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An interview with Public Service Medal recipient - Alan Davidson

Meet Alan Davidson from Services Australia. Alan is currently the Project Director in the Single Touch Payroll Programme. Alan is not your typical “career public servant”. He has had lots of experience in the hospitality industry and was a Centrelink customer on and off for a few years. Having had the direct customer experience, Alan has brought a unique approach in providing high quality customer service, especially for those who are most vulnerable.

Alan’s dedication and passion for improving the customer experience has seen him take on various roles and projects that implement better systems to interact with customers. For his outstanding service to the community, Alan was awarded the Public Service Medal (PSM) as part of the 2020 Queen’s Birthday Honours. While we were unable to meet Alan in person due to COVID19, Alan kindly agreed to a virtual interview and told us a bit more about his journey.

First, tell us about yourself briefly. What made you want to join the APS?

In 2001, I was working as a bar attendant at the Noosa Reef Hotel, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. When I saw a job advertised for the role of customer service officer at the local Centrelink office, I didn’t hesitate to apply.

It’s not just a secure job to me. I had been working in the hospitality industry for five years and given the seasonal nature of the industry on the Sunshine Coast, I had spent more than my fair share of time in Centrelink offices. During my interactions with Centrelink, I was often struck by how helpful and compassionate the staff were, and thought it would be wonderful to have the opportunity to help people one day myself.

Although I really wanted to join Centrelink, I didn’t think I had a good chance given I had never worked outside hospitality and had no formal qualifications. That’s why I was so thrilled to learn that I managed to secure the position out of over 2,500 applicants. To this day, I have never taken for granted the opportunity that I was given to help so many people, especially when they are at their most vulnerable.

Tell us a bit more about your current role or the role for which you received the PSM? What was your first reaction to receiving this honour? What does receiving this honour mean for you?

For the last four years, I have been working on a project to streamline processes and enhance the customer experience through improved information sharing among relevant agencies. It essentially looks at how payroll details, reported to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) via the Single Touch Payroll Programme, could be used to better deliver social welfare payments and services.

During this time, I have been fortunate to be involved with the design and implementation of a pilot with a major Australian employer. The pilot was so successful that it provided the evidence needed for legislative changes to enable a new way forward for our customers. I have also had the opportunity to represent Services Australia in working with several government agencies and the payroll industry to co-design services and make reporting employment income simpler.

When I found out that I had receive this honour, I was very emotional. It was humbling to receive this honour, and great to be recognised for the hard work and long hours away from my family while I was working on this project. But it also comes with a level of guilt, because there have been so many other great people, equally deserving of recognition, who have also been involved in, and contributed to the programme.

Looking back, in your APS career so far, what would you say is THE highlight? And what has been the biggest challenge?

It is so difficult to pick the best highlight. There have been so many.

Receiving a letter from the Prime Minister, congratulating me on receiving the PSM has got to be right up there. Another is having the opportunity to drive real change through my current project, which is likely to make it easier for millions of Australians to deal with Services Australia. Also, the knowledge I gained through completing the Public Sector Management Programme at the Queensland University of Technology is a real highlight.

The greatest challenge in my career so far has been working in such a large organisation with so many moving parts. It’s very easy to miss key people or business areas who should be involved in certain activities or decisions. It can be time consuming and frustrating at times. But I have learned over the years that it is very valuable to take the time to do an environmental scan and identify all the key stakeholders to make sure the right people are engaged to achieve the best outcome.

Looking forward, in your view what can be improved or done differently in the APS to serve the public better? Where do you see yourself in the future APS?

I think technology and information sharing could be used more effectively to improve the efficiency of the APS. We still seem to be lagging behind the private sector in some aspects. Even something as simple as finding a digital collaboration platform that can be used across different agencies has been challenging, due to the security requirements of the work we do.

The work I have done with the payroll industry has shown me that when government takes a collective approach to work with industry, it is possible to truly deliver transformational change.