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The Commonwealth Government's Strategy
The global information technology revolution is continuing at a staggering rate. It is estimated that within two years, half of all adult Australians will be regular users of the Internet. All governments and businesses must be ready to meet the increased demand for effective online services.
In December 1997, Australia's Prime Minister, John Howard, announced in the Investing for Growth statement, the Commonwealth Government's commitment to putting all appropriate Government services online by 2001. Since that announcement considerable progress has been made towards this goal. However, much remains to be done.
The Government must develop more and better services online-integrated services that break down the barriers of Government structure and jurisdiction, and services that meet the real needs of individuals and business. Only through concerted action with other governments, industry and the community, can we realise the opportunities now within reach.
Government Online will drive the development of a seamless national approach to the provision of online services. Users of these services should not need to understand how Government is structured to interact with it easily and safely. This document outlines the steps being taken to make sure this is possible.
The strategy will become a key reference for Government agencies and their stakeholders, setting out an operational framework for agencies to meet the Prime Minister's 2001 target. It also defines the role of agencies in developing online services, and the opportunities they will have to report on their plans and progress. Stakeholders will also be able to use this strategy to plan working, and conducting business, with Government online.
Government Online will build unprecedented opportunities for people and business to interact with Government regardless of where they are located in Australia. The Australian Government's commitment is to use the benefits of modern technology to deliver better quality service.
The information economy has been with us for only a few years, but in that short time it has come to be regarded as one of the contributors to the current sustained period of economic growth. Its potential to expand economic and social opportunities is being rapidly exploited. There is hardly any sphere of activity which is not able to be improved by the online environment-to achieve more, and to do it more quickly and efficiently.
This potential has been highlighted in a number of the Government's policy statements. The Prime Minister's December 1997 policy statement Investing for Growth outlined the importance of the information age for national prosperity, and the ways in which the Government is promoting and supporting the uptake of the online environment, through:
- strong leadership;
- encouraging business and consumer confidence;
- getting key Australian sectors online; and
- fostering the development of the information industries.
Integral to the Government's role in providing people with confidence in, and understanding of, the online environment is how well the Government itself makes the online transition.
The Government made a commitment in Investing for Growth to show leadership in the information economy by adopting online technologies to provide better services and improve its own business practices. Specific commitments were made to:
- deliver all appropriate Commonwealth services electronically on the Internet by 2001, complementing-not replacing-existing written, telephone, fax and counter services;
- establish a Government Information Centre through the Office for Government Online as a main point of access to information about government services;
- establish electronic payment as the normal means for Commonwealth payments by 2000; and
- establish a government-wide intranet for secure online communication.
A Strategic Framework for the Information Economy, released in December 1998, outlined the Government's ten key strategic priorities for the information economy together with associated key action areas, covering areas such as skills, infrastructure, electronic commerce, industry development, health, culture, and regulation. First and foremost of these priorities was maximising the opportunities for all Australians to benefit from the information economy. One of the ten key strategic online priorities is to 'implement a world class model for delivery of all appropriate government services online'. This strategy outlines in more detail the Government's approach to providing services online.
Why Government Online?
Getting Government Online is a natural and important step in the development of government and the community interaction. Since 1997, Commonwealth agencies have been developing service charters-short plain language explanations of the service quality standards that clients of government agencies can expect-with the aim of improving service quality and increasing the responsiveness of the public service. As agencies have begun to move online, there are increasing reports from agencies that clients are expecting and demanding more of the agency's information and services to be accessible online.
This is hardly surprising. Australia is well placed to take advantage of the Internet. We have the third highest per capita usage of the Internet, after Finland and the United States of America. It is estimated that half of all adult Australians will use the Internet by 2001. And as Internet take-up rates increase, so too will expectations that government information and services will be available. Government Online is a natural extension of the emphasis on service quality and meeting the needs of clients.
For many areas in government, the online environment will enable better program outcomes. For example, the Australian Job Search site contains every job listed with every job network member across the country together with vacancies in the Commonwealth, those advertised in selected newspapers and some lodged directly by employers. It is the largest employment database in the country, and provides the opportunity for people to find what they want when they want it, in a manner which suits and is natural for them. An online facility such as this will enable more matching and better matching of job vacancies with job seekers.
Government Online will contribute more broadly to service quality beyond just the impact on individual agencies and their service charters. Online technology has the potential to break down traditional barriers faced by clients.
Online access to information and services can have a significant positive impact for regional communities, older Australians and the disabled. Government Online can address the inequities of regional/rural Australia in accessing government information and services. It can break down the barrier of distance or mobility that some clients face. Online service delivery can complement and enhance existing traditional service channels for such clients, and provide around the clock access to government from almost anywhere.
Government Online will remove the need to understand the structure of the Commonwealth Government and the distinction between it and other tiers of government.
