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Australia: Address by The Hon Gary Nairn MP: The Future of IT in Government

16 March, 2007

By Allison Orr

Australia

The original of this speech is hosted here: website of the Special Minister of State
See also AGIMO Press Release: Nairn Announces Move Toward eDemocracy
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Minister’s Address to the ACS Canberra Branch Conference

The Future of IT in Government

Ladies and Gentlemen, it gives me pleasure to be here today representing the Australian Government.

Through AGIMO, the Australian Government Information Management Office, I am provided with exciting opportunities to focus on how we in government can build relationships with industry, the profession and other layers of government, to build a better – more efficient delivery of services and richer more open and transparent interaction with citizens.

The Government’s objective is that through the implementation of the e-Government strategy, the experience for the citizen will be a more efficient, personalised and two-way interaction with government agencies.

Our strategy acknowledges the responsibility government has, to connect with all Australians and provide the capacity to support the expectations of citizens to access government in whichever is their preferred way.

Our annual survey on Use and Satisfaction with e-Government Services confirms that an increasingly large group of Australians are choosing to interact with the Australian Government exclusively online.

The survey conducted last year, showed that the percentage of people who undertook almost all of their dealings with government over the internet increased from 14% in 2004-05 to 19% in 2006.

If this trend continues in this year’s survey, the implications are clear – this form of engagement will begin to dominate how citizens interact with government.

AGIMO is responsible for the management of the Australian Government’s primary web portal, australia.gov.au.

Its popularity across the country is growing, with a 100 percent increase in visitor numbers over the last year.

On average, around 400,000 people every month visit the site for information, whether related to their entitlements, their country or Australian Government services and initiatives, or to utilise the site’s highly effective search facility – powered by Funnelback – a commercial spin-off from CSIRO research.

We recognise the need to provide access to information as efficiently as possible and as a result, australia.gov.au constantly undergoes change and enhancement to ensure it remains relevant to users.

I recently announced that we’ve commenced a trial on australia.gov.au which will show the location of some Australian Government services.

The trial will be for a period of approximately 6 months, and is available at test.australia.gov.au/maps.htm.

We hope to ascertain the extent to which the public will utilise a locator service in their search for information.

Geospatial data can powerfully enhance the way government provides services to citizens.

I look forward to the data gathered during this trial because I believe firmly in the importance of maps and the “where factor” in providing the right services to target groups in the right way.

Spatial data and applications – will be important tools in dealing with national issues such as water, climate change and other environmental challenges and opportunities.

There are a number of agencies and organisations (e.g. CRC for Spatial Information, ANZLIC, PSMA, SSI, ASIBA) with different yet possibly complementary data sets and approaches to spatial data management.

I have asked AGIMO to play a role in coordinating the input and views of key stakeholders to ensure that the standards and approaches to be adopted in the spatial information for water make sense, build on existing standards and approaches in such a way that it anticipates the future potential use of such data for other purposes.

It is important to consider the future use of that data as once we have built an infrastructure, be it a large central database or a network of connected nodes, and we have a good handle on the water priorities of today; we are likely to identify new priorities (e.g. management of coastlines, carbon-trading infrastructures, energy security planning) that also need a slice of all or some of the layers developed for managing water infrastructure.

We are also aware of the risk of building an infrastructure in a closed and isolated manner that doesn’t consider the far greater opportunities for future re-use of the data and the techniques.

AGIMO has been recently involved in developing guidelines for the use and sharing of data sets and the issue of licensing of information.

Ensuring these arrangements are properly in place will increase the benefits which will come from an holistic approach to managing the water crisis sensibly

Another important way we are developing solutions which make online engagement easier, is through the development of single-sign-on and individual user accounts.

At present, citizens are obliged to initiate and sustain relationships across government – potentially with up to half a dozen different agencies.

They’re expected to provide the same details for each agency and obliged to re-input this information, sometimes on every visit.

We’re working on a single-sign-on process, whereby visitors who register with government agencies, only have to undertake the task once.

This level of efficiency is expected by our users and despite the challenges involved, the development of a name and address scheme which provides basic information across agencies, will enhance the engagement between citizen and government agency.

One important area we are working on is the shortage of ICT skills in the Australian economy, and particularly in the Australian Public Service.

