Australian e-Government Guide


  1. Introduction
  2. e-government strategy to 2010
  3. Secure Communications
  4. ICT Staff
  5. Online Service Point

    See Also

  6. Electronic Records
  7. ICT Skills in the APS
  8. Other Information Technology
  9. Home


The Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) ran an "e-Government Update", half day Seminar on 20 June 2006 in Canberra. The seminar followed the release of the Government's e-government strategy. This is a summary of the eGovernment initiatives presented, links to the source documents and some comments on them, based on the seminar. Most of the presentation slides are already available from the AGIMO web site and a video will be available. These notes may be of use to students of "Information Technology in Electronic Commerce" at the Australian National University (COMP3410/COMP6341) and others. It is not intended as a detailed analysis. Comments, corrections and suggested additions would be welcome.


The Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO), is part of the Department of Finance and Administration. AGIMO provides the information and communications technology (ICT) strategy, standards, and technical architecture within the Australian Government and in consultation with other governments. In some cases the strategies prepared by AGIMO are adopted as mandatory government policy. But AGIMO mostly relies on consultation and persuasion. Since its move to the Finance portfolio in 2004, AGIMO is also able to use central purchasing procedures and input to the budget, to influence agency actions.

e-government strategy to 2010

A new e-government strategy, "Responsive Government - a new service agenda", was launched by Gary Nairn, Special Minister of State, 30 March 2006. It is intended to cover the period to 2010. It replaces the 2002 e-strategy, "Better Services, Better Government".

Formatting of the Report

The report is available as a free booklet of 42 pages, 206 Kbyte PDF file and, more importantly as a set of web pages. The emphasis of the strategy is delivering services, rather than technical detail. The word "Internet" occurs only five times in the report, "web" fifteen times, whereas "service" occurs 138 times and "delivery" sixty four times.

The availability of the report as a set of well-formatted web pages will greatly increase its impact. This allows the document to be discovered with a web search, to be automatically translated into other languages (for example Chinese ). Each chapter is a separate web page, easing access. The diagrams and tables are suitable for on screen presentation to a group.

Unfortunately the web formatting is not perfect. The sub-subsections do not have anchor tags, making it difficult to reference a specific point in the report. The diagrams are not labeled with text, contrary to AGIMO's web guidelines. As well as making them inaccessible to disabled readers, the diagrams cannot be found with a text search, or machine translated.

Overview of e-government strategy

As a concrete example of what is intended, the strategy sets the goal of the Government delivering 10% fewer letters each year and by 2010 halved the number of forms filled in. At first glance this just looks like a change from paper to electronic communications. But the strategy calls for less letter and forms overall: on paper and in electronic format. This is to be done by obtaining information from the citizen once and then automatically reporting to the citizen of the results of their requests.

There will be less use of special Government web sites, with the Australian Government entry point (home-page) used for most access. There will be a single sign-on from the home page to access most government services.

This whole of government approach creates privacy and security issues. These are to be addressed through technical means, such as smart cards and encryption, but also by promoting a culture of security, in conjunction with the Privacy Commissioner. Unfortunately the recent action by one department in introducing its own smart card may undermine these efforts.

The main sections of the report are:

To have all this done by 2010 is ambitious. AGIMO has the advantage of a set of new Internet and web-based technologies coming to maturity which can help with the technicalities. There are also maturing project management and governance standards and guidelines to give projects a better chance of success. However, the major challenges will remain organizational: to overcome inter-agency rivalries and to coordinate Commonwealth programs which deliver their services via state, local and private sector service deliverers.

One area missing from the strategy is Analytics, or Data Mining, for fraud discovery. The Australian Taxation Office's experience with Data Mining using open source software could be communicated to other agencies with an AGIMO best practice guide.

ICT Investment Framework

AGIMO is developing an "ICT Investment Framework" to measure and improve the return on investment in ICT. It is planned to provide tools for agencies to improve strategic planning, preparation of a business case, project management, and evaluation.

This work appears to be at an early stage. However, already a draft 103 page "Performance Indicator Resource Catalogue" has been released (Version 1.2, March 2006, 1Mbyte).

The report's introduction makes a case for the importance of the management of ICT, the need for measurement and introduces different measures (CSFs and KPIs). The report then covers:

This provides a useful catalog of tools and techniques, rather than one strategy. It allows agencies to choose the most appropriate for their needs (and removes the excuse that they did not know what was possible). But it is likely this will be too much choice, particularly for smaller agencies lacking in-house expertise. Some more prescriptive guide will be needed.

But the impact of the document may be lost due to its poor formatting. Unlike the e-Government strategy document, the ICT Investment Framework, is only provided in electronic format as a PDF document. This makes the document much more difficult to read and unusable for training purposes.

Secure Telecommunications

AGIMO administers FedLink, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) linking Government agencies at a moderate level of security, via the Internet. FedLink is used for routine email traffic between government agencies. It is not used for highly sensitive information. FedLink is indicative of the AGIMO approach: use of the service is voluntary and is a consortium arrangement between agencies.

