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Friday 14 April 2023 2:44pm

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Otago alumna Jude Hanan changed her focus from the past to the future, moving on from her early career as an art historian to helping governments on their digital transformational journey.

The path from Arts graduate to international digital government expert involved leaping from a love of history to embracing the future, but Jude Hanan says her time as a Humanities student at Otago created the foundations for her 25-year career.

“Some of the skills you learn at university, they carry through into your life and your work life – how to structure something, how to think about something, how to research and analyse something,” says Jude, from her home in London, where she works as International Principal Digital Advisor for the UK's Government Digital Service.

Alongside her job, Jude has just completed her Master of Arts in Global Diplomacy at the University of London, winning the prize for the top thesis of 2022.

Dunedin-born and bred, Jude says she had a choice of which university to attend but chose Otago “because it is one of the best universities in the country, and I knew what I was going to get out of it was a good solid degree”.

She arrived at university intending to study Law, but quickly changed course to History and Art History.

“History and Art History gives you an understanding of the political and economic context in which our world operates. If you don't understand your past and your country's past and the context in which we operate, you can't work out what the plan should be for the future.”

After a brief foray as a historian in Australia, Jude took on a variety of jobs during her first OE in the UK, including working in a bank which was bringing in a new digital banking system.

“This is the 90s, mobile phones had just started coming in, computers had big writing and black screens and a video game was a ball that bounced across a screen. It was very early days and I thought well this is what the future is going to be, let me find out more.”

She learned to code and has never looked back. Returning to New Zealand, she worked for M-Co, The Marketplace Company, which designed and ran trading platforms, then moved to the State Services Commission, which was setting up an e-Government unit.

“That job let me get into government, and that's when I started on the e-Government, or government tech as they call it now, journey. Over the last 25 years, everything I've done has been in a digital space, whether from a policy perspective, operational perspective, or strategy perspective.”

Today, she co-leads a multi-disciplinary team at the UK government, supporting countries worldwide to deliver digital transformation. Ultimately, this is working towards countries having a single government portal to access services.

“In a nutshell, I help governments on their digital transformational journey. A team goes into a country and will either advise them on how to digitally transform or help them build tools, services and products that help them transform. “

Her role today is usually to help a government create a strategy and then she works with her team to help them set up their digital foundations. This might include helping them develop capability, advising on their cyber security, building a more cloud-based hosting model, or helping with procuring digital products and services appropriately.

Countries her team works with have usually reached out to the UK government for help to digitally transform due to it being ranked second in the OECD's Digital Government Index. She has just finished a year-long project with Cyprus and has recently returned from a trip to the Turks and Caicos Islands, helping with its national digital government strategy. Her team has also worked with the World Bank in Jordan and on projects in Iraq, Rwanda and Ghana.

Since the pandemic, most of the work is done remotely, however in developing countries internet connection can be a problem, so face-to-face meetings remain important.

Jude is also the UK lead for the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Digital Government Exchange Group, which is made up of countries and organisations across the globe, looking at how AI can impact government services. Its members include New York City Council, Sweden, Australia, World Economic Forum, Japan and China.

“The questions [we are looking at] are how do you deal with AI in a world where it might take away people's jobs or move people's jobs into new roles which are not created yet?

“You've got this whole conversation that starts about international laws, sovereignty, data flows. How does it all work together, who owns what, who owns your data, how do you protect your privacy, what does data security look like, how do you prevent bias?

The constantly evolving nature of AI and tech are part of the reason she loves her job – “it's changing all the time”. When she started, it was on “large computers with green writing. Now you can have your heart scanned and the scans put together to create a 3D image. How amazing is that!”

Outside her day job, she is involved with the UN Peace Operations Senior Women's Talent Pipeline, which helps women in senior positions move into roles in the UN system. And as an art historian, she loves to explore London's art galleries.

Over the past three years, Jude has also completed her master's degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. Her thesis focussed on the question 'what does digital diplomacy look like in the modern age?'.

“I was arguing the case it's not about digital diplomacy it's about digital government. They're not separate and shouldn't be treated separately; it's about delivering user-focussed services.”

She was awarded best dissertation of the year and loved being back in a learning environment.

“Learning is a luxury, you don't realise how much. I did reflect back to Otago, your training for those three or four years, it comes back. I think one of the things about university is the having the time to learn and think. It's something I deeply appreciate now.”

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