Business in particular has had to navigate the complex structure of government to gain the necessary information or service-often having to deal with more than one government agency or jurisdiction to resolve a business issue. The Business Entry Point is a cooperative initiative of the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments that brings together business information and services at a single point. It allows business to access current information on a wide range of government assistance programs and services; make initial business registrations online and undertake a number of transactions; and submit tenders for some government contracts.
Government Online will continue to provide opportunities to reduce the costs to business and government of interacting with each other. A key element of the introduction of taxation reform will be the opportunity for businesses (and for larger businesses a requirement) to deal electronically with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to reduce compliance costs. Similar opportunities are also being provided to individuals, with the introduction of direct electronic lodgement of personal taxation returns.
Exporters of meat and dairy products are now able to obtain electronically a single clearance from both the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service and the Australian Customs Service, greatly simplifying and streamlining the clearance process. This facility is being progressively expanded to other food industries.
These two initiatives and others like them will reduce costs and speed up operational processes for both business and government.
Until recently the community has also needed to understand government structures to access information. The Commonwealth Government entry point, developed and managed by the Department of Finance and Administration (DOFA) as part of its whole-of-government information access responsibilities, is an important milestone in delivering a transparent, one stop access point to this information for all Australians. It has been internationally recognised as leading the field for the development of government entry points.
While in the short term moving information and services online will require new investments by agencies while retaining traditional service delivery channels, in the longer run greater use of the Internet will reduce overall costs.
Government as a leading edge online user will have a strong demonstration effect for the entire community-that there are real benefits to be had from widespread uptake of the information economy.
Where are we now?
Recent surveys of Commonwealth departments and agencies by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) and the Office for Government Online (OGO) indicate that the Prime Minister's 2001 commitment is likely to be met by the great majority (82 per cent) of respondent agencies. It further indicates that the great majority of those agencies are well advanced in identifying potential services to be brought online.
Achievement of the 2001 goal is likely to be met as the result of concerted action by agencies to identify suitable services and bring them online. A recent progress report published by OGO, based on the result of these two surveys, concluded that the great majority of agencies were well positioned to meet the Government's commitment to deliver appropriate services on the Internet by 2001.
The progress report found that more than 90 per cent of respondents had established the foundation for online service delivery-an Internet website. For many agencies, establishing a website might be all that is appropriate to meet the 2001 commitment-this would be the case for those agencies that simply provide information and publications to the public. However many agencies are likely to move to provide more advanced services, such as interactive services, transactional services and services which are integrated with those of other agencies and jurisdictions. Only two per cent of agencies are currently at the most advanced stage of providing integrated transactional services, but around half had moved beyond merely providing a website.
More than 400 online service delivery initiatives have been identified by respondents to the surveys, providing a picture of widespread benefits to government clients. Services delivered through the Internet include:
- client-service information and support;
- payment to suppliers;
- receipt of revenue;
- public relations; and
The progress report identified a number of case studies of customer focused initiatives in the online environment. In addition to the services for business outlined above, there are an increasing number of services aimed at the community. The progress report highlighted the examples of online services to overseas students, weather services and improved access to consumer protection services.
Initiatives such as these require a common set of 'enablers' to be in place to facilitate their development and their use. Considerable progress has already been made on several key enablers.
For example, many transactions and services require the authenticity of the other party to be established and the security of the transaction to be assured. The Government has created the Gatekeeper Government Public Key Infrastructure (GPKI) framework to allow for the accreditation of certification authority service providers and their public key technology products which provide this surety.
As part of the introduction of the Australian Business Number, the Government is developing a common digital signature certificate, which enables businesses to provide information to government in a secure and authenticated online environment.
Another common enabler is the ability to easily find and navigate information across a number of agencies. Together with the States and Territories, the Commonwealth Government has been developing a standard technique, the Australian Government Locator Service (AGLS), for describing and labelling information and services. AGLS will enable users to easily find what they want, without unduly constraining agencies in the way that they develop their online applications.
Where we want to be-the possibilities of Government Online
Government Online aims to extend the benefits of the information revolution currently being experienced by individuals, communities and businesses in their dealings with each other to their dealings with government.
Government Online has as its objective an environment where virtually all government services are available around the clock to anyone.
While face-to-face and telephone services will have some limitations on availability, technological approaches offer the potential of around the clock access to government from any suitable electronic device and from any location. The Internet frees users from having to deal with government at a government office, and wireless communications solutions will provide even greater freedom. Government Online will aim to make best use of available and emerging technology.
Of course the online environment does not do away with the need for traditional ways of dealing with government, and service quality in these areas must be maintained. Government Online will provide the opportunity to complement and enhance traditional service delivery, by enhancing the range and quality of services that can be obtained from an office or over the telephone.
Government Online has as its objective a complete range of high quality, low cost online services.
Users of government services will be naturally attracted to dealing with Government Online if they can be sure in advance of finding what they want online, and that the quality of the service will make the effort worthwhile.
Government Online has as its objective tailored services that are easy to use and allow people to interact with Government in a way which is natural to them.
