Saturday, June 30, 2007

Lessons of the London Bombings for Australia

The Australian Attorney General released a report 22 May 2007 "Lessons from London and Considerations for Australia: London Terrorist Attacks 7 July 2005", (St John Ambulance and EMA, ISBN 1921152052 , 2007) . The report was the result of a conference organised by St John Ambulance and is available on the Emergency Management Australia (EMA) web site.

EMA also include the London bombing in their database of disasters. One aspect of the disaster was that it overloaded the ambulance services of London, thus the interest of Australian St John Ambulance in lessons to be learned:
London Ambulance Service reported that they treated approximately 45 patients for critical and serious injuries, including burns, amputations, head, chest and
blast injuries and fractured limbs. Approximately 350 patients were treated for minor injuries such as lacerations, smoke inhalation, shock, cuts and bruises.
Over 100 ambulance vehicles attended the incident and took patients to a number of hospitals including Royal London Hospital, University College Hospital, St Mary’s Hospital and Royal Free Hospital. Patients with
minor injuries were taken to hospital by voluntary aid agency ambulances and public buses.

From: London transport bombings, EMA, 7/7/2005

Some of the points raised in the report are the role of volunteers and the need for better communications. I discussed this in my talk at CeBit on dealing with a bird flu pandemic using the wireless web. The report also questions how well even a major city could cope with a more sustained attack.

Unfortunately the London report will not be as widely read as it should, due to the way EMA formatted and distributed it. The report is only 28 pages long, but has been formatted in PDF with high resolution images, as a result this the document is 2.74 Mbytes, far larger than it need be. Also copying from the report has been disabled, making it difficult to reformat into a more efficient format and to quote from.

One of the lessons of the London bombings is that better communications are needed for disaster management and this invovles the whole community. This is a lesson EMA need to learn and act on in providing information to the public online. The Australian Government Information Management Office have produced a good Government Web Publishing Guide which EMA should implement.

See also "Emergency Web Page Design for Local Government".

Friday, June 29, 2007

Tsumani waring system sending out Spam

A number of national and international Tsunami warning centers around the world issue advice on potential threats via electronic systems. These are being issued via the Internet, web and other modern systems, using the same format previously used for teletype. This may stop the messages being easily interpreted or even received at all.

Before the Internet Tsunami warning centers issued warnings via teletype. Some centers are experimenting with web based formats, with XML machine readable message formats, images and HTML formatting to enhance the message. But the basic warning messages are still being issued in the same text format used for teletypes.

Teletypes have a limited character set and upper case was used for messages. This is still used, even when the message is sent by e-mail or other Internet based system. The result is a message which is harder for the human reader to interpret. In addition a spam filter will interpret the all upper case message as being potential unsolicited mail. These is a risk that the messages will therefore be blocked by a Spam filter.

This problem was reported to the UNESCO interim Indian Ocean System and the
Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), in 2005. An item on it appeared in Computerworld magazine, the same month.

The same problem occurred with a recent Tsunami Bulletin from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre (number 001 issued 0307Z 28 JUN 2007). Spamassassin (a popular open source spam filter) rated the message at 2.7. Wile this is a long way from a rating of definitely being Spam (around 10 on a 0 to 10 scale), it ideally should be zero. Spamassassin's tests applied were: BAYES_40 -0.148, DNS_FROM_RFC_WHOIS 0.6, NO_REAL_NAME 0.961, UPPERCASE_75_100 1.371.

The message being in upper case contributed more than half of the spam rating. While organizations are reluctant to change long established formats for emergency messages, perhaps it is time the tsunami format was changed.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

New Core Body Of Knowledge for the ICT Profession

The Professional Standards Board of the Australian Computer Society have released for comment a discussion paper on a review of the Core Body Of Knowledge for the ICT Profession.

In January the ACS combined its Accreditation, Assessment and Appeals Board and Membership Standards Board into a new Professional Standards (PS) Board. The new Board is reviewing the ACS Core Body of Knowledge (CBOK) by June 2008. The Board has invited comment on the Discussion Paper (details in the paper):
Contents
List of Acronyms
1. Introduction
2. Core Body of Knowledge revision process
3. Defining the ICT/Computing Profession
4. Rationale for the ACS Core Body of Knowledge
5. Current Core Body of Knowledge
6. Some initial common ground
7. Moving forward
8. Remaining issues
9. References
Appendix A Professional Standards Board Membership
Appendix B ACS Qualifications Framework for ICT
Professionals

From: "Redefining And Building The ICT Profession: Core Body Of Knowledge Review", Professional Standards Board , Australian Computer Society, Version 2.0, 21 June 2007
It covers all the right buzzwords:
ACPHIS Australian Council of Professors and Heads of Information Systems
ACS Australian Computer Society
AAIS Australasian Association of Information Systems
AIIA Australian Information Industry Association
AQF Australian Qualifications Framework
CBOK Core Body of Knowledge
CORE Computing Research and Education Association of Australasia
CPP Computer Professional Program (offered by the ACS)
CS Computer Science
EQF European Qualifications Framework
IS Information Systems
IT Information Technology
ICT Information and Communications Technology
IFIP International Federation of Information Processing
PS Professional Standards
SE Software Engineering
SFIA Skills Framework for the Information Age

List of Acronyms from "Redefining And Building The ICT Profession: Core Body Of Knowledge Review", Professional Standards Board , Australian Computer Society, Version 2.0, 21 June 2007
ps: I have an interest in this as I chair the ACS's Professional Development Board.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Sustainable Development for ICT Professionals

Natural Advantage of Nations (Book Cover)Michael Smith took me to task for criticizing his book, "The Natural Advantage of Nations", without having read it. So I borrowed it from the library and here are some more considered comments.

The book is a comprehensive 527 page collection of work by Michael Smith, plus: Amory Lovins, William McDonough, Alan AtKisson, Hunter Lovins, Michael Fairbanks, Karlson Charlie Hargroves. It is in five sections, with 23 chapters. It starts with "The Need for a New Paradigm" and ends with "Achieving Multi-Stakholder Engagement". The chapters are written by different authors, and while there is some repetition, the content holds together well.

The basic argument of the book is that we need a sustainable approach to development and that this will lead to economic prosperity as well as improving the natural environment. This is an argument gaining popular currency and the authors are to be commended for having consistently stuck to their message when it was not fashionable to do so.

The book is worth dipping into to read a few chapters. But I recommend skipping the forwards, and instead reading the introductory chapter of each section and the selecting the areas of most interest.

However, my criticisms of the book remain. It will most likely not be read by technologists, such as ICT practitioners. They could have benefited from the message, but will see this as some sort of political or religious movement, rather than science or engineering. The book has five forwards, as well as a preface and a messianic quote at the front from William H. Murray quoting Goethe. The first forward suggests that we need to tackle not only energy efficiency and reduced materials use, but also international peace.

Sustainable Living For Dummies (Book Cover)The average ICT professional trying to do their job, might be willing to do some work on energy energy reduction or recycling. But if you quote Goethe at them and suggest they need to work on world peace, and they have to read five hundred pages to do it, then they are unlikely to read further. Short and practical advice is needed, along the lines of
Sustainable Living For Dummies, ABC TV's Carbon Cops" and SBS TV's "Ecohouse Challenge".