FedLink is not currently used for voice traffic, although the success of VoIP on ARRnet, the Australian university equivalent network, would indicate the potential. By using FedLink for phone calls, the government could improve security, while saving money.

ICT Staff

AGIMO has convened an ICT Skills and Professional Development Taskforce. This is addressing issues with raised in the Managing and Sustaining the Australian Public Service Workforce, report released by the Australian Public Service Commission in 2005. The Taskforce is addressing issues of attraction and retention of ICT professionals for Government.

The task force is holding an industry event 27 September 2006. However, few details of the work of the Taskforce are available, or how it relates to similar initiatives in the ICT industry.

The Queensland government convened the National ICT Skills Summit, in conjunction with industry from 21-22 June 2006 (presentations and a communique are available). But neither AGIMO, nor the Federal Government were listed as participants in the summit.

One way to encourage IT graduates to work for the government would be to make government IT documents available to universities for teaching. For five years the author has been using Australian Government documents in teaching e-commerce and web design. This has provided several hundred IT graduates with an insight into the Australian Government, and many have gone on to work as public servants and contractors on government web design and systems. The clean web formatting of the e-government strategy and similar documents allows their use as teaching materials. Documents in PDF format are less suitable.

An additional problem is the restrictive copyright placed on Australian Government documents, limiting their use without payment of royalties. AGIMO should consider the use of the Creative Commons Australia licence, developed by Queensland University of Technology. Otherwise it is likely that Australian IT students will be trained using non-Australian materials.

Australian Government Online Service Point

The Australian Government Online Service Point (home page),, will be the major government entry point. It is planned to add optional authentication of users, to allow simplified sign-on to government services and personalization of the user interface.

This appears to be an evolutionary development of the existing, successful Australian government home page (the original of which was designed and hosted by the National Library of Australia). Few details of the proposed design appear to be available. However, the mockup screen show at the seminar has "logon" and "password" fields added to the top left hand of the existing home page.

Unfortunately the example shown for a typical transaction via the new home page is the change of the address of a citizen. This is a commonly used example, but seldom delivered in real systems. A central address change was to be provided by the Victorian Government's "maxi" electronic service delivery system, but is not provided by the current system. In contrast the ACT Government uses the commercial eMove service to allow citizens to notify changes of address for driver's licence, car registration, rates, land tax, dog registration, library card, senior's card and government housing rent.

State, Local and Private Service Delivery Not Addressed

The use of a commercial service by the ACT Government raises one of the few flaws in AGIMO's e-government strategy. The strategy assumes that the primary delivery mechanism for government services in Australia is from the Federal Government to individual citizens. The problem, as AGIMO sees it, is to connect the Australian Government agencies together with IT, so as to deliver a better coordinated service to the citizen. In reality most services are delivered by the private sector, by local government and by state governments. Therefore, coordinating the federal government will only solve a small part of the problem.

Even where services are funded by the Australian Government, they will likely be delivered via state or local governments or via non government commercial or nonprofit organizations. Therefore, AGIMO needs to make working with other governments and organizations a priority. "Partnering with industry" is mentioned in the eGovernment strategy, but not with state governments.

The government will maintain an effective dialogue with industry. This will keep industry informed of progress towards the government's vision for 2010. Government will also draw on industry expertise through a series of regular industry forums, by including industry in public sector forums for departments and agencies, and through industry consultation on procurement plans outlined in section 3.4.3.

The government will explore with industry the potential for providing access to government's common, standardised, modular business processes (discussed in sections 3.2 and 3.3.3), so that industry can be better informed of emerging government system and technology requirements. Increasingly, industry will be able to meet the standardised business requirements of government in off-the-shelf product offerings.

From "Responsive Government - A New Service Agenda", Department of Finance and Administration, 2006

Citizens do not in general, like government. Attempts to put an efficient and friendly face on government are doomed to failure. As the e-Government strategy points out, a better approach is to minimize interaction with government, with fewer letters and form filling. The ultimate would be an invisible interface, such as achieved with the superannuation co-contribution. There is no need for the public to fill in a form or apply for the co-contribution. The Tax Office calculates the co-contribution from the taxpayer's tax details and superannuation data, and automatically credits it to the individual's superannuation fund.

ICT Procurement

On 31 May 2006 AGIMO released draft model contracts for the Government Information Technology and Communications Framework (GITC). These are designed to simplify ICT procurement of consultancy, hardware (with implementation, support and maintenance), and Commercial-off-the-shelf Software. The drafts are available, but are hard to find, as they are not on the AGIMO web site, but a separate "SourceIT" part of the Finance web site.

e-Government Services User Survey

AGIMO will release an "Australians' Use of and Satisfaction with e-Government Services" report in late July 2006.