In the offline environment, clients often find it hard to access the full range of services that are of interest or relevance to them. Services can be hard to identify and locate. It can often be impractical for clients to access all services that they require.
In the online environment, the task of locating and identifying services can be made straightforward and intuitive. Separate services can be integrated. Multiple approaches to accessing information and services can be designed, so that people who look for services targeted towards their sector or group or community can find the information they need easily. Others may think in terms of subject matter. Others may expect services classified by their stage in life. The online environment will allow individuals to tailor and select their approach to government.
Government Online has as its objective bringing government closer to people to encourage people to interact with government.
The service charters developed by agencies in recent years seek to improve the quality of service to clients. However, government can still seem remote to many people. The online environment will allow government to reach out to individuals, communities and businesses to provide a direct channel to government. People will have the ability to customise their online channel with government, to make it more useful, familiar, convenient and in many instances, transparent. This will lead the Australian community to have a greater familiarity with government policy and programs.
How will we get there?
While the vision for Government Online is clear, government, like business, is learning how to evolve towards its longer term target.
The information economy era, although only a few years old, has already provided lessons about how to approach placing information and services online. Online service delivery should be designed to be flexible and adaptable over time. Rigid models designed solely from experiences and approaches in the offline environment and without an understanding of clients' online needs are unlikely to succeed. Online service delivery needs to be integrated closely with other service delivery channels.
Online service delivery therefore needs to grow and evolve over time in light of experience. A pragmatic approach is appropriate, with continual development and improvement being based on experience to date and lessons from the experiences of others. This is the broad approach that the Commonwealth Government will adopt in meeting the 2001 commitment.
The Commonwealth delivers a range of programs and services through a large number of departments, authorities and companies. Each of these agencies already has specific program objectives and a range of traditional program delivery mechanisms. The online environment will be an extension of these traditional mechanisms, and will be closely integrated with them.
Under this approach, decisions about which programs should be the first to go online, how this will be done, and which applications might not be appropriate to go online are best taken by each agency. Individual agencies are best suited to placing services online in a pragmatic, evolving manner suited to that agency's clients, and is integrated with the broader customer service and continuous improvement charters of government.
While individual agencies have an important role to play, Government Online needs to be more than the sum of its component parts. OGO will partner with other agencies in facilitating cross-agency initiatives, promulgating basic standards, setting in place enabling technologies, and facilitating a seamless interface to government for clients.
The Commonwealth will work with the States and Territories through the Online Council to promote a national approach to Government Online. OGO and other relevant Commonwealth agencies will work closely with the States and Territories to facilitate a national approach to seamless online government for clients.
AGENCIES TO TAKE FULL ADVANTAGE OF THE OPPORTUNITIES THE INTERNET PROVIDES
A building block of this Government Online strategy is that the Internet will continue to be embraced by agencies as a mainstream environment when providing information and services, and dealing with clients. Agencies are already active in their use of the Internet, and will continue to move to take full advantage of the opportunities that it provides.
In so doing, each agency will develop further its understanding of the online environment, what the online needs of clients are, what the possibilities are and how best to deliver services.
(i) Online Action Plans
Under an agency-based approach, each agency will need to adopt a thorough and systematic approach to placing its information and services online. As part of this strategy, each agency will develop and publish by September 2000 an Online Action Plan.
Each agency's Online Action Plan will:
- be based on a comprehensive audit of the agency's information, transactions, purchasing arrangements and other external dealings;
- be related to the agency's customer service charter; identify all functions which potentially could be made available online;
- identify services which could be coordinated with the delivery of services of other agencies;
- identify an indicative timeframe for bringing all those functions online; and
- indicate impediments which need to be removed to achieve the Prime Minister's 2001 target.
An Online Action Plan should also address issues such as legislative issues, costs and benefits of Internet service delivery, and risk control strategies for Internet and other electronic service delivery. The strategies will also need to ensure that the minimum mandated common standards and online requirements discussed below are implemented.
(ii) Reporting arrangements
In addition to the plans, a reporting framework will be established to enable the monitoring of progress towards the 2001 target. All agencies will report twice yearly to OGO on progress in key areas. The reporting framework will be finalised by OGO, in consultation with agencies, with a view to minimising the burden on agencies, while gathering sufficient basic data to ensure a whole-of-government assessment can be formed.
It is envisaged that the electronic reporting framework will cover the general level of progress in moving information and services online, as well as progress against the specific commitments contained in this strategy regarding minimum standards and procurement and supplier payment. Reporting will also cover the scope for cross agency/jurisdiction integrated services which have been identified and/or implemented; other key impediments which have been identified; and the beneficiaries of online initiatives.
(iii) Online Information Service Obligations
A key feature of the Government's presence online will be the comprehensive and authoritative nature of information available. Much of this information is already available online. For example, legislation can be accessed through SCALEplus and the Commonwealth Government Directory (GOLD) is available online. These and other online services are accessible through the Commonwealth Government Entry Point. The majority of Commonwealth departments and agencies have a website. Despite all this, the quality and quantity of information services provided online is not yet fully consistent, complete and up-to-date.