Michael's Natural Edge Project has also produced materials for twelve lectures of a course on "The Role of Engineering in Sustainable Development", which are available under a Creative Commons License. These are more suitable for ICT professionals (having been written for engineers). The lecture notes are more succinct than the book, but still suffer from an excess of forward matter and the urge to convert the reader to a particular point of view, rather than educate.

That said, exactly how, or if, it is possible to educate professionals from a strict technical and scientific background as to techniques for sustainable development is an open question. Perhaps, to some extent, it is necessary to convince the professionals they need to save the planet, before discussing techniques for doing so. This should make an interesting topic for debate by the ICT Environmental Sustainability Group.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Metadata for Disabled Access to Electronic Documents

The Dublin Core Metadata Initiative is proposing to add a new element "Adaptability Statement" to describe how an electronic document can be accessed by disabled people. This would, for example say if a digital video has closed captions for the deaf, keyboard shortcuts for those who can't use a mouse, or an audio cometary for the blind.
Resources that are made available electronically are often not in a suitable form for users because the users have particular needs resulting from their choice of devices, user agents, circumstances or perhaps a disability. While many of these problems can be adjusted automatically, there are some that can't and, as much as anything, should not be adjusted without input from the user about how they want these adjustments made.

Currently, there is no way for a user to determine if a resource will satisfy their needs, or to allow a system to automatically match a user's specified needs to the characteristics of a resource, in a way that enables all users to access content equally. Metadata descriptions of resources (and a user's needs) can be used to provide the necessary information and the term being proposed aims to facilitate this.

When a resource does not itself have the necessary accessibility characteristics or components, they may nevertheless be available and discovered as the result of a suitable search, in which case they could be assembled into the original resource for the user. Isolated use of the new term is not recommended but its use in combination with other descriptive information should enable the AccessForAll process described. ...

From: Adaptability Statement, Dublin Core Metadata Initiative, 2006-02-23
You can read about the AccessForAll accessibility strategy on the DC Wiki.

Sport, Money, Phones and Politics in the Chinese New Media

The program is out for the 2007 China Media Centre Conference in Brisbane, 5 to 6 July. Somehow I ended up on two panels. The extra one is Friday, 6 July: Globalisation, Ideology and Theory, with Lian Zhu (University of Bournemouth, UK), Terry Flew (Queensland University of Technology), Xin Xin (University of Westminster).

I will be talking on:

Web Site for the 2008 Beijing Olympics: Integrating Sport, Money, Phones and Politics

Balancing the competing demands for the 2008 Olympic web site are as delicate as that of any gymnast. China needs to meet the requirements set down by the International Olympic Committee, the needs of internal readers, and the international media. The Sydney games made tentative steps towards a web based Olympic experience, which Athens retreated from. Beijing 2008 will be the first games of the new Web 2.0 era. How are issues such as control of content handled, what role will mobile phone based content have? Tom Worthington will discuss the issues from the point of view of someone involved with the early planning. He was an expert witness in the Australian Human Rights and Equality Commission on a case involving the Sydney 2000 Olympics web site design. He was invited to Beijing help in planning for the Beijing Olympic web site, with Chinese and International Olympic officials.

The other is Thursday on Re-Imagining Global Media, with Terry Flew, John Hartley and Michael Keane from Queensland University of Technology, Anne-Marie Brady (University of Canterbury, NZ), Jack Qiu (Chinese University Hong Kong). I am talking on "Inventing a New Media for China Beyond the Olympics".

It occurs to me that systems for community consultation in indigenous communities in Australia could also be applied in China. A village and a high rise apartment block are both forms of community which need day to day decisions to be made about them. Perhaps the same web based systems could be used in an Australian rural community and a Shanghai apartment block.


Digital Scholarship in the Age of Googlepedia

Recommended:

Masters of the Bibliographic Universe?:
The Promises and Pitfalls of Digital Scholarship in the Age of Googlepedia

A talk for ALIA URLS to be given by Chris Blackall
Friday, July 6, 2007, 12.30pm
McDonald Room, RG Menzies Library
Australian National University

ABSTRACT: The provision of bibliographic information, and bibliographic instruction, are bread-and-butter issues for most research librarians working with the academic community, but what of the future of bibliography in an era where 'Googlepedia' (Google +Wikipedia) is increasingly used as the first, and sometimes only, step in the information gathering process? In this presentation, I discuss the impact of Googlepedia on bibliographic practices and how some research libraries are creatively responding to bibliographic challenges it poses. In particular, I demonstrate the use of new Web 2.0 bibliographic technologies, such as Zotero [www.zotero.org], that enable academics and students to access, create and exchange bibliographic information to bridge the old and new bibliographic universes.

BIO: Chris Blackall is currently the Development Portfolio Coordinator for the Australian Partnership for Sustainable Repositories (APSR). His academic background is in the humanities, but he has worked in the Australian higher education and research sector since 1990 as an information technology specialist. His current work focuses on improving the interoperability of digital repositories to better serve the Australian higher education and research community. With postgraduate qualifications in curatorial studies, he is also interested in museum informatics and preservation of digital cultural heritage in the context of the new national eResearch infrastructure.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Hybrid Battery Electric High Speed Train Tested

A British HST (High Speed Train) has been modified with a hybrid fuel saving diesel electric system. A video of the train is available. This is significant for Australia as NSW's XPT trains are based on the HST.



ON MAY 3 Hitachi Europe unveiled 'Hayabusa', which it says is Europe's first battery-assisted diesel-electric power car. The hybrid drive has been installed in a British HST power car to allow realistic trials of the prototype technology, which Hitachi and its development partners Brush Traction, Network Rail and Porterbrook Leasing anticipate could reduce fuel consumption by 20%.

From Railway Gazette International, 4 May 2007



Flight Plan for Unmanned Aerial Systems for NATO

Photo of an Australian Aerosonde UAV on JAPCC UAS PageNATO released "The Joint Air Power Competence Centre Flight Plan for Unmanned Aircraft Systems in NATO" (version 5.4, 15 March 2007).

The plan is provided as a 71 page PDF file:
TABLE of CONTENTS

1. Introduction
2. Current and Projected Capabilities
3. What is Needed to Fill the Gaps
4. Problems and Recommendations
Annex A: References
Annex B: Unmanned Aircraft in NATO (Operational)
Annex C: NATO Air Command and Control Systems
Annex D: Unmanned Aircraft Systems Missions
  • Combat Missions
  • C4ISTAR Missions
  • Combat Support Missions
  • Combat Services Support and Civil Missions
Annex E: Acronyms
Annex F: Considerations regarding NATO procurement of its own UAS versus Individual Nations contributing UAS as they are willing and able

From: Flight Plan for Unmanned Aircraft Systems in NATO, Version 5.4, JAPCC, 15 March 2007
The Flight Plan uses the term "Unmanned Aircraft Systems" (UAS), in place of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). This is done to emphasize that the vehicle is only part of an overall system. But introducing a new term is likely to cause confusion.

About half the document is taken up with a catalog of UAVs currently in NATO service. While a useful compendium, it would have been better as a separate document.