The preliminary analysis shows the changes from the last survey for 2004-05 to 2006 were:

The most frequently accessed Internet services remained personal tax, vehicle registration, and family benefits.

Australian Government e-Authentication Framework

AGIMO has a set of initiatives to improve the identification of government personnel, businesses and members of the public using online transactions with government. These are well coordinated under the "Australian Government e-Authentication Framework" (AGAF).

Authentication for Business

The AGAF was initially developed for businesses carrying out transactions with Government. There is a well-thought out set of guidelines for businesses and government agencies.

Authentication for Individuals

The AGAF is being expanded to cover individual members of the public. A consultation paper is available on the Australian Government e-Authentication Framework for Individuals (AGAF-I). This is a much more difficult task than identifying businesses.

Authentication for Government Employees

Identity management of employees is a special case of authentication for individuals and is being handled though the "Identity Management for Australian Government Employees Framework" (IMAGE). This will be used for both public servants employed directly by the Australian Government and staff of private contractors working alongside them in agencies. Further details are due for release in June.

Smartcard Framework

A draft Australian Government Smartcard Framework was released in December 2005. A revised overview document and a Handbook are due for released in June. This will provide guidance on physical and technical implementation of devices to implement the AGAF. Unfortunately this may be too late to influence the Australian Government Health and Social Services Access Card Project.

VANguard project

One project not mentioned in the AGIMO briefing is the Department of Industry Tourism and Resources' VANguard project. This is to provide online validation, authentication and notary services for Federal, State and Local government agencies via a single entry point. Few details of the project are available.

The VANguard Branch is responsible for managing the development and maintenance of whole of government online validation, authentication and notary solutions. The VANguard brokerage service will provide Federal, State and Local government agencies with an accredited, dedicated and consistent infrastructure to meet online audit, evidence and archive requirements, while allowing each agency to retain ownership of their own information and transactions.

From: Senior Business Analyst - Position Profile, Department of Industry Tourism and Resources, 28/6/2006

Automated Decision Making

The Automated Assistance in Administrative Decision Making Working Group (AAADM) aims to provide guidelines on applying artificial intelligence (AI) expert systems to administrative decisions. This is to ensure these systems comply with the law, can explain their reasoning and their use can be audited.

This work is in response to the Administrative Review Council's November 2004 report "Automated Assistance in Administrative Decision Making". The Report contains 27 best practice principles for ensuring that decision making undertaken with the assistance of expert systems is consistent with the administrative law values of lawfulness, fairness, rationality, openness and efficiency.

Use of AI for decision making in government is potentially useful. However, the working party is not planning to release guidelines until 2007. This is unfortunate as the Australian IT industry has the capability to deliver AI systems, if the government had the capacity to use them.

Emerging Technology

Much of AGIMO's work is to make information technology safe and reliable for government use. As a result some new innovation can be overlooked. Also, the results can look like the dullest of Government reports. A new and interesting area for AGIMO is to specifically investigate Emerging Technology and Business Models. In this way AGIMO can try to anticipate developments and avoid pitfalls.

AGIMO has correctly identified on-line services, such as, as creating expectations in citizens as to what they should get from Government. As well as the user experience, Amazon provides a useful example as to how disparate online services can be knitted together using technologies, such as web services. Ebay provides not only models of trade, but also of how to establish confidence for doing business online. The integration of voice services online provides new ways for government to do business. Blogs present a challenge and new opportunity for government communication.

One problem with AGIMO's analysis is that it mostly presents non-Australian examples. This does the Australian IT industry disservice, by presenting the false impression that Australia is behind in the development of emerging technologies. Many of the technologies AGIMO discusses are being developed within a few kilometers of AGIMO's office in Canberra.

One Australian example AGIMO highlighted is the iParliament. This is part of a not-for-profit company to promote democratic uses of the Internet in Australia. The service is based in Queensland, with the author, as one of the Editorial Advisory Board, in Canberra.

Another Australian example used by AGIMO was GetUp, which styles itself as "a new political movement to build a more progressive Australia". Both the iParliment and GetUp use online tools for political discussion and use an online donation-based business model.

Presence technologies, which allow video conferencing and text-chat provides interesting possibility for government activities. One application, not discussed by AGIMO, is for use in emergency coordination, where the Australian government tested computer-based communications for dealing with a national outbreak of avian influenza.

AGIMO presented a Google example of digital mapping in Canberra. It is unfortunate that they did not instead present the Australian Government's own Sentinel fire mapping system. This world leading, Australian developed, system was used to track the Canberra 2003 bushfires, via a satellite.

There are risks emerging technologies with technological dead ends and a failure to learn the lessons of past technologies. One project singled out for praise by AGIMO is MIT's $100 laptop for the developing world. Unfortunately what was shown was a non functioning mockup of a computer which will cost more than $100 to make and has questionable value to developing nations. In another example, smart homes are not without their problems, as the author has found in a Canberra based smart apartment, established in 2001.

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