All established Commonwealth information frameworks and principles are equally applicable to the online environment as to traditional forms of information and service delivery. As part of this strategy, the Government will complement the established information frameworks and principles, discussed in more detail under Strategic Priority 2, with Online Information Service Obligations (OISOs) for agencies. AusInfo, in the Department of Finance and Administration, has policy responsibility for the OISOs and their ongoing development.
OISOs will ensure that a minimum, common set of information about agencies and their services is readily available online, and to ensure that any information released to the public in printed form is also available online at the same time. This includes basic information such as organisational contact details and other corporate information, media releases, speeches and legislative information.
While OISOs may be hosted on an agency's website, wherever possible the capabilities of the Internet should be exploited through the principle of storing information once but linking to this information from multiple sites. For example, legislation is currently available at the SCALEplus website and can be linked from any agency's website.
In addition, all publications and forms for public use must be made available online concurrently with other forms of distribution. The online availability of printable forms will enable anyone who needs to submit a form in many cases to do so without the need to visit an agency office. While agencies should strive for full online service delivery where practicable, the availability of online forms will be a useful step in this direction.
OISOs will be implemented in a staged manner. From 1 June 2000, all new website content falling within these OISOs are to be routinely placed online and all new non-commercial publications are to be made available online concurrently with other forms of dissemination. It will be a matter for agencies to determine the appropriateness of existing documents to be made available, with those being placed online by 1 December 2000. All forms for public use must be available online, to be downloaded and/or electronically completed, by 1 December 2000. Refer to Annex A for further details.
Once all appropriate services are online, the array of available information and services will be substantial. The Government's presence must not only be comprehensive, but it must also be easy to use. The main entry point for the Commonwealth Government is an essential part of the Commonwealth's strategy for providing transparent and comprehensive access to government agencies and information. There are opportunities to enhance these facilities and make them simpler and more powerful through the use of metadata and by the creation of customer-oriented channels.
OGO and DOFA, with its responsibility for whole-of-government access and publishing, will facilitate the development of an integrated network of customer-focused channels in conjunction with other lead agencies. These are intended to complement and enhance existing channels and be accessible through the Government's main entry point. Using these facilities, individuals, communities and businesses will be able to locate information through a range of approaches that suit their circumstances without the need to understand the structure of government.
ENSURE THE ENABLERS ARE IN PLACE
As agencies place information and services online, it is inevitable that they will face common policy issues and practical challenges. The Government's strategy places an emphasis on the early identification and resolution of common issues and challenges. Some of these enablers will assist agencies to overcome practical problems, while others will provide guidance about the approach to adopt where no obvious choice currently exists. Many of these enablers have already been identified and work is at an advanced stage.
SPECIFIC ACTION - USER CONFIDENCE
The Government's Strategic Framework for the Information Economy had as one of its strategic priorities the development of a legal and regulatory framework to facilitate electronic commerce. It noted the importance of securing the confidence of all Australians that online information and transactions are private, and secure and, where necessary, that the identity of the counter-party is authenticated. Some aspects of user confidence are being dealt with in an economy-wide manner, such as the passage of the Electronic Transactions Act to provide legal certainty for online transactions. Even so, there are several specific areas where it will be important to ensure that this aspect of the Strategic Framework is implemented for government information and services if Government Online is to be successful.
A common feature of online service delivery and financial transactions is the need for each party to the transaction to ensure the authenticity of the other party, and to ensure the integrity and security of the information exchanged as part of the transaction. Electronic Authentication technologies such as 'public key' provide a means to meet these requirements. The Government already has in place the Gatekeeper framework for the use of public key authentication technology within the Commonwealth Government.
Arising from the rollout of the Australian Business Number (ABN) to Australian business, as part of the implementation of taxation reform, the Government has announced a specific public key digital signature process-the ABN-DSC-able to be used by Australian businesses in dealing with the Commonwealth. This online digital signature certificate, which authenticates the identity of each business, will be linked to the ABN, and be used by all agencies.
OGO will work with agencies, industry and other jurisdictions to implement electronic authentication technologies as part of their online service delivery initiatives.
The protection of personal information on the Internet is widely regarded as a threshold issue for many people who use or who are considering using the Internet for providing information to or transacting with agencies.
Commonwealth agencies are already bound by the Privacy Act 1988 to handle personal information in accordance with the Act's information privacy principles. It is the responsibility of Commonwealth departments and agencies to ensure that their websites comply with the Privacy Act 1988. The Privacy Commissioner has issued guidelines to agencies to assist them in ensuring that the privacy practices of their websites and other online activities comply with the Act. The guidelines cover: openness; collection of personal information; security of personal information; and publishing personal information. As part of this strategy the Government requires agencies to comply with these guidelines from 1 June 2000.
The security of personal information is also a threshold issue of concern to potential and current online users, even if the user is confident about the privacy practices of the agency. Authentication technologies can provide security while a transaction is conducted, but users require more than this. They want reassurance about the totality of an agency's security, including the storage of information after a transaction is completed.