There is also a slide show presentation by Oberstlt Jens C. Fehler, from JAPCC, about the plan available online (some slides are marked: "©Univ.-Prof. Dr. habil. Marion A. Weissenberger-Eibl Department of Innovation and Technology Management). The overview covers issues such as: Force Development, Concepts of Operations, Doctrine, Tactics, Techniques and Procedures, Structures, Standards. One issue raised is if the way NATO manages Airborne Early Warning and Control (NAEW&C) will be used as a model for UAS, or will it be left up to each nation. Can what NATO’s does become a commonly accepted standard. Flight Plans remain an issue although a working group was formed to look at it five years ago.

The overview suggests what is needed is to review the use of UAS in NATO, find deficiencies in capability. The aim is one coherent strategy for UAS and situation awareness. The US experience with UAS was used as the model. Issues include: Maintenance, Operators, Training, Payload, Groundstations, Command andControl (C2), Air Traffic Management, Mission Planning/Tasking.

The plan does not appear to address automation of UAS tasks, which would seem an obvious way to address many of the issues. It all NATO does is to take a large number of uncoordinated personnel intensive systems and produce a coordinated even more personnel intensive system, that will not be much of an improvement.

Interestingly JAPCC use a photo of an Australian Aerosonde UAV to illustrate their UAS Page.

Also related is "TRANSFORMING THE FUTURE OF WARFARE: NETWORK-ENABLED CAPABILITIES AND UNMANNED SYSTEMS", 047 STC 07 E , NATO Parliamentary Assembly 2007

Carbon Cops

Carbon Cops LogoABC TV's new environment show "Carbon Cops" starts Tuesday June 26 at 8.00pm. It has a very similar format to SBS TV's "Ecohouse Challenge". Experts visit a typical family and conduct an energy and water use audit, then the family is set the task of reducing use.

These programs are useful for educating the community about enviornmental issues in an entertaining way. But they may give the wrong message: SBS's show first cut off water and power to the households and documented the suffering of the families. At the end they rewarded the families with low water and energy appliances to restore their lifestyle. But many people would not have lasted to the end of the show. The message many people would have got is that energy and water saving is not feasible, rather than seeing that only a small investment and a few changes were needed.

ps: To see how computers and the internet can save the planet, join the new ICT Environmental Sustainability Group.

Internet to Empower Indigenous Communities

Painting: Little Children are Sacred by Heather LaughtonA report on Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse was released by the Northern Territory Government 15 June 2007. The Australian Government has responded by proposing to take control of Aboriginal communities in the NT, restricting welfare payments and brining in outside police and welfare workers. This runs counter to the reports recommendations. Perhaps the Internet and the web can be used to empower the local communities and address some of the issues.

The report found that sexual abuse of Aboriginal children is happening largely because of the breakdown of Aboriginal culture and society and made 97 recommendations to address this.

The report recommended improvements in the Aboriginal education systems, including local language development, to make education more effective for Aboriginal children, education campaigns on child sexual abuse, urgent action to reduce alcohol consumption, an Advice Hotline, improved family support services, introduction of community justice groups and a Commissioner for Children and Young People.

A summary of the report is available online and the full report as one PDF document (6.4 mb). Each section of the report is also available individually:

The Australian Government has responded to the report by stating that the situation is akin to a national emergency and proposing to:

"... introduce widespread alcohol restrictions on Northern Territory Aboriginal land for six months ... ban the sale, the possession, the transportation, the consumption and (introduce the) broader monitoring of take away sales across the Northern Territory...

... medical examinations of all indigenous children in the Northern Territory under the age of 16 ...

... 50 per cent of welfare payments to parents of children in the affected areas and the obligation in relation to that will follow the parent wherever that parent may go ... effectively the arrangements will be that that 50 per cent can only be used for the purchase of food and other essentials ...

... enforce school attendance by linking income support and family assistance payments to school attendance for all people living on Aboriginal land ...

The Commonwealth Government will take control of townships through five year leases ...

There will be an immediate increase in policing levels... We'll be asking each state police service to provide up to 10 officers who'll be sworn as police in the Northern Territory ..."

From:"Joint Press Conference with the Hon Mal Brough,Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Canberra", Interview Transcript, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, 22 June 2007
The Australian Government proposals would appear a high cost, high risk, short term strategy. By taking control away from the local community, this appears to be the opposite to what was recommended in the report and may make the situation worse, rather than better (as well as contrary to Australian law on discrimination).

Perhaps the Internet and the web can be used to address some of the issues, by empowering the local communities. In the joint press conference announcing the Commonwealth's plans, the Prime Minister drew a parallel with the Canberra suburb of Dickson, arguing that if child abuse had occurred there, immediate action would have resulted:
"... if this set of circumstances had been disclosed as taking place in the suburb of Dickson, can you imagine what the local response from police, from medical authorities and from the state government would have been? It would have been horror and immediate action and a demand by the community that something be done. That has not happened in relation to the Northern Territory and we therefore believe that the action I'm about to outline is totally justified and warranted given our overarching responsibilities for the welfare of children throughout Australia. ..."

From:"Joint Press Conference with the Hon Mal Brough,Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Canberra", Interview Transcript, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, 22 June 2007
Drunkenness and violence can occur in any community. As a former resident of Dickson I have seen violent drunken family brawls in the street, requiring police intervention. The PM's suggestion that this only happens in remote aboriginal communities is false. However, the PM has made a valid point: people in a Canberra suburb can be heard much more easily by government, than a geographically remote community. Taking the PM's lead, perhaps the answer is, therefore to give these remote communities a louder voice in government and to the result of the Australian community. The Internet and the Web can provide a way to overcome distance and allow that voice to be heard.

The suburb of Dickson does not rely exclusively on person-to-person communication to get its message across to Government. In November 1996 The Dickson Precinct Community Group was formed as a community consultative group to provide advice to the ACT Government on upgrading facilities in Dickson. As a member, and later chair of the group, I converted the groups newsletters and the master plan prepared for the suburb into a web format. This provided a much higher visibility for the community.

Projects such as the ANU's Bidwern have looked at how social and environmental scientists could work with Indigenous communities to use digital systems for cultural and environmental data. These same technologies could be applied to community planning, addressing social issues and to assisting remotely located government officials and politicians to an understanding of the issues.

dEadly mOb LogoThe Federal Government's Department of Communications, Technology and the Arts (DCITA) e-strategy guide features the Deadly Mob at the Gap Youth Centre in Alice Springs, as an example of creating an online community for young Indigenous people. DCITA also list online collaboration systems such as phbBB, www.wikicities.com, AMP, and CivicSpace.

The internet and the web can be used directly locally for coordinating the provision of services. This can lower the administrative cost of providing such services while also empowering the community. Remote state and federal governments can meet their obligations to ensure appropriate administration by joining with the local community online. Where the remote government fails to listen to the local community, that community can take their concerns to the Australian community directly via the Internet and via the media.

In finding new ways to come together to make local decisions, indigenous communities can teach the broader Australian community better ways to government themselves.

Online systems could be used by the local communities to consult and make decisions. At a meeting of the Canberra Chapter of the Australia India Business Council on Friday, Richard Andrews talked about his report "India's services sector: unlocking opportunity". One comment he made was that online systems made some types of corruption more difficult, by imposing an independent system in the transaction. He was referring to bribery in India, but this technique might be applied in Australia.

