An E-commerce Strategy for the Australian Government

The Eighteen Character Problem Solved?

Tom Worthington FACS

Visiting Fellow, Department of Computer Science, Australian National University, Canberra

For: Computing 3410 Students, The Australian National University
This document is Version 1.0 19 August 2002:


This material was prepared for the unit Information Technology in Electronic Commerce (COMP3410) at the Australian National University, semester 2, 2002. It illustrates issues discussed with e-commerce metadata by proposing a solution to the problem of implementing a system to electronically transmit information about payments to Australian businesses by Commonwealth Government agencies.

Failure of the Commonwealth Electronic Procurement Implementation Strategy

The Commonwealth Electronic Procurement Implementation Strategy (OGO 2000) was released on 3 April 2000, as part of the Government's overall Online Strategy (DCITA 2000). The strategy had two goals for Commonwealth Government agencies:

  1. All suppliers will be paid electronically by the end of 2000.

  2. All suppliers involved in simple procurement will have the option of dealing with the Government Commonwealth electronically, using open standards, by the end of 2001

Neither of these goals were met.

The National Office for the Information Economy reported that in March 2001:

Almost 60% of agencies pay more than 50% of their suppliers electronically - this was up from 40% in the September 2000 survey; 20% of agencies were performing very well, paying more than 90% of their suppliers electronically; Larger agencies are doing particularly well - of the top 19 agencies which account for 90% of Commonwealth contract expenditure, almost all were paying more than 50% of their suppliers electronically; and 36% of the top 19 agencies were paying more than 90% of suppliers electronically.

From Better Practice Checklist for Electronic Payment, NOIE, 13/02/2001?

Clearly paying 50% of suppliers is a long way from the target of 100%. However, the target of all suppliers being paid was unrealistic and the levels achieved are commendable. Unfortunately, rather than setting a new, more realistic target, the Commonwealth has abandoned measurable level of performance. Instead the aim has been reinterpreted as: "It is Commonwealth Government policy to pay all suppliers electronically", with no new target for agencies being set.

Less progress was made with providing suppliers with the option of dealing with the Commonwealth electronically, using open standards:

The Commonwealth e-procurement strategy proposed that a standard remittance advice (that is, a defined set of data about the payment) be developed, for implementation by all agencies. NOIE scoped the proposal, but did not find significant support for such an initiative among agencies or suppliers. NOIE will monitor the situation, and if the need for a standard remittance advice emerges, will work with agencies and suppliers to develop one.

From Better Practice Checklist for Electronic Payment, NOIE, 13/02/2001?

The goal of e-commerce with suppliers has been abandoned. In place of use of standards, a "common-sense approach to defining the content of the remittance advice" is now advocated. The only electronic formats now advocated are email and fax, with no targets set, even for this limited aim.

The delivery of documents by e-mail or fax introduces costs and complexities, as illustrated in the procedures for one agency:

What happens if my fax or e-mail remittance advice cannot be delivered?

From "Frequently Asked Questions - Suppliers", Department of Veteran's Affairs, 2000

A slightly more ambitious goal could now be set, with a limited set of e-commerce transactions being provided in formats to suit both small and large businesses.

The remainder of the presentation will outline the original commonwealth strategy and demonstrate a solution to providing the Electronic Remittance Advice (OGO 2000c). This can be done using the techniques discussed in this course, in a way usable by both small and large businesses, using available technologies, so as to provide a better service to the businesses and savings to the Commonwealth.

A public presentation of the solution will be provided at the Information Industry Outlook Conference 2002, 9 November 2002.


  1. OGO (2000) Government Electronic Procurement Implementation Strategy, Office for Government Online, Commonwealth of Australia, 2000, URL:

  2. OGO (2000c) Remittance Advice, Office for Government Online, Commonwealth of Australia, 2000, URL:

  3. DCITA (2000) GovernmentOnline - The Commonwealth Government's Strategy, Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, April 2000, URL:

Note: The Internet Archive has been used to replace some documents no longer available on-line.

Further Information

  1. Computing 3410

  2. Author's home page

Copyright Tom Worthington 2002.