There’s no doubt that in an industry like the ICT industry, the demand for specialist, skilled labour, is high. This is a good thing – it shows that the industry is creating more high volume jobs, which we need. It is a feature of a strong economy – certainly a better problem to have than having high unemployment.

The government recognises that it must play a part in promoting and encouraging more school children, women and graduates into ICT. Once in, we can then ensure that the conditions are maintained to support the continued development and training.

I’m very pleased that AGIMO, guided by advice from an Interdepartmental Taskforce, is implementing initiatives to ensure a stronger, more skilled and more professional ICT workforce.

One example is the commencement of a pilot ICT apprenticeship program, based in Canberra, which has seen 75 apprentices from New South Wales, the ACT and Victoria, placed in 9 Australian Government agencies, to gain formal qualifications and practical, on-the job experience for a career in the APS.

On completion of their apprenticeship, they will be ideally placed to undertake further study and professional development, but just as importantly, to contribute to the Australian Government’s ICT needs for the future.

I would like to acknowledge the role of the Australian Computer Society in co-chairing an Industry Leadership Group with the Australian Information Industry Association to implement recommendations from the Australian Government’s 2006 Building Australian ICT Skills report.

I am pleased that AGIMO, other government agencies, industry and education providers are working jointly to address ICT skills issues that are critical to the ICT industry as a whole.

Other focus areas of the ICT Skills taskforce and the ICT Roundtable made up of Govt Agencies include:

mentoring of existing APS ICT staff to deepen the skills available to the APS through the Women in IT Executive Mentoring (WITEM) programme; and
promoting the APS, the APS agencies, and APS ICT careers through developing promotional content, including profiles of APS ICT staff, that is available on several IT industry websites and is used by Canberra tertiary institutions.
Looking at whether we can achieve the portability of Security Clearances between agencies and the associated implications. While there is probably some way to go, this would help both agencies and industry if it can be achieved.
In such a fast-moving industry, one of the challenges is defining what is an ICT professional?

It is a hardware engineer designing circuit-boards, storage devices or sensor devices?

Is it a C-sharp, Java, Fortran, Cobol or Model-204 programmer?

Is it a Database Administrator working on tuning an Oracle, IBM DB2, Microsoft SQL (“sequel”) Server or MySQL?

Is it the person updating content on a Sharepoint or Websphere web portal?

Is it the Business Analyst fine tuning queries on a Business Intelligence Tool such as Cognos or Hyperion and using Integeo to display the results of the query onto an ESRI or Mapinfo map?

Is it the Programmer updating a BPEL (Business Process Execution Language) module in a SOA application (Service Oriented Architecture)?

Is it the consultant modifying fields in the Human Resources application as part of an SAP or Oracle Financials suite?

Is it the Project Manager managing an operating system upgrade across a network of servers and desktops?

Is it the Contract Manager managing a selective sourcing agreement and monitoring the Service Level Agreement for the services provided by the contracted supplier?

Is it the game engineer working on the latest software for Microsoft from a warehouse factory on the Gold Coast?

Now this may cause some arguments – but I say it is all of the above – so long as they are members of the Australian Computer Society!

The pervasiveness of ICT in our lives along with the many ways that people – particularly knowledge workers – but not exclusively so – use ICT is a challenge for defining the industry as well as determining the best ways for people to enter that industry.

For many of us, especially the younger generations, we grow up with technology around us. It is a tool, just like the radio, fridge or other kitchen appliance.

Most people use a fridge – not everyone wants to know how to build one.

Not everyone wants to know how to write the low level code behind an IT application.

Many want to use ICT as a tool, to customise or configure it to their needs and just get on and use it.

Some just want to use products out of the box as a corporate communication tool.

The difficulty for the profession is drawing the line around the skills we refer to as the ICT professional.

Given the different ways people can build, adapt or use ICT in their jobs, it is reasonable to expect that there will be multiple pathways for those entering and “ICT” career.

Some may choose the pure Computer Science route.

Others may find that engineering or scientific discipline – surveying! - is a better starting point.

For some, perhaps lawyers (such as Philip) or business students may prefer to build on their business or project management expertise and be more involved in business analysis, working on processes and seizing opportunities to seek out a competitive advantage for a business or organisation.

