Sun. Jun 20th, 2021

It is the type of platform thinking that establishes a base government service, but which is designed to promote the innovation and feature improvement, that governments typically struggle to provide.

It was also unlike the approach of most other states that had mandated use of a single government check-in app.

Sixteen local providers were accredited and, at substantial cost, had to often work late into most evenings to meet the state government’s increasing demands for more sophisticated integrations.

Many brought on development staff and diverted resources from core projects as part of a commitment to support the government’s COVID-19 response.

Fuming is an understatement

It all came to a crashing halt when state Health Minister Martin Foley last Friday announced every venue would now have to use the system.

To say the private check-in providers were fuming is an understatement. Numerous have contacted me about how disillusioned they are at the sudden about-turn and the total lack of communication about the changes.

“To now have been notified that we will be removed from the API (application programming interface) is terribly disappointing,” says Hammertech CEO Ben Leach.

His app is an industry-leading check-in and safety management system for the construction industry.

“We diverted our resources away from our core business to meet these requirements, and in the end it was for nothing. This is costly for businesses, and whilst we have incurred costs and been inconvenienced, it may have more dire consequences for other Australian vendors in this space.”

That was the polite version.

Similarly, Vig Vaidianathan created a system for the many people who don’t have, or don’t know how to use, a smartphone.

“I and my friend created RecordMyVisit before the government came out with its solution, and we did it as a community initiative, free to use, bearing up the cost ourselves and running on donations,” he told me.

“We used SMS to collect the check-in information and was appreciated by a lot of elderly, and some of the community centres in the city of Casey decided to continue using our solution even after the government came with theirs as the patrons felt ours was simpler to use and did not need a smartphone.”

Vig is now closing down his service.

Arbitrary and capricious

On the government side, who knows how much has been spent by DPC building and testing the integration platform (one estimate is close to $10 million), and the whole fiasco is a classic case of one side of government not speaking to the other.

Governments constantly talk up their promotion of local small start-ups and innovative players, but it is this type of arbitrary and capricious behaviour that makes so many wary of ever working closely with government.

Poor compliance was allegedly the reason for switching to the single government app, but this had little to do with the actual QR providers and almost all to do with a lack of enforcement and venue compliance.

Anyone visiting Melbourne from Sydney has noted how poor the check-in compliance is in Melbourne.

This week contact tracers were left scrambling to find 28 patrons, after an infected man from Adelaide visited a crowded Indian restaurant in the Melbourne CBD that had only partially checked in customers.

Foley said they had been able to track down the missing customers through credit card details, but admitted the contact tracing system was much slower without the records.

If there is one lesson from last year’s second wave it is that speed really matters when it comes to isolating contacts.

A whole new contact tracing system was rushed out to replace the antiquated manual system that had so spectacularly failed last year.

A year later this shambolic approach to system design and development still seems to be alive and well.

While many fingers can be pointed, the lack of cohesion and willingness to take a whole-of-government approach, especially around the Service Victoria play, suggests the state urgently needs to get some top quality digital leadership into its ranks.