If communities use an online system to administer local government, that system can be used to check that the approved procedures are being followed. This might be a way to keep government officials and politicians happy, without having the expense and cultural problems of imposing outside administrators on the local community. This would not be discrimination, as the rules imposed by the system would be the same which apply to local governments across Australia.

The same system could be used to manage upwards: to keep a check on corruption by the central administration and politicians. If each local community can easily compare notes on what the government is up to and report abuses, it will make manipulation of the political system by state and federal governments much more difficult. Promises made by state and federal politicians for resources for local communities could then easily be compared with what those communities actually got. Any discrepancy could then easily be brought to the attention of the broader Australian community.


NOTE: The NT report is entitled "Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle" ("Little Children are Sacred"). The cover design for the report is by Heather Laughton, of Eastern Arrente (Central Australia):
"The design represents the coming together of different people to help tackle the problem of child sexual abuse: mothers, children, grandmothers at a safe place, fathers and grandfathers at a safe place, and in the middle a resource centre with a mentor/counsellor/educator and family members and other support people. The resource centre represents a place where people can come together to work out their problems as a family or as a community, and also to learn how the mainstream law system and Aboriginal law are both strong ways of protecting children."

From: Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse "Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle" ("Little Children are Sacred"), Northern Territory Government, 15 June 2007.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Wikimedia with Advertising

The series of projects I had ANU students do on using the web for museum collections has taken a turn to the commercial. The Semantic Web turned out not to be an idea we could manage to make work any any sort of sensible way (perhaps Microformats would work better). The latest project was to make scholarly publishing more interesting and interactive, by using a Wiki. One spin off was to add advertisng in Wikimedia.

Available are:
  1. Initial presentation
  2. Initial report
  3. Final presentation
  4. Final Report

Inventing a New Media for China Beyond the Olympics

The 2007 China Media Centre Conference is 5 to 6 July in in Brisbane. I will be speaking on "Inventing a New Media for China Beyond the Olympics":
In the past few years the Internet has gone from being a theoretical idea invented by a few western scientists funded by the US Department of Defence, to an essential part of world commerce and culture. Much of the technological infrastructure of the Internet remains the same even with developments such as Web 2.0 However our methods of work and analysis have yet to catch up. The Web created a new wave of grass roots publishing following on from email. The operation of the web for the Beijing Olympics will be the test case both for China, and all organisation structures. Within the Internet has always been the Trojan horse of grass roots participation; with Web 2.0 this will emerge to will challenge traditional power structures world wide.

Cross-disciplinary analysis is needed to understand the interplay of technology, politics and commerce. Media and cultural researchers need to throw off their arms length analysis and embrace the new media in order to understand it.
In 2003 the Beijing 2008 Olympic Committee invited me over to advise on their web site design. Also some of the students I teach web design and e-commerce to are from China. They will be the ones implementing Internet, web and mobile phone based systems which will be the platform for new media in China. One student just completed a special project to modify the Wikimedia to include advertising.



Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Fixing Electronic Record Keeping in the Australian Government

Ross Gibbs, Director General of the National Archives of AustraliaThis morning Ross Gibbs, Director General of the National Archives of Australia launched the course "Systems Approach to Management of Government Information". He said a Management Advisory Committee (MAC) report on study on recordkeeping in the Australian Public Service (APS) will be released "in the very near future". The courses are intended to address the government requirements which will be detailed in the MAC report.

The DG said:
"The clever part of this course will be having people who understand these systems and can create reliable electronic evidence of government processes".
The need for better record keeping has been identified in several Australian National Audit Office reports and by the Australian Public Service Commission's State of the Service Report.

The DG also mentioned Xena, NAA's open source e-document software and their prototype electronic archive. NAA is working on open file formats to be used for long term electronic storage in the archive. It will make their job easier if agencies use open formats and standard metadata to create their documents, so they are easily maintained and transferred to the archive.

I am teaching the ANU units on "Information Architecture for E-Documents" and "Electronic Document Management". As with other units these are adapted from existing university courses, but with an emphasis on practical application to the Australian Government. My bit is not hard to adapt as I already reference the electronic copies of the Government's guidelines and standards. I have been looking at how much of the course should be online and how this would be done. Rather than produce a completely online course, where the students never see anyone, or conventional classroom lectures, it should be possible to blend the best of both approaches.

The launch was at the historic "West Block" behind Old Parliament House, in the same room where the "Advances in Digital Preservation International Working Meeting" was held in2005. That was a memorable occasion as NAA trumped their UK and US colleagues: rather than talk about how e-archiving might be done in the future, they handed out CR-ROMS with free open source software to actually do it.

Spanish hitech ships for Australian Navy

Tenix/Navantia won the contract for three Air Warfare Destroyers and two two Landing Helicopter Dock" (LHD) ships for the Australian Navy. The Cabinet decision will be announced today.
Spanish warship Alvaro de Bazan (F101) is on a sales visit to Australia
The Spanish designed destroyers will be equipped with the Aegis combat system. It is smaller than US ships with this equipment. The Australian ships will use the locally developed radar antenna designed by CEA Technologies in Canberra.

Tenix-Navantia Landing Helicopter Dock Ship Cross Section Diagram

The Landing Helicopter Dock Ships are planned to carry 1000 personnel, six helicopters and 150 vehicles, including the M1A1 Abrams tank. These will replace both HMAS Manoora and HMAS Kanimbla. There will also be new landing craft and communications for the ships. The ships are designed to be small aircraft carriers with a "ski jump" on the flight deck for the AV-8B Harrier II, and may be able to operate the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter. Australia has announced no plans for fixed wing aircraft on the ship, but UAVs could be operated.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Australia India Business Council

The Australia India Business Council (AIBC) are re-launching their Canberra Chapter on Friday, 22nd June, 2007 with a keynote address on the Australian Government’s landmark report “India’s services sector: unlocking opportunity” followed by a cocktail party. If yo would like to attend, contact Wendy Farrell, National Secretariat, Telephone: 03 8862 5213
Email info@aibc.org.au

IT features prominently in the report:
The rapid expansion of Information Technology–Information Technology Enabled Services (IT–ITES) has had a significant impact on the broader Indian economy, by generating substantial export earnings and tax revenue; creating significant numbers of high-quality jobs; and precipitating productivity-enhancing technology diffusion to other industries and the public sector. Despite facing some challenges, IT–ITES looks set to remain a key driver of economic development in India, both as a high-growth and employment-generating sector in its own right, and through its linkages with other sectors.

From: India’s services sector: unlocking opportunity, DFTA, 2007
ALso see my own less analytical report.

New Australian Government Web Publishing Guide

A new Web Publishing Guide has been released for Australian Government (ie: Commonwealth) agencies. This covers legal and policy requirements, as well as accessibility and some technical standards. This consolidates the content of a number of previously separate guides, without adding any new mandatory requirements.

The new guide practices what it preaches with a new clean, efficient XHTML and CSS standards based web site. There is minimal, but effective use of graphics on the web pages, such as the use of arrow icons to indicate external links and tick box icons for mandatory items.