I question when we report on lower enrolments in University ICT courses, whether we take account of the number of people that enrol in what is seen as other science, humanities or business courses that have some ICT related units, which end up in some of the other roles I outlined before.

I’ll leave this for you to ponder and perhaps adjust your analysis.

The recent popularity of QUT’s and Wollongong’s computer gaming courses indicates that perhaps a need to jazz up or generally broaden the appeal of the ICT courses.

Are we catering well enough for those that wish to be modifying commercially available packages such as SAP, Oracle, Finance One, MYOB, Sharepoint, Websphere, Eclipse or Software AG – or is it all ground-up programming that we are trying to sell to students?

A challenge for our Universities is that by the time a curriculum is developed, reviewed and approved for a particular product or subject, by the time the course is delivered, they could be a couple of versions behind.

Perhaps there is room to work closer with vendors – such as IBM, Microsoft, Novell and Cisco to incorporate more of the industry accreditations many employers value as part of the course framework so that students leaving universities come out with a degree as well as a certified vendor professional e.g. engineer or developer status and be job ready from day 1.

While it is important to cater for the needs of the Generation X, Y and Z (or P or C – as some say), let’s not forget the Babyboomer.

With the “aging population” occurring (although some Baby Boomers would argue that the definition of what is “old” is changing), there is an increasing number of people “retiring” over the next 20 years.

For economic and health reasons, it is probably not the best thing for Baby Boomers to just go cold turkey, stop working and start travelling the country and the world.

I do think there is an opportunity for us to actively consider a workforce that has a mix of people that are over 45 that don’t work 40 hour weeks.

They may want 20 to 25 hour weeks – and have their time for sport – be it golf, surfing, swimming, bushwalking or cycling. – or for learning how to program computer games!

They will be healthier for it and place less demands on the rest of society than a more sedentary life.

Being involved in work will provide that sense of belonging and the ability to make a contribution as well as the other social benefits.

We need organisations – Governments and businesses alike to be willing to change to accommodate such a way of working.

We have the mobile technology that can enable this to happen.

We need to adjust our thinking.

With advances in social media, we anticipate that over time, our users will be able to have an even more engaging experience with government online.

We are moving to a more of the Web 2.0 style of interaction with citizens.

We may head to having a Government Blog site – and are examining the pro’s and con’s and the time and costs involved.

An advantage of such a site would be to enable people to have an informed debate and discussion on national and local issues.

Potentially it could promote a sense of greater community cohesiveness and connectedness;

- with those in the cities understanding more of the issues of the country;

And those in the bush feeling less isolated.

One of the risks I can see with blogs in a completely anonymous free for all on issues – that we see on some of the media blog sites, is, that without proper identification of individuals and the organisations they work for, there could be organised campaigns by officials and supporters of special interest groups trying to use the internet to influence opinions and attitudes.

It is also noticeable that on a blog site with the relative anonymity that it there, there is a tendency for some to use language – abusive or just plain rude – that you wouldn’t normally engage in when in a face to face conversation.

An intermediate step to a free for all discussion on all things will be the voluntary publication of the feedback that Government receives on a range of documents that it releases for public comment.

This will enable a more transparent understanding of the detail behind different stakeholder inputs to a range of issues that the Government has under consideration.

It will lead to a richer engagement and more detailed discussion on issues than what is possible via short meetings or conference calls.

I look forward to launching these e-Democracy pilots in the months to come.

To support this dynamic and exciting future, AGIMO has produced some Principles for ICT-Enabled Citizen Engagement (the Principles).

The Principles will operate as a best practice guide for agencies wishing to engage with citizens using ICT as part of their policy making processes.

When I use the term ‘Citizens’ here I also include businesses, community and other organisations and sectors.

In developing the Principles, AGIMO researched existing national and international principles and worked with government agencies across all tiers of government - benefiting and learning from other agencies experience and expertise. The Queensland government has done some good work in this area and I would encourage you all to have a look at their ‘get involved’ web site.

Why the need for such Principles you may ask? The Principles have been developed to facilitate further cross-jurisdictional activity and encourage a consistent experience for people engaging online with Australian Governments.

As a result of this cross jurisdictional collaboration, I take great pleasure in announcing the launch today of AGIMO’s ‘Principles for ICT-enabled Citizen Engagement’.

