Australia’s intellectual property agency goes all in on user design, DevOps and AI

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez June 6, 2018
IP Australia is using Pega as its case management system, but has also undergone a transformation in the way it works, to meet customer expectations.

Rob Bollard, CIO at IP Australia, the government’s intellectual property department, is proud to say that he heads up Australia’s first fully digital service delivery agency. In just the space of four years, IP Australia has gone from receiving just 12% of its IP applications online - the rest coming through on paper - to now receiving 99.6% through digital channels.

Not only his, but Bollard is overseeing the decommissioning of old systems, a move to the cloud, has implemented agile working, created a DevOps environment that focuses on continuous delivery, ensures systems are designed with the user in mind, and is even deploying AI technologies to improve experiences for employees and citizens.

I got the chance to sit down with Bollard at Pega’s annual user event in Las Vegas this week, as IP Australia has implemented the Pega platform as its case management system. Bollard explained:

Our vision is really to become a world-class IP office and to try to support the prosperity of Australians in the system. Really what we want to do, is as much possible, is try to support Australian innovators, make their ideas great. If people have great ideas, we want to support them through that process.

In terms of why IP Australia decided to rethink its approach and opt for the Pega platform, as well as change the way it worked, Bollard said that there were three main drivers.

Firstly, he explained that the agency was running off of very high cost, old systems, which Bollard described as dysfunctional. He said:

They didn’t connect very well. And they weren’t harmonised at all. That created a lot of cost for us. It also took us a long time to deploy changes for users and customers. Often if you came to us with an issue it might take six months in order for us to develop the code, to go through the environments, and deploy it.

They were on an old technology stack, which was not really developed for a much agile environment. The digital expectations are always accelerating.

Secondly, Bollard was aware that the nature of the economy has changed over the past few decades, with much greater focus on knowledge and information. He said:

If you look over my lifetime, probably since 1975, if you went and looked at the top S&P 500 companies on the stock exchange, only about 16% of their value would have been intangibles, such as IP.

If you look at today, I think they make up about 84%. So there has been this massive growth in the knowledge economy. It’s the fuel for the modern economy. As an IP office, we are front and centre, trying to manage all of this. If you want to be successful as an economy, you need to have a good IP system, you need to be able to enable innovators. So we really needed better systems to support better success for people in Australia.

And finally, the third driver was unsurprisingly around citizen expectations. Bollard acknowledged that today there is a growing expectation from customers and citizens of improved service, in a digital environment, that is immediate and high quality. This is inevitably placing greater pressure on government and others to raise the bar and deliver more enhanced services, he said.

What’s changed?

So, the above situation is what IP Australia was facing three and a half years ago. It has about 850,000 customer transactions, or requests, a year and has about AUS$210 million flowing through the system in terms of what it collects in revenue. As noted above, by implementing Pega and designing services around the user, the agency now receives 99.6% of its requests online. Bollard said;

That effectively makes us the first fully digital Australian Government service delivery agency. That’s something we are really proud of.

I guess if puts us in a powerful position to reimagine how service delivery might be undertaken with our customers. Because it’s not just about efficiency, it’s about customer satisfaction and trying to bring people along on the journey.

In addition to this, because Bollard has brought teams to work together in an agile way, IP Australia now has a continuous delivery environment, where issues can be resolved in real-time. Previously, if a customer had a problem or there was a situation with the system, it could take four to six months to fix it. Bollard said:

We’ve got a full DevOps environment. A year ago you would have had to bring the system down for an hour or two, it would have been a huge problem. Those efficiencies that we can then redirect those resources into delivering more capability, is fantastic.

According to Bollard, the success in moving to digital thus far has also meant that in the next two years he doesn’t believe that the agency will be able to sustain a contact centre - or make the case for one - as everything will be managed through digital channels. He said:

What I really love about it is that we’ve been able to do all that whilst maintaining a very high customer satisfaction rating of about 86%. We’ve managed to deliver efficiencies, keep customer satisfaction, and then reinvest the savings into digital capability to delight our customers and to add value to them during that process.

IP Australia is in the middle of decommissioning the old systems it ran on, and whilst it is currently using the Pega platform on premise, it plans to migrate to a cloud environment in the middle of next year.

Bollard said that IP Australia has been lucky because there is a really passion within the organisation to support the innovators in Australia, a real focus on the end user. And this has been coupled with the agency having an “innovative and progressive leader”, who had a very clear vision for the organisation.

More to come

Bollard said that he comes from a business reengineering background, and as such, he’s very passionate about ensuring that these transformation efforts are not just a lift and shift process from the old to the new. He said that it was really important to him that the agency took a look at its processes and designed in a way that was focused on the user, but also optimised to take advantage of new technologies, such as AI and machine learning. This is something that IP Australia is already pursuing. Bollard explained:

I set up a cognitive futures area about two years ago. I’m a very big believer in data science and machine learning, and have been for a while. I think there’s significant opportunity for it to help us with the efficiency and quality of the work that we do. And to deliver much better outcomes for our customers using that technology.

We are already using it, for example, in our Australian trademark search with image recognition. We are looking to do it with classification. And only last we last week we put out a trademark, we call it smart assessment tools, but it’s almost like an examination buddy. It’s actually the computer looking at what it thinks is the answer on a trademark (checking databases and the internet etc.). And then assists the examiner in the decision making process. We think the person and the machine working together can get much better outcomes for our customers longer term. We think we can get much greater uniformity.

As successful as IP Australia’s journey has been, Bollard, in hindsight, recognises that there is still room for improvement - particularly when looking at the bigger picture of how citizens interact with government services. He would like to think more about citizens’ ‘life journeys’ rather than specific services, as users don’t actually care which government agency they interact with. He explained:

I think the only thing we would do differently if we were going to do it again, would probably be to think a little bit more holistically about how we deliver services. I’m really proud of the fact that we’re the first fully digital service provider. But that’s only for that one on one transaction between the citizen and ourselves.

If I could turn back time a little bit I think what I’d focus more on is more about life events - citizens don’t really care about dealing with IP Australia. What they care about is starting a business. Having a baby. Getting married. And then doing that transaction agnostic of who we are. If I could take it to the next level I’d like to look at that life event journey, where you don’t care about IP Australia, and it’s about supporting the person in the way that they want to do the transaction.

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