However, some of the guidance is unclear. The accessibility page gives a good overview of issues with access to the web by the disabled. But while the page is marked as as "Mandatory" it does not state exactly which one of the three levels of compliance in the cited W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines is required for government agencies. I would guess it is Level AA (Priority 2). However, in the absence of an explicit statement, some agencies may only meet the far less stringent Level A (Priority 1) of the standard or waste effort unnecessarily trying for Level AAA (Priority 3).

Topics covered:
  1. e-Government Policy
    1. e-Government Strategy 2006
    2. Access and Distribution Strategy 2006
  2. Planning
    1. Planning a Website
    2. Planning Site Retirement
    3. Developing a Business Case
    4. ICT Investment Framework
    5. Governance
    6. Domain Names - Naming Your Site
  3. Types of Sites
    1. Departmental Websites
    2. Ministerial Websites
    3. Intranets
    4. Transactional Websites
    5. Whole-of-Government Websites and Portals
  4. Users
    1. User Needs Analysis
    2. User Testing
    3. Policy Consultation
  5. Marketing
    1. Marketing and Advertising
    2. Service Charters
  6. Visual Design and Branding
    1. Branding
    2. Consistent User Experience
    3. National Symbols
  7. Legal Issues
    1. Copyright and Copyright Notices
    2. Disclaimers
    3. Freedom of Information
    4. Intellectual Property (IP)
    5. Privacy and Privacy Statements
  8. Managing Content
    1. Information Management
    2. Content Management
    3. Content Management System Selection
    4. Content Management System Implementation
  9. Types of Content
    1. Online Content Requirements
    2. Metadata (AGLS)
    3. File Lists
    4. Contracts Disclosure
    5. Spatial Data
  10. Accessibility and Equity
    1. Accessibility
    2. Assistive Technologies
    3. Alternate Formats and Media
  11. Technical Development
    1. Security and Authentication
    2. Information Architecture
    3. Navigation
    4. Search
    5. Forms
    6. Cookies
    7. RSS
  12. Archiving and Preservation
    1. Archiving
    2. Preserving Publications
  13. Maintaining and Evaluating
    1. Maintenance
    2. Consolidation and Closure
    3. Decommissioning
    4. Usage Monitoring and Reporting
Adapted from: Web Publishing Guide, AGIMO, 2007

Australian Government Architecture

The Australian Government Architecture (AGA) team will be launched by the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) 27 June 2007 in Canberra.

The AGA is intended to assist government agencies with consistent online services :
    • Provides a common language for agencies involved in the delivery of cross-agency services;
    • Supports the identification of duplicate, re-usable and sharable services;
    • Provides a basis for the objective review of ICT investment by government; and
    • Enables more cost-effective and timely delivery of ICT services through a repository of standards, principles and templates that assist in the design and delivery of ICT capability and, in turn, business services to citizens.
    From: Australian Government Architecture, AGIMO, 2007
    Version 1.0 was approved 5 April 2007:
    The launch is at12:15 fir 12.30pm, 3rd Floor Conference Room, CA House, 10 National Circuit, Barton, with lunch provided and presentation by Neil Henderson, Australian Government Architecture team. RSVP:ross.mcconnell(a)ca.com

    Designing with Web Standards

    Cover of the book Designing with Web StandardsCame across the very useful looking book "Designing with Web Standards" by Jeffrey Zeldman. He argues that web pages can be designed using XHTML, CSS and ECMAScript and(standardized Javascript)and Document Object Model (DOM) which will look good in most browsers.

    Zeldman avoids the graphical approach to web design, which treats web pages as if they were printed documents. He makes the case that standards will set us free, at least from having to worry about lots of work arounds to make every web page look identical in every web browser.

    Monday, June 18, 2007

    Broadband for Our Broad Land

    The Australian Government announced that the Optus consortium (OPEL) will deploy wireless WiMAX network providing up to 12 Mbps broadband for regional Australia. This is to reach 99% of the Australian population by June 2009.

    There is a web page with a summary of the policy, plus details in:
    The choice of Wi Max is a reasonably safe technical choice. It is likely that some local research and development will be needed to get it to work and will be able to extend the coverage of WiMax in rural areas. Overseas research on wireless has emphasized maximizing bandwidth, whereas Australia needs long range to minimize the cost of base stations. WiMax uses similar technology to the current iBurst service and the Canberra "Longreach" service. In towns at short range mobile units can be used. For longer range out of town a roof mounted antenna may be needed.

    While there is some good content in the policy it has been made less than credible by an over hyped media release, claiming "Australia has now entered into a whole new broadband era with speeds 20 to 40 times faster than those used by most consumers today, with the first Australia Connected broadband network services to be switched on immediately".

    On a more positive note the policy acknowledges that it is not technically or economically feasible to supply the same level of service to all Australians. Sparsely populated regional areas cannot be serviced to the same level as urban areas. The policy envisages 12 megabit per second broadband services to rural and regional townships.

    The selection of 12 megabits per second by mid 2009 is a reasonable achievable target, with more promised later. However, to describe this as "metro-comparable broadband services”" is misleading as by then meto areas will be able to have far faster services (50 mbps or more).

    The Government claims that two proposals are also "on the table" to build an fibre optic network and so there will be "no delay in getting this underway". In reality there are very difficult technical and regulatory issues to be resolved. The two proposals by Telstra and Optus each have their problems and whoever is not selected may tie up the process in appeals and court cases for years.

    Corporate Services System Problems

    The Auditor General for Western Australia has reported problems with a project to bring together corporate services for the whole public service. There is a one page summary and full forty six page report available online.

    The system is supposed to save some of the $315 million spent each year on corporate services and reduce the 5,000 staff. But other such rationalization projects, such as the UK MoD, it has run into problems:

    The Shared Corporate Services Project proposes to transfer financial and human resource transactional functions from individual agencies and bring them together to be delivered by three shared services centres under service level agreements. Significant cost savings, as well as other benefits are expected to flow from the new arrangements. The same opportunities have been recognised and pursued in other jurisdictions and the private sector. ...

    Under the reform model, savings and service benefits would be derived from consolidating staff and services, standardising systems, simplifying business processes and integrating the automation of finance, procurement, and human resource and payroll (HR) processes.

    Much of the success of the reform depends on implementing the computerised system that integrates the three ‘back office’ processes – finance, procurement and HR. The reform plan called for OSS to manage the development of the integrated system, which would eventually be used by all three shared services centres to drive efficiencies.

    Government has already reported that implementation of the shared services reform is delayed and will exceed the $122 million project funding previously endorsed. In November 2006, the project funding was revised to $198 million, and the commencement of full harvesting of annual savings was pushed back from July 2007 to July 2009. ...

