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One of the key aims of transformation was to make tax and social policy payments as simple and painless as possible.

We have made big improvements to our digital services to make it easy for customers to understand their tax and social policy obligations and entitlements in ird.govt.nz and manage and track them in their myIR account.

We have also significantly increased our ability to exchange data with other organisations through digital channels that support our digital service providers. We can now partner more easily with other organisations to deliver services through them and make more of the information we hold easily and securely available to them.

Here are the important things we learned along the way.

Work out what you are doing for who and why

The first step is to focus on the outcomes you want to achieve from your digital channels. What opportunities do you want to make the most of or what problems are you trying to solve?

Work out what success looks like so you can clearly outline what you’re trying to achieve and why. Decide what is success for your organisation, your customers, your stakeholders, and your team. Work backwards from that point on how you will achieve it.

Make sure you have a clear understanding of the purpose of your digital channels. Of all the ways customers can interact with a large organisation, why would they use one channel instead of another? This will help you to avoid costly and unnecessary duplication across channels.

Avoid coming up with technology solutions for as long as possible so that you can focus on answering these questions.

Focus on what’s most important

Work out what will deliver the most value so that you know what the real priorities are. You will need a good framework to do this.

Some things are important to a few people but they are actually not important at all in the bigger picture. Some important people might think some things are important, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are.

Recognise that you already hold a lot of data that if properly analysed will let you know a lot about your customers and how they use your existing channels – what they do and don’t do in them, where they get things right and where they get stuck. This will help you to identify the most important things to work on.

If you try and do everything for everyone in all channels you will need to do more design, it will be harder to focus your efforts on the truly important things and harder for your customers to find and do what is important to them.

Encourage a ‘less is more’ and ‘close enough is good enough’ approach. This will help to avoid the traps of perfectionism and designing for exceptions rather than the majority.

Give your teams license to prioritise and say no to low-value things.

Remember it’s about changing customer behaviour

The focus should be on helping customers to do things differently and better, not about developing widgets and functions.

You need to understand what using digital services and channels will mean for your customers and what changes they will need to make to use them. Delivering something new is just the start of changing customer behaviour. A great service might never get used if you don’t provide the right support to customers so that they know what to do.

Always keep in mind that technology is a means to an end. New, flash technology is worthless if it doesn’t change customer behaviour. Simple and usable beats fancy and complex every time.

Build a team that can get the job done

Make sure you have people on your team who are curious and have inquiring minds, make decisions based on data and solid analysis, are creative and can think logically about how to solve problems. Do the right thing by customers, but not at the expense of the organisation’s objectives and principles.

Create an environment that focuses on getting work done to the highest level of quality possible as quickly as possible. This will help to avoid endless redesign.

Encourage different views so that the best solution can be found. Pick partners that know things you don’t and allow them to make a positive difference. Whoever leads the team needs to listen and then be empowered to make the final call about how to move forward.

The right governance arrangements will help to set your people and their leaders up for success, give them the licence to make decisions, and the support they need.

Governance forums

Find ways to give customers a voice

Take time to understand what different groups of customers value in digital channels, what they find difficult, and what they want to be able to do. A 1-size-fits all approach is unlikely to deliver the best results.

This includes understanding the individual and business life events of your customers and the solutions they naturally rely on in these situations. This will help you to decide whether you need to invest in your own channels or build your functionality into others’ solutions.

Design should be collaborative and based on what “good enough” looks like, shaped by what customers, stakeholders and your people think. Open your design up to challenge and make sure you can clearly say why you have chosen to do things in a certain way.

Use fit-for-purpose customer engagement processes such as co-design, co-refine, design validation, beta releases and A/B testing. This will help you get the input you need to design the right solution. Adapt your approach and the effort you invest in engagement depending on how complex the solution you are designing is and how complex the needs of your customers are.

You always have to balance the cost and time needed for engaging with customers against the value you think you will get from doing it. If you don’t have the time or money to adjust your solutions based on customer feedback, don’t waste your time or your customers’ time on engaging with them.

Design does not stop with delivery as it’s very rarely right first time. You will need to make changes following launch, so ensure you have a way to get customer feedback on an on-going basis.

Be pragmatic

There will always be constraints on and limits to what you can achieve. This might be because of the technology you’re using, your own or your partners’ capabilities and priorities, or how complex stakeholder management is. When the pressure is on to deliver, this can lead to frustration.

Build a realistic and shared understanding of your constraints and the risks of the environment you are working in. Work out what you can influence and what you need to accept. Your team will then be able to focus on the things they can change, rather than the things they can’t, which will help to create a positive working environment and keep things moving forward.

Make sure you can scale your approach

You need to establish processes and practices that enable you to work at scale, quickly to deliver high-quality outcomes. Pattern libraries, test automation and standardised customer testing processes do require an initial investment but will ultimately reduce the cost of delivery and the time it takes to deliver.

They can also help you to efficiently maintain or improve solutions once they have been launched.

Pick the toolset that supports sustainably working at high velocity with high quality and make sure it can be extended and adapted as needed.

Expect and prepare for roadblocks

You can expect disruptions because of:

  • new or late-breaking customer input
  • failed customer tests
  • flawed design assumptions
  • cross-programme dependencies and delays resulting in periods of real pressure.

You can also expect varied and often conflicting stakeholder opinions about solutions. Be ready to invest time in engaging with different stakeholders on critical aspects of the design.

Embracing informed rework as an essential and necessary part of the delivery process, rather than a painful bind, is important. Your team should be able to rely on the outcomes you are trying to achieve to help them work out how to adapt solutions as required, but always with an eye on the overall delivery timeline.

Also, be ready for pinch points to deal with peaks in workload, backlogs, and cross-team dependencies. Having a team that can mobilise around these pinch-points and structure, visualise and prioritise work will really help focus effort.

Last updated: 23 Mar 2022
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