Agencies are required to comply with the Protective Security Manual (PSM) issued by the Protective Security Coordination Centre within the Attorney-General's Department. Agencies are required by the PSM to devise an Information Systems Security Policy and implement plans to ensure systems are appropriately protected.
The Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) issues security guidelines for Australian Government IT systems, known as Australian Communications-Electronic Security Instructions 33 (ACSI 33). ACSI 33 provides guidance to all agencies in the task of protecting classified or unclassified online information and describes the steps to be taken to plan and implement the information security measures required by the PSM.
SPECIFIC ACTION - PRINCIPLES AND STANDARDS
All agencies will need to make choices about which principles and standards to use in placing information and services online. While there is benefit in leaving as much choice as possible at the agency level, there is also benefit in a common approach in some areas.
To gain the maximum benefit from an agency-based approach, it will be important to ensure that any enabling standards are minimal and reflect key areas where a broad consensus exists. In areas where guidelines and standards are specified, agencies will be consulted.
In addition to the Government's commitment to whole-of-government access points it is also proposed to provide guidelines and principles in the following initial areas.
(iv) Metadata standards
A challenge faced by users of large collections of information like the Commonwealth's is to easily locate information. This can often be a challenge even for users familiar with the structure of government, let alone for those who are not. Government Online as a whole must be easy to comprehend and use. Applications and services must be packaged in a way that makes information easy to find and enables similar or related transactions to be conducted together.
Under this strategy, the Government is committed to implementing systems so that information and services can readily be located without the user needing to understand how government and government information is structured. The technology that will underpin this feature of Government Online is metadata. A collection of metadata comprises descriptive information about government information and services, which can be used to classify, present and search the information that it applies to.
Careful and systematic application of an agreed metadata standard by agencies will enable a seamless interface to government to be constructed, based on the separate online services of each agency. If care is taken to ensure that metadata is of a high quality, the increased ease with which resources can be discovered will provide benefits to agencies and users alike.
The Australian Government Locator Service (AGLS) has been developed over the last few years by the National Archives of Australia (NAA), in consultation with Commonwealth, State and Territory agencies, as such a metadata standard. It is a set of 19 descriptive elements which government departments and agencies can use to improve the visibility and accessibility of their information and services. AGLS has been developed cooperatively by all Australian government jurisdictions and is based upon the leading international online resource discovery metadata standard, the Dublin Core standard.
It is already in use in several other jurisdictions. The stage has been reached where the Government has decided to require AGLS to be used by Commonwealth agencies in line with NAA guidelines, in respect of their online activities.
The adoption by agencies of AGLS metadata should not be a major imposition on agencies. AGLS metadata should be strategically assigned to targeted resources at the highest level of aggregation; in many cases less than 10 per cent of the pages of an organisation's website may need to be assigned AGLS metadata. The NAA is currently drafting guidelines to assist agencies with AGLS implementation. From 1 June 2000, AGLS metadata should be applied to new website content, in accordance with the AGLS Metadata Obligations. By 1 December 2000, AGLS metadata is to be applied to existing website content, in accordance with the AGLS Metadata Obligations. Refer to Annex B for further details.
(v) Electronic publishing and record keeping guidelines
DOFA has produced Guidelines for Commonwealth Information Published in Electronic Formats as part of its charter in whole-of-government information publishing, dissemination and delivery. These guidelines provide principles for language usage, information presentation, production and best practice conventions for electronic publications. They also include, and refer to, other lead agency initiatives in archiving and accessibility. The application of these guidelines by Commonwealth agencies will lead to improved efficiency, quality and accessibility of government information online and will assist in the preservation of electronic government publications for future access.
Commonwealth websites are a form of publication and as such they are considered to be records for archival purposes. Under the Archives Act 1983, Commonwealth agencies have legal obligations regarding the proper retention and disposal of Commonwealth records, including web-based records. Commonwealth agencies need to make and keep records that accurately document their public websites over time, to satisfy business and accountability requirements and community expectations. The NAA is currently developing a policy for keeping web-based records in the Commonwealth Government.
To ensure best practice by agencies in these areas, the Government requires agencies to follow the principles outlined in these guidelines. From 1 June 2000, all new electronic publications and records are to comply with the relevant principles in these guidelines. By 1 December 2000, existing electronic publications and records are to comply.
Government Online provides a tremendous opportunity to reach out to people with disabilities. However they can be excluded from Government Online if website design does not recognise the special online requirements of this group. Similarly, people who have low speed Internet connections or other technical limitations in accessing information online, can be disenfranchised if websites are designed without any allowance for their limited access to bandwidth. A recent report by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) has highlighted the benefits to people in rural and regional areas if websites are designed taking into account their circumstances.
Commonwealth departments and agencies are already obliged by the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 to ensure that online information and services are accessible by people with disabilities.