    Findings

    • Implementation of the whole-of-government shared services reform is more than two years behind schedule.
    • To date, only two of the three components of the integrated corporate services system have been established – finance and procurement.
    • Successful development of the third component of the integrated system – the human resource component – is under serious threat from a range of technical and management issues. A common integrated system with all three components is a critical element of the shared services reform.
    • The implementation of an electronic document management system has failed at HCN, but is continuing to be implemented at OSS.
    • The implementation problems are creating immediate inefficiencies. One estimate is that the problems are costing $400 000 per month at OSS alone. The inefficiencies include:
      • Agencies are rolling-in to OSS on just the two delivered components. This has required OSS to operate separate human resource systems for each agency using the agency’s existing system
      • HCN is running multiple instances of its human resource system, and manually handling large volumes of paperwork due to the lack of an electronic records management system
      • ETSSC is proposing to enhance its existing financial and human resource systems.
    • The temporary solutions to the implementation problems will reduce the intended benefits of reform if they become permanent.
    • The temporary solutions have not been based on analysis of benefits and costs to the whole-of-government shared services reform.
    • Some aspects of shared services have been implemented successfully. HCN and ETSSC have substantially met the implementation schedules set out in their own business plans.
    • The shared services reform model was ambitious and high risk. However, the governance arrangements were inadequate. Although they provided across agency consultation, they did not provide active oversight and management.
    • There are multiple reasons for the implementation problems, including:
      • weaknesses in project management leading to uncertainty for agencies
      • the increasingly complex software development requirements
      • high turnover of key contractor staff and skill shortages within agencies.
    • New governance arrangements were established in January 2007. These arrangements aim to improve performance and accountability by allocating clear responsibility for the whole-of-government reform to the Under Treasurer.
    • There is still little coordination between the three shared services centres.
    • There has been little transparency of performance information and this is likely to continue.
    • Government has allocated $198 million for the shared services reform to 2008-09. This is $20 million more than reported to Parliament last November.
    • The project budget does not include individual agency contributions, the total of which is unknown but likely to be in the millions of dollars.
    • The additional agency contributions, if received as supplementary funding from government, will reduce returns from the shared services project.
    • DTF is planning to provide a re-cast business case to the Expenditure Review Committee in October 2007. It will include a revised project budget and forecast returns.
    • DTF has refunded to agencies $19 million of the $34 million harvested savings in 2006-07.

    From: Shared Services Reform: A Work in Progress, Report No 5 - June 2007, Executive Summary

    Friday, June 15, 2007

    ICT Environmental Sustainability Group

    This is to invite those with an interest in Environmental Sustainability, Information Technology, Telecommunications and to help form an ICT Environmental Sustainability Group. You are welcome to read the group's interim web site. If you would like to support the group's formation, then select "Login" on the top right of the screen and then "Create New Account". You will then be able to joint the online forums of the group's activities.

    The Group is being formed under the rules of the Australian Computer Society as a Special Interest Group. The group aims to hold joint meetings with other professional bodies interested in technology, the environment and sustainability. It plans to undertake "grass roots" activities to assist working computer professionals with creating a greener workplace. This includes simple tips to reduce energy consumption of desktop computers and servers. It is also planned to have input to sustainable development policy creation by professionals bodies and course for professionals. Issues include energy use and materials recycling schemes.

    I have set up a web site for the group on the same system used by the ACS's Computer Professional Education Program. The ACS might later offer some formal courses on ICT and the environment. But at this stage things are relatively informal. Most of the content for the web site comes from items collected from my Blog. Contributions are welcome.

    Tuesday, June 12, 2007

    Influenza Pandemic Exercise Report Available

    A 72 page report on the 2006 Australian National Pandemic Influenza Exercise is available online from the federal government. Anyone interested in how to deal with a pandemic, or with how to conduct an exercise for a major disaster should read it.

    "Exercise Cumpston 06: National Pandemic Influenza Exercise Report", Department of Health and Ageing, Office of Health Protection, , Australian Government, 2007 is available as a 493 kbyte PDF document. A HTML version is promised on the web site.

    Below I have picked out some of the report's findings and recommendations related to ICT, Internet and the Web. In 2005 and I talked at a conference in 2006 using the wireless web and podcasting in a pandemic. Some of those techniques might be used to address problems found in the exercise.

    Use open source systems for pandemic?

    It appears that Australian agencies have built their own web based systems:
    • Health Alert Network (HAN)
    • NetEpi web based outbreak reporting and management system, and
    • An unnamed exercise management system.
    Problems were experienced with all of these during the excise. Such systems will rarely be used by most of their intended users and will only rarely be exercised. There development and operation are expensive and problematic. In addition these systems will be of little value if other countries have no such systems and thus have unmanaged outbreaks of influenza.

    It may make better use of resources if DoHA was to release these systems as open source software and make them available for global use, particularly by developing nations. The Sahana Disaster Management System provides an award winning example of this approach. An Australian Government example of open source development is the National Archives of Australia's Xena electronic archiving software.

    As well as pooling expertise and making a system available for third world nations, building an open source system would have advantages for design. This would place a discipline on developers that the system would have to be very simple to use, efficient, easy to understand and very compliant with widely used standards.

    Excepts from 2006 Australian National Pandemic Influenza Exercise Report

    Recommendation 3: Health electronic communications systems, including the Health Alert Network and the Department of Health and Ageing website, need to be further developed and exercised.

    Page 31:

    5.2.4 Information and communications technology

    A number of information and communications technology (ICT) systems were utilised for information collection and dissemination, including a new secure information sharing network currently under development by DoHA, the Health Alert Network (HAN). This system encountered 'bedding-down' problems, and was new to many users. Lack of familiarity caused a degree of distrust in the system, and to compensate, duplicate systems were used (for example, the same message sent out on normal e-mail and HAN). As a result there was considerable overlap and information overload.

    While many users were comfortable with HAN, others complained that the system was not intuitive, that it was cumbersome to use, and that response times were slow. It was apparent that user expectations were not being met, and that training and familiarisation was inadequate. Specific problems encountered with HAN included:
    • unacceptable delays incurred in the distribution of alerts;
    • alerts not indicating the priority of the content; and
    • the system not allowing multiple addressing.
    A secure system is always going to be more difficult to access and use than an unclassified one. It may be necessary to consider a more limited range of uses for HAN or improve its functionality so that it can complement other systems, particularly e-mail.

    Rationalisation of information systems and methods is necessary, as is appropriate training to ensure familiarity with their use. HAN is part of the Biosecurity Surveillance System being developed by DoHA, which is further discussed in Section 5.4.3.

    The main activity also identified ICT issues relating to the DoHA exercise website that hindered rapid communication among participants. The password-protected website designed for exercise play performed poorly. There were delays, caused by technical problems, of up to several hours in posting materials onto the website, which led to information vacuums at critical points of the response. This caused confusion among participants and pseudo media throughout the main activity.

    The main activity reinforced DoHA's need to re-examine the robustness of its IT systems in handling the large volumes of visitors to its website that could be expected during a pandemic. DoHA also needs to examine its website capacity for the downloading of vision and sound files that would be critical in ensuring the media is well served.

    Page 37:

    Information was available for the public and health care workers online, but its existence and how to access it were not well promoted to the public via the pseudo media. Rural and remote communities may have limited access to the Internet and this medium should not be relied upon as the sole means of disseminating public information. There was no information available targeted to Indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) populations.

    Page 41:

    5.4.3 ICT infrastructure for surveillance

    State and territory health departments collected information on cases and their contacts using nationally agreed definitions developed by the CDNA. This information was entered into a single point: a web based outbreak reporting and management system called NetEpi.

    While the version of NetEpi maintained by DoHA is an interim system only (with recognised limitations), there were nevertheless criticisms and a lack of national consistency in its use, particularly in relation to data entry and the format of data fields. It should be noted that the version of NetEpi used was not the most current version and subsequent versions have addressed a number of the ICT limitations identified in the main activity. It is essential that there is national agreement in regard to data collection for any web based ICT system to be used effectively for national data collection.

