Internet in Government - for IT Practitioners

Tom Worthington

Presentation to the AUUG Sixth Annual Canberra Conference - 15 February 1995

Abstract

How can IT people make the Internet be useful in Government? Much has been said about the role of the "Information Superhighway" and how it could transform our culture, business and Government. But how and how much of this hype can be turned into reality? Can a traditional bureaucratic culture accept the anarchic ways of the Internet? Tom Worthington relates his experience in using public data networking in Government agencies over the last three years. He provides tips on avoiding a clash of cultures. The presentation avoids any technical details and concentrates on the social and administrative issues.

About the author

Mr Worthington is Director of the Community Affairs Board of the Australian Computer Society, a voting member of the Association for Computing Machinery, and member of other IT bodies. In October 1994 Mr. Worthington received a merit award from the ACS Canberra Branch, in recognition of his work on Internet services and is co-author of the ACS InfoBahn policy.

Mr. Worthington is senior policy adviser on information management strategic planning, with the Australian Department of Defence. He is Defence representative on the Standards Australia committee on Software Engineering, member of the Commonwealth Internet Reference Group and chair of the IESC Electronic Data Management Subcommittee. Mr. Worthington is currently preparing Defence's public Internet information service, as part of Government initiatives for public Internet services. E-mail: tom.worthington@tomw.net.au Home page: http://www.tomw.net.au/

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Department of Defence or the Australian Computer Society.

Introduction

Like many IT professionals I believe that data networks can improve the way organisations work. For about three years I have been experimenting with the Internet. It has the potential to provide many of the benefits claimed for the Information Superhighway (or InfoBahn), easily and cheaply, now. If it is so good, why aren't more organisations using it more? That is the question I have been trying to answer for the few years. This is a progress report.

Discussion

How can IT people make the Internet be useful in Government?

For about the last 18 months there have been two parallel streams of work on networking in Government. At the senior policy level, there has been work on the Information Superhighway or InfoBahn (first referred to as "fibre optic cabling", then "Broad Band"). At the individual and IT practitioner level there has been implementation of the Internet. By the end of February I expect that these two streams will merge. The high level work on InfoBahn will supply the visionary rhetoric and general policy direction, the Internet will supply actual technology to implement the policy. This has come about largely by accident, and partly by the work of individuals in Government agencies, academia, industry and the general community. The main theme of this talk is that changes in the way organisations work come about through the actions of individuals. These individuals act outside the procedures and structures of the organisation, largely without approval or recognition. After their work is proven, it is assimilated into the corporate culture and operating procedures of the organisation. We are at the start of the process with the Australian Government and the Internet. That process has now received recognition, by being the subject of the governor-general's 1995 Australia Day message (Hayden 1995). The process should be complete by the end of 1995. This process is not linear, inevitable or easy. Those involved are making difficult choices which will shape the way our nation is governed. We are aided in this process by the experience of our academic community, who have been providing a living social laboratory, in the form of the Australian Academic Research Network (AARnet). Those implementing Internet in Government have close ties to the academic community and are directly translating AARnet experience to Government practice.

Promise of the "Information Superhighway" and how it could transform our culture, business and Government.

The promises made for the InfoBahn have been detailed, discussed and debated at length in the popular press and need not be repeated here. An analysis of the issues is contained in the ACS's submission to the assorted public enquires into the InfoBahn, which took place in 1994 (Clarke & Worthington 1994). Many of the benefits anticipated for the InfoBahn, particularly those relating to the processes of Government, can be realised using the available Internet technology. The Internet provides something else, which is both an impediment and a benefit: the Internet method. The Internet has associated with it, an anarchic process of development and working. This can be difficult to reconcile with the official way the administrative process is supposed to operate, but can e a powerful practical tool.

Turning the hype into reality

Convention wisdom would say that to put in place a data network in an organisation you need to: These have been attempted for electronic mail systems and corporate WAN/LANs for years, with mixed results. This experience doesn't translate for implementing Internet technology. Some things that do work are:

Reconciling traditional bureaucratic culture to accept the anarchic ways of the Internet

The Internet challenges many of the myths of the bureaucratic culture. Government organisations are only partly run by the official rules. Informal interchange of information and sharing of resources are essential and normal.

The Internet method can be summed up as "Just do it". The bureaucratic method as: "Don't do it, or at least don't be the first". To create a viable internal data network application (such as e-mail) in an organisation is a major undertaking. This requires a sufficient population of users equipped, to make electronic distribution of information viable. Also these users must agree on technical standards. This doesn't apply to the Internet: there is a sufficient external population to make connection of one user justified and there are useable standards in place. The single user soon finds others from the organisation also on the Internet.

