Public service given mobile marching orders

By Julian Bajkowski

Federal agencies and departments have been firmly put on notice by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and Special Minister of State Mark Dreyfus QC that they are expected to waste no time in delivering services to the public on mobile platforms as part of a major shake-up in public service culture.

The two Cabinet ministers today issued Canberra’s official ‘roadmap’ for making the government services, transactions and information mobile device friendly as the bureaucracy grapples with how to cater for millions of Australians who are eschewing desktop computers in favour of iPads, tablet computers and smartphones.

Keeping up with public expectations of how government services should be digitally delivered to them has been a substantial challenge for senior bureaucrats and ministers across all jurisdictions because commercial and corporate adoption of mobile apps has often been much faster than the public sector.

To redress some of the disparity of end-user experience, the recently split Australian Government Information Management Office has delivered a ‘how to guide’ known as the Australian Public Service Mobile Roadmap to help propel many government services to a stage where they can be accessed via a handheld device or tablet.

While the official line from Senator Conroy’s is that the “the Roadmap will help the Australian Public Service (APS) embrace the potential for providing services and information using mobile devices” the realpolitik of the situation is that avenues to wriggle out of mobile service delivery are now being shut-off for public servants.

A key function of the Mobile Roadmap is to underpin the Gillard government’s ‘Digital First’ policy which “requires agencies to make key services available online, including on mobile platforms, by December 2017” according to a statement issued on Wednesday.

“This will help achieve the Government’s target for 80 per cent of Australians to choose to engage with the government online by 2020,” Senator Conroy said.

As the minister in charge of enforcing good housekeeping within the public service, Mr Dreyfus appears as keen as economy class travel champion and Finance Minister Penny Wong to harness technology to extract efficiency increases that helps the bureaucracy do more work with less money.

Mr Dreyfus said mobile services were “not only innovative and easy to use” but would “increase productivity and transform service delivery.”

“As more and more Australians conduct business from the anytime, anywhere convenience of their smartphones and tablets, they expect that same level of access to government services,” Mr Dreyfus said.

Those expectations have also been thumped home in AGIMO’s own Mobile Roadmap document that sets out what actions both it and agencies will have to do by the end of the 2013 calendar year.

In terms of specifics, agencies have been told they will “complete the following actions” before Christmas:

•    identify opportunities to release agency information and services so that they can be consumed by third-party developers to create new services;
•    establish projects to support the use of mobile technology for improved business processes and workplace practices, such as teleworking;
•    contribute their policies, architecture, sample code and lessons learned to the communities of practice for re-use by other agencies; and
•    contribute to the development of a framework of policy, standards and guidance to reduce barriers to, and promote better practice in, the use of mobile technology by APS agencies and their staff.

Although many of the so-called dot-points appear non-controversial, they nonetheless represent a significant challenge to the mindset of many senior and often older public servants, and especially those with little experience outside Microsoft’s standard operating environment which has repeatedly struggled to make a successful leap to mobile.

Weaning the Commonwealth off a decade-long proprietary dependency on Microsoft’s fading products is has gradually become a more pressing concern for technologists as alternatives like Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android that have dominated the consumer mobile market – and therefore community expectations of the overall experience of mobile apps.

The Federal agencies recently broke with years of conservative proprietary orthodoxy to sign on to a Declaration of Open Government and a raft open data initiatives to spur-on innovation and expose agencies to fresh thinking to on how the government’s own information assets can be used to better tailor and deliver services.

Many of those moves were spearheaded by a now two-headed AGIMO which has flourished following a senior restructure by Department of Finance head David Tune .

For its part of the pre-Christmas public service mobile pact, AGIMO says it has committed to:

•    establish and support communities of practice for mobile-enabled service delivery and workplace mobility;
•    facilitate the development of a framework of policy, standards and guidance to reduce barriers and promote better practice in agency use of mobile technology;
•    survey the usability of agency websites and applications for mobile devices;
•    investigate common approaches to remote access services that work across a broad range of mobile devices to better support a more mobile workforce;
•    create a central register of government mobile applications;
•    investigate further application of mobile technology to support the APS Telework goal of 12 per cent of staff regularly teleworking by 2020;
•    work with agencies to identify issues and constraints for the implementation of BYOD; and
•    establish annual reporting to SIGB, under the ICT Strategy, on the adoption of mobile technology by agencies.

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