The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) is currently investigating issues surrounding website access by people with disabilities and older Australians. As part of this process it has published Progress update on reference: access to electronic commerce and new information and service technologies for older Australians and people with a disability and Working paper for e-commerce reference: web accessibility.
These papers draw on and strongly support the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The WAI has resulted in the development of documents such as User Agent Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 and Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines 1.0. These guidelines are primarily aimed at making web content accessible to people with disabilities, however they also make web content more accessible to other users with technical constraints (e.g. people using a low-speed Internet connection). The W3C accessibility guidelines were supported in the RIRDC report.
The Government is committed to ensuring that no group is excluded from being able to access Government Online. Agencies will be required to fulfil their obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 by observing the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C's) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0, to ensure the widest possible audience for Government Online.
From 1 June 2000, all websites are to be tested by agencies for accessibility, and all new website contracts to include accessibility as a key performance measure. By 1 December 2000, all websites are to follow the W3C guidelines to a sufficient extent that they pass recognised tests of accessibility.
ENHANCE GOVERNMENT ONLINE IN REGIONAL AUSTRALIA
While online services can be a convenient method of service delivery for anyone, they can be a particularly useful tool for people and businesses in regional and rural Australia. They can provide a greater access to information and services for many people than could ever be provided through conventional service delivery channels, and can do so more quickly. Rather than replacing traditional channels, online service delivery can enhance them to make them more effective.
Online service delivery can mean that more information and services can be made available through traditional and new service outlets. Under this strategy, the Government is committed to ensuring that government information and services of relevance to regional people are available online and easily accessible. Development of content for rural and regional people will support other government initiatives such as the Social Bonus initiatives arising from the sale of the second tranche of Telstra, which aim to improve regional telecommunications and online services.
The Regional Australia Summit, held in November 1999, indicated that there is a widespread lack of awareness of, and access to, government services in regional areas. Summit delegates called on governments to design and deliver programs and services in a more responsive and flexible way, taking into account the unique circumstances of different regional communities. There is a pressing need to develop a more integrated, whole-of-government approach to service delivery in regional Australia.
The Commonwealth Government has committed to maintaining the current level of government services in regional and rural Australia and is considering options for improving the number, spread and variety of points of contact with the Commonwealth Government. It will be important for each point of contact with the Commonwealth, whether it be face-to-face or through technology, to have available to it a consistent and comprehensive collection of information and programs.
The most cost-effective way of achieving this is for an integrated online resource to be available, which would underpin each different type of contact point. The resulting whole-of-government online resource will draw together all Commonwealth information and services for the benefit of people in regional Australia. People in regions could access this resource at Commonwealth offices, State Government Shopfronts, Rural Transaction Centres, through the Government Information Centre, or directly through the Internet or a kiosk. In the longer term, this initiative would integrate State, Territory and local government services.
As part of the implementation of Government Online, particular emphasis will be given to providing a regional emphasis as part of this resource. For example, in devising an interface that enables clients to find information and services relevant to them, particular attention will be given to ensuring that information and services of regional and rural people will be prominent, well organised, and readily accessible.
It is proposed to provide regional, rural and remote Australians access to information specific to their needs through a regional web portal that will consist of an information directory, detailed information about regional programs and services and a community resource centre providing localised information and case study materials.
The Commonwealth will also continue to pilot innovative ways of delivering services to regional and rural people. As part of the Investing for Growth initiatives, a Government Information Centre (GIC) has been established. Initially a telephone call centre, the information directory in use by the GIC is being prepared for online release. This online resource over time will be integrated with the Government's entry points and customer focus channels. The Social Bonus initiative 'Trials In Innovative Government Electronic Regional Services' (TIGERS) aims to extend the GIC, concept by integrating Commonwealth, State and local government services and making them easier to find and to access.
ENHANCE IT INDUSTRY DEVELOPMENT IMPACT OF GOVERNMENT ONLINE INITIATIVES
The OGO progress report on Government Online indicated that the Government is already a major user of online technologies. In a number of areas, such as electronic authentication, government is at the leading edge of developments. The Government's role in the wider information economy will increase further under this strategy. Australian industry will have considerable opportunities to benefit from and contribute to the expansion of Government Online. The Government is committed to ensuring a high level of domestic industry involvement in this strategy.
The Online Action Plans of agencies and the reports of progress against those plans will provide a useful guide to industry about the plans and intentions of agencies, and will better position industry to be involved in Government Online. The Government will draw information from these plans together to provide guidance to industry on whole-of-government directions in the online area. The Government is committed to an ongoing dialogue with industry over emerging opportunities and perspectives.
GOVERNMENT BUSINESS OPERATIONS TO GO ONLINE
Some processes of government are common to all agencies and are particularly well suited to being delivered online. The Government has already committed in Investing for Growth that electronic payment will be established as the normal means for Commonwealth payment by the year 2000.
In conjunction with this Government Online strategy, the Government has released a Commonwealth Electronic Procurement Implementation Strategy, which sets out specific initiatives in this area.
