstrate it.
You started off in the private sector and then moved into government. Do you see any areas where both can learn off of each other?
There’s always areas to learn. The government is like a tank. It’s big, it’s ugly, it’s slow, and it’s very, very hard to navigate. But it is very powerful. The private sector is much more agile, it’s super sexy, it’s fun to be in. There’s a lot, though, that can be shared. There’s a lot in common. So, there are great elements in the private sector that are forward-thinking and they move very fast. Some of my agencies are forward-thinking and move fast, but I think there’s a lot that we can learn off of each other.
To move a little bit towards personal data in leadership, how have you measured success for yourself over the course of your career?
Impact. I want to know whether I’ve moved the dial. If I can measure that and can see it, then I know that I’ve made a positive difference.
What data do you need now to do your job well?
The most important data for me as a minister is making sure that my citizens are happy. That’s the first thing I look at the dashboard—what’s the citizen satisfaction in relation to all the products and policies we’re rolling out. If the citizen is happy, then I’m happy.
How do you know when an idea is worth investing your time and energy and the wider team?
I look for impact. There are lots of ideas, but can the idea generate a positive impact? And more importantly, how quickly can you measure and track it? What happens in government is that you tend to have a great idea and nobody really measures it until right at the end when there’s an independent audit, and you see a train wreck report. Measuring that impact is important.
What’s the biggest opportunity you see that perhaps business leaders aren’t jumping on at the moment?
Embracing real-time information. Things move so absolutely fast, and things change, so getting real-time information—which should be every minute, if you can—is where the cutting edge is.
What other leaders do you admire? Who should we be paying attention to?
There’s a number. In the political setting, I admire Narendra Modi from India because he thinks big picture and he’s got a huge vision—not just for India, but for the world. And yet, he simplifies those ideas into basic concepts. In terms of the business community, I love what Jack Ma from Alibaba does, and particularly how he’s forward-thinking, including the amount of money put back into R&D. His digital vision is very impressive.
What’s your favourite business book or leadership book?
My favourite leadership book would be Outliers. Again, it’s about change. Another book in the series is The Tipping Point, which is about how you get challenged and where is the change point or the tipping point? I’m in public life because I want to make a change.
What’s next for you?
We have an election in 199 days, so subject to the good graces of the people, I’ll continue this digital journey. I don’t want to just change gears, I want to change dimension. In many ways we’re leading the country in terms of the digital transformation, but we’ve just started, and the idea is that we’re starting to work through the process now. It’s super exciting and I want to keep rolling this out in the years ahead.