Thursday, March 27, 2008

Secure Web Collaboration Across Government and Industry

The March Canberra WIPA/WSG meeting, today discussed government use of web based collaboration, including for sensitive matters at Cabinet level.

Brian Stonebridge, Department Finance and Deregulation
Topic 1: GovDex: a tool to support collaboration across government agencies

Brian Stonebridge talked about how to invest in ICT facilities which did not need to be kept adding to respond to government policy. The particular example was GovDex. A five nation collaboration workspace was demonstrated. This provides support for meetings between governments. Another example was support for the Australian Government ICT Standrads Group. One hot topic this is being used for is to establish the Australian Government position on OOXML (a position has been decided, but not released). Another demonstration was for communicating to new graduate staff. GovDex is secured to IN-CONFIDENCE level of security (PROTECTED cabinet level security and video is planned for GovDex 2).

My first thought was that the tools demonstrated would appear primitive to a group of teenagers organizing their social lives: Surely the Australian Government has something more advanced? Some of the discussion seemed very quaint and last century, for example pointing out that not all graduates may be working in Canberra and the Internet could be used to contact them. In the 21st Century the assumption that staff would be in a particular city, seems an odd one. I would have thought that a 21st century organization would make no assumptions as to where in the world there staff were working from. But the use of such tools need to be learned and also the government's security and public policy issues are difficult ones which most users do not face.

AGIMO is taking a gradual approach of fitting the tools into the usual bureaucratic processes. Ultimately this approach will not work: the processes will need to be changed to improve productivity. The main value of GovDex and similar tools will ultimately come from facilitating the change in these processes.

While I have been a registered GovDex user for some time (they let government consultants in), this talk was still very useful for me. I had the impression that GovDex was just for computer projects. Brian pointed out it can be used for any government project which needs secure collaboration. An example of this is that in the morning I was asked how a wiki could be provided to support the Australian Government's Review of the National Innovation System. My immediate reaction was to say "you can't do that, bureaucrats are not allowed to use wikis" (altought I teach them how to in an ANU course). But GovDex should be ideal for this providing the needed collaboration, but within a structure which supports the needs of government policy development.

Michele Huston, National Library of Australia
Topic 2: Wikis at work

Michele Huston talked about how wikis work in practice, with people initially experimenting and then settling down to organize their information. She discussed problems with the technology, including the editor. She suggested the simple editor has advantages in encouraging people to use simple designs (and at least having to work with wiki markup).

She pointed out a wiki is not intended as an archive, publishing work flow, secure documents or for blogging. These should rightly be done with other tools, although they can be interfaced.

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