    In addition to the use of NetEpi, jurisdictions were encouraged to update the NIR via telephone in regard to critical events, for example, confirmation of cases or deaths. While NetEpi was generally updated within several hours, at some stages there were inevitable discrepancies between current jurisdictional reports at teleconferences, and the NIR reports, which were also delayed at times by clearance processes. In a rapidly changing environment these discrepancies are unavoidable. Criticism of this could be tempered by agreed regular reporting timeframe, so that national data are current up to a determined point, with acknowledgement that individual jurisdictions may hold more up-to-date information.

    DoHA is currently improving the infrastructure of national communicable disease surveillance systems. The Biosecurity Surveillance System (BSS) is being developed to provide a more effective and comprehensive surveillance system. Components include enhancement of both HAN (Section 5.2.4 refers) and NetEpi. The lessons learned during Cumpston 06 should be applied in the BSS development.

    Page 54:

    Recommendation 10: General practitioners, community pharmacies and other primary care providers need to be better integrated into detailed plans at national and jurisdictional level. To achieve this: (a) the role of general practitioners, pharmacists and other primary care providers needs to be clarified in preparedness plans following consultation with providers; and (b) the primary care annex of the Australian Health Management Plan for Pandemic Influenza should be published on the Department of Health and Ageing web as a priority.
    The "Australian Health Management Plan for Pandemic Influenza" is at:

    Launch of Systems Approach to Government IM

    The course "Systems Approach to Management of Government Information" course which is being offered by the ANU later in 2007. There will be a launch of the course on 20 June in Canberra.

    I am providing Module 2 of the course: "Electronic Document Management" and have been agonizing about the issues of how to turn what I teach computer science students into something suitable for industry, in this Blog.

    All those with an interest in information management in government agencies are welcome to attend the launch:

    What: Launch of the Systems Approach to Management of Government Information (SATOMGI) course

    When: Wednesday 20th June 2007 Where: Menzies Room, The National Archives of Australia Time: 10.15 for 10.30am

    Why attend?

    Human Resource Managers, career advisers and other senior administrators involved in the professional development of key personnel in the public sector will learn how they can assist people in government agencies to acquire the critical skills they need to manage government information and records that keeps pace with international trends, and increasing technological change.

    Records Managers and Information Management professionals interested in developing and improving their skills would also find this event of interest.

    What does this new program have to offer?

    These postgraduate short courses are designed for senior executives, senior and middle managers, chief information officers, IT systems managers, records managers and information managers, as well as senior administrative personnel to help them to:
    • lead organisational thinking for the strategic and technological management of materials;
    • plan, organize and control the implementation of a systems based approach to this management.
    Presenters: Mr Ross Gibbs, Director General of the National Archives of Australia Dr Zbigniew Stachurski, Director, ANU Centre for Science and Engineering of Materials

    This event is jointly hosted by ANU and the National Archives of Australia and ANU and NAA staff will be available during the event to answer your questions. Morning tea will be served from 11.00am to 11.30am.

    RSVP Online only by Friday 15th June 2007 for catering purposes. <https://apollo.anu.edu.au/default.asp?pid=2151>

    Heather McEwen
    Marketing Manager
    ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science
    The Australian National University
    Canberra ACT 0200
    T: + 61 2 6125 6601
    W: http://cecs.anu.edu.au

    Monday, June 11, 2007

    Research-led Education

    Peter Strazdins presented a seminar on "Research-Based Education in Computer Science" at the Australian National Unviersity in Canberra, 4 June 2007. He went through some definitions of what "research-led" education and "research-based" education are . This was about using educational research results to produce better courses, using research in the subject area (computer science) in courses and in having students gain experience in undertaking research.

    Marketing also got a mention: there can be conflicts between what makes a course sound good and what the students actually want to do. Mentioning research in marketing a university increases its reputation and attracts students. But most of those students do not want to be researcher. Even for those students interested in research, the amount they can do in an undergraduate course is limited.

    It occurred to me that many of these contradictions could be answered by broadening the definition of research. It makes little sense to teach undergraduates to conduct the sort of research a PHD postgraduate would do, and almost none of them want to or will go on to do this. But any ICT job is going to need research skills. This could be evaluating products, optimizing a system or working out what the customers want. These are all valid areas for research and valuable skills for the workplace.

    The notes from the first of Peter's seminars: "A Survey of 'Best Practice' in Computer Science Teaching" is also available online.

    Saturday, June 09, 2007

    Web and Internet for Emergencies in NSW

    I happen to be in New South Wales this weekend, which is experiencing violent storms. So I produced some tips on "Emergency Web Page Design for Local Government".

    Some weeks ago I conducted a writing for the web course for local government staff near Newcastle, where the storms have been worst. One thing I suggested was that each local authority should have a permanent link on their home page labelled "Emergency" or "Emergency Services". This would go to a permanent page with links to national, state and local contacts.

    The idea is to give the emergency phone numbers first but also give links to background information. Many people do not need immediate emergency help, but want reassurance, to know what is going on, or want to offer help. Having web links allows people to find out answers to routine questions without having to tie up the emergency phone lines by calling.

    Web pages for emergencies should minimize the use of graphics and dynamic content, to speed up loading and readability. One exception is to have the logo of the organization on the top left side of the page, to give the page authority (this is based on research carried out by one of my students). See "E-government for emergencies".

    If emergency centers are being established the Sahana disaster management software may be of use. The latest stable version 0.4 for Linux and Windows XP. This system was developed with the assistance of the Australian Computer Soceity.

    Hope everyone is well in the current storms. If I can be of help to non-government or local, state or federal agencies I can be contacted.

    Thursday, June 07, 2007

    $199 Mobile Internet Device

    ASUS Eee PCAsus have announced the $US199 "Eee PC". This is a diskless B5 size subnotebook PC. It is similar to the Palm Foleo mobile companion announced a few days ago. The Eee PC looks a more viable product, but it is not clear there is a market for any of these Mobile Internet Device web terminals.
    EeePC 701 Specification

    Display:7"
    CPU & Chipset: Intel mobile CPU & chipset
    OS: Linux/ Microsoft Windows XP compatible
    Communication: 10/100 Mbps Ethernet; 56K modem
    WLAN: WiFi 802.11b/g
    Graphic: Intel UMA
    Memory: 512MB, DDR2-400
    Storage: 4/ 8/ 16GB Flash
    Webcam: 300K pixel video camera
    Audio: Hi-Definition Audio CODEC; Built-in stereo speaker; Built-in microphone
    Battery Life: 3hrs (4 cells: 5200mAh, 2S2P)
    Dimension & Weight: 22.5 x 16.5 x 2.1~3.5cm, 0.89kg

    From: ASUS Introduces All-New Eee PC for Complete Mobile Internet Enjoyment, Asus, 2007

    Zeos Palmtop PCThe ASUS unit is in price, size and concept very similar to the
    Sphere/Zeos Palm Top PC I traveled around Europe with in 1994 and the OLPC computer. But they are twice as large as the educational computers currently in widespread use. If priced low they could make a useful replacement for a desktop PC, laptop or PDA. But they may be too small to replace a laptop and too big to replace a PDA.