Under the Commonwealth Electronic Implementation Procurement Strategy, the Government commits to moving all appropriate common and routine business processes of agencies either online or to other electronic mechanisms, to maximise the efficiency of these processes for both government and those that deal with government. Government electronic procurement will reinforce the trend towards simplified electronic systems, and will perform an exemplar role.
Specifically, the Government commits to build, in conjunction with agencies, the foundations for online transactions in common government business operations such as procurement and payments, grants and tender processes. The Government will adopt electronic purchasing and payments to the extent that proven technologies allow, with targeted stimulation of supplier involvement to promote government procurement objectives.
This strategy sets the following major goals in the area of Commonwealth electronic purchasing and payments:
- to pay all suppliers to government electronically by the end of 2000, with this facilitated by the issue of electronic remittance advice to all suppliers;
- to deal electronically with all those simple procurement suppliers who wish to by the end of 2001; and
- to conduct 90 per cent of purchase-related transactions with suppliers to government through electronic means by the end of 2001. However, this depends on supplier readiness. The Government will continue to support and facilitate suppliers towards this goal. It will also provide a single supplier registration process to facilitate secure electronic business transactions with the Commonwealth, and facilitate electronic invoice presentation by suppliers to government.
With the introduction of the Government's Shared Systems Suite Initiative and the inclusion of financial management information systems, most agencies now have, and some routinely use, the capacity to transact all elements of payments to suppliers electronically. Furthermore, the banking system has long had the capability to directly credit supplier bank accounts when suitably instructed. Suppliers to government have indicated that the main reason for not moving to electronic payments has been the inadequacy of the current 18-character remittance advice provided by the banking system to reconcile direct entry payments.
Under this strategy, the Government's commitment to electronic payment will be pursued by:
- developing a means of providing standard remittance advice with electronic payments-the key enabler for electronic payment; and
- encouraging suppliers to accept direct credit and provide the necessary bank account details, by using this as a mechanism to ensure accounts are paid on the due-date or on a common due-date.
The initial focus of the electronic purchasing component of this strategy is on simple procurement. The strategy proposes to supplement current purchasing approaches for simple procurement through the use of electronic marketplaces. Electronic marketplaces are essentially electronic catalogues of goods or services hosted on electronic trading networks that link buyers and sellers. Electronic marketplaces are expected to offer agencies more support, greater accountability, and improved statistical information gathering, for simple purchases. It will also provide more flexibility and efficiency for complex purchases. The Government will investigate the preferred option of stimulating existing electronic marketplaces where appropriate, combined with the use of emerging electronic marketplaces.
The capacity for suppliers to deal electronically with government will be determined initially by their existing level of electronic business support systems. Suppliers with sophisticated electronic support systems may wish to transact directly with agencies.
Suppliers with less sophisticated support systems may use electronic marketplaces to deal with government. Simple and free access to government agencies will be maintained.
MONITOR BEST PRACTICE AND PROGRESS
Experience to date has already illustrated the potential for all agencies to benefit from well-documented examples of good practice. In such a dynamic environment as the Internet, if best practice examples of information and service delivery can be quickly identified and disseminated to agencies, it will be possible to accelerate the move of government to the online environment, improve service quality and reduce costs more quickly. The ANAO report highlighted that a lack of knowledge of examples of good practice can be an impediment to an agency looking to move information and services online. Under this strategy, OGO will actively seek out and publicise examples of good practice.
Under this strategy, all agencies will be required to develop and publish an agency Online Action Plan by September 2000. The plan, periodically updated, is to be made available on the agency's website. The plan and associated reporting of progress will allow agencies together with OGO to identify areas of best practice that can be used to provide guidance to other agencies. OGO will also actively seek suitable examples of best practice as part of its role in facilitating the online activities of agencies.
FACILITATE CROSS AGENCY SERVICES
Expanding service delivery to include the online environment will have a number of advantages that are difficult to achieve in the offline world. In the online environment, government services can be packaged and delivered in an integrated manner.
The opportunity exists to package together information and services, which would otherwise be delivered separately-where several services are closely related; where more than one service needs to be utilised when, for example, importing goods; and where information on a particular subject needs to be acquired from more than one agency.
Cross-agency initiatives provide efficiency benefits both for users and for government. A number of examples of cross-agency services already exist. The Business Entry Point (BEP) and the joint clearance system of the Australian Customs Service and the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS) are noteworthy examples.
The Government is committed to identifying additional opportunities for cross-agency online initiatives, through agencies:
- identifying specific areas with potential for joint initiatives with other agencies;
- developing a number of trials of cross-agency initiatives;
- consulting with other agencies when new services are to be launched; and
- facilitating research and information sharing on the technological approaches appropriate to implementing cross-agency initiatives.
The Online Action Plans of agencies and associated reporting of progress discussed under Strategic Priority 1 will also allow OGO, in partnership with other agencies, to identify areas of potential cross-agency collaboration.