TAOSS

In October 1993 Gerard Joseph (IBM Australia Limited), asked me how to circulate information amongst interested people in the Australian IT community. After some informal discussion and one face to face meeting we formed TAOSS: "The Australian Open Systems Server" (he now says that Taos, with one "S" is the name of a New Mexico city). TAOSS is a list on a Navy supplied list server (TAOSS-request@navy.gov.au). This supplies one way to circulate interested material to people.

TAOSS is free and administered by a "Board" of Government and IT industry people, who set up the list. The "board" is intended to oversee the list and adjudicate in any disputes (such as due to anti-social behaviour on the list). The board has never met, but provides the needed tone of formality and comfort for the list's users.

Here is the help file from the group's mailing list:

THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN SYSTEMS SERVER (TAOSS), Version 1.1, 10 January 1994

PURPOSE

TAOSS provides a way to disseminate Open Systems information technology (IT) information in Australia.

Government, private and industry bodies, are working on the development, promotion and implementation of new OSI and Open Systems IT standards. TAOSS is intended facilitate the work of all open systems bodies, using open systems technology.

It is hoped to bring together academic, government and industry people on open system issues. This will be done by providing a forum to disseminate open systems information and a way to discuss open systems issues. It is also hoped to act as a catalyst for the development of more advanced information services.

Building the new culture

The Commonwealth Internet Reference Group (CIRG), convened by Ian Barndt, Department of , provides an excellent model for introducing the Internet into a corporate culture. The group was formed in late 1994 and works with the Commonwealth/State Internet Reference Group. These groups have the aim of the consistent presentation of Whole-of-Government Information on the Internet.

The CIRG has no coercive powers and modest official status. It works by providing a forum for issues to be discussed. There is extensive informal interchange of information with the networking community. The results of discussions are freely and quickly available. The group directly threatens no existing entrenched interest.

On Tuesday 7 February 1995 Ian Barndt announced the Australian Government Home Page. This is hosted by the National Library of Australia (http://www.nla.gov.au/oz/gov/ozgov.html) and includes pointers to Australian Government servers in Federal and State Governments. A subject catalogue is under construction. This was announced in an e-mail message of a few sentences, but will be one of the most significant Government InfoBahn statements of the year.

The decision to prepare a Whole-of-Government home page was accelerated and influenced by the networking community. In particular Tony Barry (Centre for Networked Information and Publishing/Centre for Networked Access to Scholarly Information, Australian National University Library) gave impetus to the process by preparing a Web index to Government Internet services and challenging the Government to do something. The Commonwealth Internet Reference Group (Barndt) held its third meeting on 3 February. I recorded the following notes, during the meeting:

Conclusion

This has really been about how anyone can make the Internet be useful in any organisation, not just IT people in Government. Much of the benefit from the InfoBahn transforming our culture, business and Government, is available now through the Internet. The hype can be turned into reality. Traditional bureaucratic culture can accept the anarchic ways of the Internet, and benefit from them, with a little effort. Experience in using public data networking in Government agencies, provides adequate experience on avoiding a clash of cultures. The essence is to avoids technical details and concentrates on the social and administrative issues.

Bibliography:

  1. Hayden 1995: Australia Day Message by the governor-general of the Commonwealth of Australia the Honourable Bill Hayden AC, Government House, Canberra, 26 January 1995 URL: http://www.tomw.net.au/ausday95.txt
  2. Barndt 1995: Commonwealth Internet Reference Group, Ian Barndt, Commonwealth Department of Finance, e-mail: Ian.Barndt@Finance.Ausgovfinance.Telememo.au
  3. Barry 1995: Tony Barry, Centre for Networked Information and Publishing & also Centre for Networked Access to Scholarly Information, Australian National University Library http://snazzy.anu.edu.au/People/TonyB.html e-mail: tony@info.anu.edu.au
  4. Clarke & Worthington 1995: Vision for a Networked Nation, ACS submission to: ASTEC Working Group on Research Data Networks, Broadband Services Expert Group, Bulletin Boards Task Force, Senate Standing Committee on Industry, Science, Technology, Transport, Communications and Infrastructure, Roger Clarke & Tom Worthington, Australian Computer Society 1994 URL: ftp://archie.au/ACS/ACS-policy-networking-paper-draft.txt