The eight Principles are:

1. Commitment – Agencies committing to engagement using ICT need to ensure citizens have appropriate mechanisms to communicate and participate effectively. Commitment to engagement using ICT is strengthened through the development of partnerships between governments and citizens.

2. Community Focus – When adopting ICT for engaging with citizens, agencies should facilitate information access, knowledge-sharing and discussion amongst participants and, through this, strengthen community consultation, participation and input into government policy-making.

3. Community Capability and Inclusiveness – Agencies need to seek broad and diverse involvement across all sections of the community, and not exclude citizens without access to ICT or those who face other barriers. Employing methods that are accessible and/or complement traditional means of engagement will assist individuals to participate and will build their capability for contributing to policy development.

4. Mutual Respect, Confidence and Trust – To demonstrate respect and build confidence and trust in online engagements, agencies and citizens should agree on consistent standards for communication when engaging with citizens. Agencies need to facilitate clarity of understanding and transparency of engagement processes by disseminating information, guiding participants’ input and explaining how the input will be used in government decision-making. Confidence and trust between the citizens and government will be built by ensuring that engagement using ICT is a two-way and responsive process.

5. Interactivity and Flexibility – Agencies need to promote active engagement and discussion while employing flexible and innovative ICT-enabled mechanisms to take account of participants’ diversity of capability, location, and socio-economic circumstances. The 24/7 capabilities of ICT can be used to help participants inform themselves and enable them to provide considered views in their own time and space.

6. Responsibility and Accountability – Agencies need to inform participants at the outset about how their input will be received and used in policy-making. Once a decision has been taken, agencies should indicate how citizen input through online engagement has been used. Agencies also need to be clear about who is responsible and accountable for the online engagement process and any decisions resulting from such engagement.

7. Security and Privacy - Agencies need to implement privacy protection, information security and, where appropriate, identity authentication measures. Agencies should comply with relevant security and privacy legislation.

8. Evaluation and Efficiency - Agencies can maximise the efficiency of online engagement through planning and effective collection, facilitation and processing of participants’ input. Agencies need to evaluate the benefits of online engagement by identifying and measuring the impact of online engagement to policy-making.

It is recognised that agencies have varying levels of resources available for online engagement activities. The Principles are therefore intended to provide best practice guidance for agencies, rather than mandating specific outcomes.

Here is an example of how ICT-enabled citizen engagement facilities might be used to consult with residents and enhance policy making.

Residents in an area may be given the opportunity to use an online consultative forum to contribute and share their views on a new strategy for the development and management of outdoor recreation facilities planned for their area. In addition to traditional forms of consultation such as a meeting, residents can provide their views via an online consultative forum.

Through the online forum residents will have access to the discussion paper, they can review proposed outcomes of a similar strategy in another comparable area and contribute their ideas and views before the Strategy is finalised.

They can also consider the views of other residents who have chosen to make their views available for publication on the online forum. Once they have reviewed and considered the paper, residents may choose to make their own contribution visible to others. ICT enabled engagement tools have the potential to improve communication between residents, as well as between citizens and government.

Residents can participate at a time of their choosing, and they have the option to make their views known to other members of the community.

The Principles may need to be updated with the advent of emerging technologies, citizen demand and from lessons learnt. However, adoption of these Principles will reinforce the government’s commitment to paving the way for a consistent experience for citizens engaging with government using ICT.

It is clear that technology will continue to provide many benefits for our country and the global community.

News and communication is almost instant. The advent of web based messaging and bulletin board technology enables conversations to span states and country borders.

Overall I remain positive that the benefits to our communities and the country outweigh the issues and risks along the way.

Technology can be disruptive.

It creates the opportunity – almost forces us to re-think new ways to do things – and in discarding the old ways, this leaves a wake of people and processes that need to find a new level.

These challenges aren’t beyond us.

Having like minded and committed professionals in organisations such as the ACS enables us to work through these issues and grasp the opportunities and the benefits – for the economy, the delivery of services and the general well-being and cohesiveness of our communities.

Congratulations Philip, Dennis, Dave, Meryl and all those involved in putting this conference together.

Thank you all for your commitment and interest in the conference.

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