Strategic Priority 1 also indicated that OGO in conjunction with lead agencies will facilitate the development of an integrated network of customer focus channels to complement and enhance those focus channels which already exist and the Government's main entry point. It is expected that these customer focus channels will gradually develop to become the main source of cross-agency and high value services to clients.
COMMUNICATE WITH STAKEHOLDERS
The Government is committed to reaching its 2001 online service targets in full consultation with key stakeholders. Key stakeholders include individuals, business and industry, peak bodies, Commonwealth agencies, and other jurisdictions.
The publication of this strategy is an important further step in communicating to stakeholders the Government's commitment and approach to Government Online. This will be followed shortly by agencies' Online Action Plans, by September 2000, which will provide more details about the nature and timing of proposed initiatives. Agencies themselves will consult with their direct clients as part of preparing action plans and in designing services. The Commonwealth will use the regular data collections being provided by agencies to OGO as the basis for providing stakeholders with regular updates on the progress of Government Online.
One key way in which the Commonwealth, through OGO, will communicate with stakeholders is through the recently established GovernmentOnline website. The website will serve as an authoritative source of policy information on the latest developments in Government Online, and will be a clearing house for information on issues involved in bringing Government Online.
The Government will actively promote its online activities in a coordinated fashion to maximise the extent to which clients are aware of, and understand the opportunities provided through, Government Online.
ONLINE INFORMATION SERVICE OBLIGATIONS
All information, including that provided online, should adhere with established Commonwealth frameworks and principles.
Subject to considerations such as privacy, national security and the business interests of third parties, agencies should provide appropriate online information services in the performance of their statutory functions.
Compliance with the following Online Information Service Obligations (OISOs) will ensure agencies provide the public with access to a minimum obligatory standard of completeness of information. While OISOs may be hosted on an agency's website, wherever possible the capabilities of the Internet should be exploited through the principle of storing information once, but linking to this information from multiple sites. For example, legislation is currently available at SCALEplus and can be linked to from any agency's website.
AusInfo, in the Department of Finance and Administration, has policy responsibility for the OISOs and their ongoing development.
- directories of services and organisation, including contact details;
- information needed by the public and organisations to facilitate their understanding of entitlements to government assistance and the requirements of government which affect them;
- legislative information, including bills, acts, treaties, subordinate information, legislative status information, parliamentary timetables and Hansard records, available at LawSearch Online and SCALEplus;
- press releases, speeches and other public information released by ministers, their officers and holders of statutory offices;
- annual reports, corporate strategic plans and other public accountability-type documents;
- reports required to be submitted to Parliament; and
- information about agency powers affecting the public, and manuals and other documents used in decision-making affecting the public.
It is proposed that agencies assure that all new website content falling within these categories be routinely placed online from 1 June 2000.
It will be a matter for agencies to determine the appropriateness of existing documents to be made available, with those being placed online by 1 December 2000.
All new non-commercial publications released by a Minister or agency must be made available online concurrently with other forms of dissemination from 1 June 2000.
All forms for public use must be available online, to be downloaded and/or electronically completed, by 1 December 2000.
AGLS METADATA OBLIGATIONS
An AGLS metadata-based search should effectively deliver the searcher to the appropriate point on a website from which the searcher can then readily follow the site's menu or navigation options to the specific resource they are seeking.
AGLS metadata can be used to describe both online and offline resources. The intention is to use AGLS to make all government services discoverable over the Internet, even if some of those services are not yet accessible over the Internet.
The following categories contain a minimum set of resources for which it is essential to create AGLS metadata in order to comply with the OISOs listed at Annex A:
- home pages (defined as the major entry point to an organisation, and those distinct business units where there is likely to be a public perception that they stand alone as an organisational entity);
- topics/services in high demand by the target community the organisation serves (this can be based on usage statistics but may also include topical or publicised resources with anticipated public interest);
- information required by agency clientele to understand their entitlements to government assistance and the requirements of government that apply to them;
- pages that provide an actual online service to the public (such as a payment, application forms, etc.);
- pages required to meet a prescribed community/legal/service obligation by the organisation;
- entry points to specific online services and indexes (e.g. an entry point to a legal database);
- major formal publications (e.g. annual reports, corporate strategic plans, public policy and accountability documents, etc.);
- media releases;
- major entry points or indexes and menus to a range of closely related topics, programs or policies;
- information about agency powers affecting the public, and manuals and other documents used in decision-making affecting the public; and
- substantial descriptive or marketing information about agencies, their services, activities and collections.
When quality AGLS metadata has been created for all the resources in the categories listed above, and when the content of the agency's website is described by metadata at an appropriate level, the agency can be considered to be AGLS-compliant.
AGLS is maintained by the National Archives of Australia (NAA). The NAA will assist agencies by providing advice on AGLS implementation. Policy and guidelines for the implementation of AGLS are currently being drafted by the NAA. A metadata authoring tool for AGLS metadata will be available to all agencies free of charge as part of this implementation process.
© Commonwealth of Australia 2000
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