Science or Fiction: ICT in the future of government service delivery

John Sheridan - CIO & CISO
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Last week, I spoke to the FutureGov conference in Canberra about government service delivery, in particular, the role in that delivery of ICT. Rightly, much is made of the advantages ICT can bring to this and other aspects of modern government. However, as Dr Francis Collins of the Human Genome project observed, we tend to overestimate the short term impact of technology and underestimate the long term impact. Some things about the future are quite sure (and, foolishly as it turns out, at this stage I made a prediction about the Rugby World Cup). Others are not. My presentation touched on several of these: mobility, simplicity, security, privacy, social media, ubiquity and accessibility.

I noted the growth in mobile connectivity within Australia where smartphone penetration had reached 35% of online Australians. The need for simplicity is also clear. Online attention spans are low, common interfaces are preferred and even Google makes a point of not setting out to create feature rich products. Security concerns remain pressing, as evidenced by the just launched discussion paper on cyber security.

Privacy is the counterpart of security and is equally important in the design and delivery of online services. In Finance's work with agencies on the 'Tell Us Once' technical pilot, we are being careful to ensure that the privacy of citizens is assured. One of the design factors is that information can only be shared between agencies at the express request of the citizen involved.

Reusing the infographic I created for an earlier presentation, I discussed the growth of social media approaches across government. While there is still away to go, such approaches are now regularly discussed as part of new policy proposals. Despite being increasingly common, such references don't yet mirror the ubiquitous nature that is now required of government services. People expect such services to be always on and available everywhere. In the future, the need for device independence, open source and multi-lingual capability will also become mandatory. Such applications could well be supported by cloud computing. I mused that in developing the cloud, the industry was relying too much on private cloud arrangements and not exploring sufficiently the possibility of using cryptography to make the public cloud secure.

Finally, government services will continue to need to be accessible to all those who need them, online or off. The requirements of the National Transition Strategy to WCAG 2.0 will guide online accessibility but we can't forget to support those on the wrong side of the digital divide.

I finished the talk as I started – with a quote. While encouraging those responsible for online service delivery to pursue innovation, I warned of the challenges of pursuing government directed research. The quote, which I heard on “The West Wing” was attributed to Samuel Broder, former director of the US National Cancer Institute. He is quoted as saying “If it was up to [government] to cure polio through a centrally directed program instead of an independent investigator driven discovery, you’d have the best iron lung in the world, but not a polio vaccine.” In government ICT, we need to keep up with the technology – not try to tell it where to go.

The slides from my talk are attached below. As always, your comments are welcome.


Presentation Slides

Comments (3)

Hi John,

Just catching up with how things look in and it's cloudy world. I see that is a private cloud now, is that right? Or at least that has the keys to the domain.

I'm not sure if you're thinking in terms of WAYF, so far a getting some federated services shared across governments.

Regardless, one of things I'd be interested in is whether AGIMO is looking at being an identity provider or are you just going to offer/broker services

Super post, John. This question of how far and how fast to go in "keeping up" is vexing. I suspect, a bit like the initial quote on misreading the impact of technology, the sweet spot is not as far and as fast as many outside government would like, and much further and faster than many in government can handle. And you, of course, sit in the middle of that tension (but then again, I suspect you already knew that:)

Kevin Kelly in his What Technology Wants thesis (which is superb, I think, if a little out there at times) notes:

"Someday we might meet other intelligencies in the galaxies. But long before then we will manufacture millions of new kinds of minds in our own world…First, insinuate intelligence into all matter. Second, bring all those embedded minds together. Third, increase the diversity of minds."

His point is that increasingly happens at a scale, pace and intensity that is not susceptible to the kinds of nuanced control and direction that we have come to assume is both possible and desirable.

Hi John,

Hey, 'm just using the inhouse terminology. P.31.

Makes no difference to me. I prefer to call this stuff "shared services". is just starting to look like the beginnings of a public cloud to me. But we can forget the terminology. It's just a place where, sooner or later, silo dwellers, inside and outside the domains, can get together and speak like common citizens.

The only question is how we might be able to open up the echo chambers. I've made one suggestion. That's an attempt to give the domain a profile "by alignment" i.e. Link the 2nd & third level domains. (e.g and But so far as developing a theme and looking at a place where we might look past AGIMO's focus on the immediate policy making, could we give some consideration as to how we develop this network.

The WAYF model might look a bit new. But all the NRENs tend to use it as the way they share (federated) services between institutions. There's no reason that .govspace services couldn't use their security method to give 3 levels of gov servants comfort - that govspace is "on the inside". i.e. Users can use their institutional credentials.

Re: Can you give us an idea of how many people are registered, have associated their accounts and use it regularly? Or point me at someone who can. I've got my prejudices and am hoping you can prove that it has achieved, for citizens, what it was intended to do. Regardless I think, if the interface can be made intuitive, it might help turn a 'mechanism' into a 'service'.

Last updated: 01 August 2016