    For those needing occasional, trouble free web access at home, this might provide a useful alternative to a PC. This could also be used for business travelers who have wireless broadband access and an organization with a web based suite of office applications, such as Google Apps.

    The ASUS unit appears to have a case designed for a 9 or 10" wide screen, but with a smaller 3:4 screen installed (presumably to lower the cost).
    The TWINHEAD 10D/Averatec AV1020-ED1 Notebook PC has a similar case, but a 10.6" wide screen. The Twinhead system costs about $1,700, or about ten time the projected price of the ASUS, but as well as a larger wide screen, it also has a hard disk drive, DVD drive and (presumably) a faster processor.

    Wednesday, June 06, 2007

    Online Collaboration for Government

    Denise Holehouse, from Microsoft presented "Creating Business Value through Better Collaboration" to the ACS Canberra branch on Tuesday:

    The world is becoming more interconnected and organizations that want to succeed in this new environment need to become more connected as well. This is not simply an information technology (IT) architecture issue, but a challenge to individuals, teams, government, businesses, and the wider world:

    How can we work together better?

    How can we pool our knowledge to improve results?

    How can we make processes more efficient, while delivering personal care and service when it matters most?

    How can we manage the flood of information that’s overflowing our inboxes, our mobile phones, and our lives? ...
    Denise concentrated on aspects likely to be most of interest to an audience of government ICT people (A show of hand indicated three quarters of the audience were from government agencies). She showed a slide illistrating some of the issues for government, including consultation and collaboration.

    She then showed a short video which saw a spoof of the film The Devil Wears Prada. This had people in an office quickly organizing a video conference, interacting using computer and phones and using technologies such as voice recognition.

    Clearly none of the technologies Microsoft was illistrating in the video, or offering, are new. Collaboration tools, including desktop video are already available, including open source free versions. What Microsoft were claiming is that all the technologies can be combined together and made easy to operate. Microsoft Office 2007 includes interface features such as
    "The Ribbon" and Contextual Tabs.

    One interesting development is that Microsoft have acquired Groove, and incorporated it in Office:
    At its most basic level, Groove is desktop software designed to facilitate collaboration and communication among small groups. It is a Windows-based commercial product initially developed by Lotus Notes creator Ray Ozzie (former CEO of Iris Associates). The central Groove paradigm is the shared workspace, a set of files to be shared plus some aids for group collaboration. ...

    From: Microsoft Office Groove, Wikipdedia, 16:23, 27 April 2007
    In incorporating new collaboration features and making its existing Microsoft Office product easier to operate, Microsoft is not so much competing with other companies, as with itself and with the web. The most commonly used office product is Microsoft Office. So to convince customers to use the new easier to use version, Microsoft must convince customers to stop using the old version.

    If Microsoft pushes the customers too hard, they may decide to move from their current version of Microsoft Office to something like OpenOffice.Org. This is a free open source product. It may not be as powerful, or as easy to use, as Microsoft Office 2007, but will look familiar and be adequate for most office tasks (and more than enough for home use).

    Open Format Wars

    Denise mentioned in her talk that Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) format has been adopted as a standard by the European body ECMA. This is a respected standards body and gives the new format some credibility (ECMA have also submitted the OOXML to ISO to make it an International Standard).

    But it should be noted that OOXML is a new format and the formats used by the old versions of Microsoft Office (such as .DOC for word processing) are not part of the standard. Conversion tools will be needed for the old packages to read and write the new format.

    OOXML is a Zipped XML format and is conceptually similar to the OpenDocument (ODF) format used by OpenOffice.Org and some other open source packages. But ODF is already an International Standard (ISO/IEC 26300:2006) and is much smaller and simpler than OOXML.

    It is likely that the old Microsoft Office formats will continue to be used for day to day work. New application needing good integration will likely use some XML based format. But newer versions of XHTML are likely to be a better format to use than OOXML or ODF for most word processing documents.

    What is likely is that simpler XML formats which can be directly displayed by a web browser will be used for publishing and interchange. These formats will be converted to the new package formats (and legacy Microsoft Office formats) only when the documents need to be edited. Applications such as ICE already take this approach, allow publishing of large, complex documents from Microsoft Word into print, web and PDF formats. Microsoft has similar features in its software.

    Twenty first Century Collaboration On Web 2.0?

    The competition for Microsoft's collaboration tools is not a particular product or company, but is Web based applications and the so called "Web 2.0". Microsoft is emphasizing traditional collaboration tools, such as automated workflow and support for meetings. If you ask, they will tell you they support web applications and Web 2.0, but they do not emphasize it as it is likely to worry traditional corporate customers.

    Staff who are used to wikis, blogs and the like socially will want to use these tools to do their work. The idea that they have to use rigid workflow processes to move a form around the office electronically, or have to use a rigid meeting structure online will seem so "last century". These staff will want to get the work done online now, using the tools directly to do the work. If the tools are not available from the software on their PC, they will turn to the web for tools. These staff may not even realize that the Microsoft software they have on their desktop is capable of providing these functions, but that the corporate IT area has disabled access to it. The staff will just see Microsoft as providing last century applications and look elsewhere.

    If collaboration is being done directly online, the most natural way is with software on a web server and a web browser on the desktop. An organization only needs one copy of the collaboration software on their server. They can even outsource the server to someone else. They don't need any special software on their PCs, as any compatible web browser using any operating system will do. In fact the organization does not need any PCs: they could use thin client terminals (most likely running Linux). Mobile staff many not need a desktop at all and can use the web on a smartphone running any operating system with a compatible browser.

    Throw out your PCs and Workflow Systems

    Organizations looking to upgrade their office and collaboration tools need to seriously look at the options. It may be time to throw out the desktop applications and perhaps the PCs for most users. This will greatly reduce the support costs, as the minimal software on a thin client will take little maintenance. With no disk drives and no data stored on the desktop, security will also be improved. For some offices the organization could just have a router with terminals and no servers at all: everything would operate over a secure Internet connection from a remote location.

    Organizations need to take a long hard look at their work practices as well. As an example, government agencies which produce large traditionally formatted documents should look at why they are doing this. Few people want to read these big documents and almost no one reads them in print. If the document is going to end up being a collection of web pages, it makes no sense to use a word processor, or any traditional typesetting tools, to create it.

    The traditional approach to creating a government report would be to circulate a request for input, collect contributions, collate a draft in the word processor, circualte it for comment, make revisions, typeset, print and then create a web version. An alternative would be to create a Wiki which allows any authorized staff member to edit. The coordinator would prepare the outline of the document as a series of pages in the Wiki and check contributions. But rather than approve contributions in advance, and have meetings about what should be in the report, the editor would check what was in and join the online conversation about it.
    Most of the workflow and meetings are then not needed, nor is software needed to support them.

    A more radical approach would be to also invite external stakeholders to also edit the report, or even the general public (I have used the approach in preparing ICT industry contributions to government which later became public policy). This would get government out a rapidly building problem: online consultation. The availability of the web has created an expectation that the public will be consulted by government, but the traditional approach of inviting submissions and taking comment will not scale.

    ps: Microsoft offer a paper
    "Creating Business Value through Better Collaboration" on their Australian teams web site. However, when I attempted to download it I got "Sorry, there is no microsoft.com/australia/ web page matching your request".