There are many ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic will have a lasting impact on Australian society, but one of the most profound is the change it’s bringing to the relationship between government and citizens. Australia’s model of social democracy has always seen government playing a significant role in people’s lives, but never in recent memory has it been as important as it is now. During this crisis, Australians are looking to government to design, deliver, and communicate actions that go far beyond previous responsibilities. The speed with which government agencies have responded is unprecedented. And one of the key transformational drivers that has enabled the whole of government to act quickly and decisively is technology.

The need to maintain communication with citizens has been vital through the crisis, especially with so many new health and economic measures being brought into effect. But with call centre staff unable to attend their usual places of work, solutions to enable them to continue their work from home are essential. For example, The West Australian (WA) Department of the Premier and Cabinet and WA Police Force led a multi-agency effort to deploy Amazon Connect, a cloud-based contact centre within two weeks to create their 13COVID hotline. The call centre receives an average of 1,200 calls each day and agents answer a range of questions from the community about COVID-19 including the impact of the virus, questions about restrictions, prevention tips, and directions to relevant sources of information.

Another example of rapid communication with citizens is NSW Health Pathology, which provides effective public pathology services to citizens and is an integral part of New South Wales public health system (known as NSW Health). They developed an SMS solution that reduced negative test result wait times from seven days to within hours. This helps to relieve anxiety for citizens and allows clinicians to dedicate more time to assisting patients who test positive. By automating this process, NSW Health Pathology has saved the equivalent of three years in the manual time it would have taken to individually contact tens of thousands of people with their negative test results, and ensures that focus is maintained on those most in need.

NSW Health has pivoted many of its business and clinical support services, as well as its health care services in response to COVID-19. Videoconferencing and other forms of telehealth have become important tools for NSW Health during the pandemic. They are being used to provide care for patients with COVID-19 and to provide services to patients whose care would have otherwise been delayed or disrupted because of COVID-19. Videoconferencing services have enabled many staff who provide business and clinical support services to work from home enabling services to continue while keeping staff safe. Compared to the same period last year, NSW Health has seen an 18-fold increase in the use of its video conferencing platform. The accelerated adoption of many of the technology initiatives to support the COVID-19 response has created opportunities for longer-term changes to the health system, and NSW Health’s digital arm, eHealth NSW, is already drawing up plans on how to sustain and accelerate these changes.

Until recently, technology has been one of the tools and mechanisms for the delivery of citizen services. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, technology has played an even more important preventative role to help contain the spread of the virus. The Australian Government’s COVIDSafe application securely traces interpersonal contact between app users, making it easier for health authorities to backtrack through the community contacts made by people who subsequently test positive for the virus. This technology-based implementation makes the process of identifying the potential spread of the infection in the community far faster and easier, and will play an important role in isolating infections.

AWS and our AWS Partner Network (APN) partners are glad to have played a role supporting organisations around the world in the fight against COVID-19 by providing technology to help measure the spread, test patients, monitor impacts, decode immune system responses, develop treatments, and perform many other critical functions. We’ve been humbled by the extent to which Australian-owned small and medium business such as Shine Solutions Group and Gosource Pty Ltd have collaborated with us to deliver this work, building solutions with incredible speed and agility driven by an enormous desire to make life a little easier for citizens. These APN partners employ technology professionals whose expertise is critical in underpinning the government response to COVID-19. Of course, security remains our top priority. AWS provides the most extensive set of cloud security features and services, and meets the requirements of some of the most security-sensitive organisations to protect the interest of Australian government agencies and citizens.

Technology is on the frontline in the response to COVID-19, and the public sector’s reaction has been impressive, providing services and communication at a speed and scale that would have been difficult to imagine a few years ago. The success of the collaboration between cloud technology with AWS and government during COVID-19 demonstrates how quickly it is possible to move, and shines a light on the role that technology will play in the future of citizen services. While 2020 has certainly reminded us that we can’t always predict what will come next, we do know we need to be prepared as much as we can. That means building on the lessons learned through the response to COVID-19, and creating a future where adaptability, scalability, reliability, security and speed are in the forefront of citizen service design.