Over the past decade the world has become increasingly connected. Internet technologies and products have sped the pace of globalisation. People, businesses and machines can communicate instantly—regardless of physical location. A 2009 report by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) highlights changes and trends in communications technology infrastructure.2 These trends include:
- international developments in compression standards and encoding systems, enabling more effective delivery and efficient use of web-based content
- advances in computer processing power, allowing for the development of higher performance applications
- increased use of cross-platform media through internet protocol (IP)-based streaming to various platforms, meaning content is available instantly and to a multitude of consumers simultaneously
- developments in virtualisation and cloud computing, enabling remote storage and processing resources to be accessed at local levels
- increasingly sophisticated home and community networks linking the activities of daily life through wireless connections.
Additional important infrastructure developments include, but are not limited to, Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), fixed and mobile broadband networks, mobile operating systems and an increasing array of open source software.
Similar advances in the development of web-based software applications, along with the growth in their use, continue to foster 24 hour, go-anywhere connectedness. For example, Facebook has more than one billion active users across the globe3 and the world's 271 million Twitter users send 500 million tweets per day.4 LinkedIn has more than 300 million members across 200 countries5 and, on 16 May 2013, Apple announced that customers had downloaded more than 50 billion unique applications (apps), averaging more than 800 downloads per second.
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows that in 2012–13, 15.4 million Australians (83%) were internet users.6 Young Australians (15 to 17 year olds) were the most likely to use the internet (97%), while older Australians (65 years and older) were the least likely (46%). Social media was one of the most popular uses of the internet with 90% of 15 to 17 year olds and 92% of 18 to 24 year olds engaged in online social activity.
Public sector use of current communications technology
The OECD note that the current use of social media at national governments is largely one of ‘laissez faire’ and experimentation.7 While 26 out of the 34 OECD offices for the head of state or the head of government are on Twitter and 17 of 34 are on Facebook, only a small minority of countries reported they had a dedicated social media strategy (six of the 24 countries responding to the OECD's request for information, including Australia). Both the United States and United Kingdom public sectors employ social media as a function of their digital strategies and to engage and connect with citizens and communities.
The Department of Finance (Finance) website provides a link to an interactive mind map designed to help understand the Australian Government's data initiatives and policies landscape.8 This mind map includes links to digital communications initiatives and policies. For example:
- Australian Public Service Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Strategy 2012–15 www.finance.gov.au/policy-guides-procurement/ict_strategy_2012_2015
- Gov 2.0 Taskforce Report (2009) www.finance.gov.au/publications/gov20taskforcereport
- Declaration of Open Government www.finance.gov.au/blog/2010/07/16/declaration-open-government.
In addition, the Government's E-Government and Digital Economy Policy, released as a pre-election commitment in September 2013, sets out the ‘digital by design’ public service of the future. The policy has a number of key objectives, including9:
- the development of efficient, cost effective, user friendly and personalised online services for citizen interactions
- the development of a digital service standard and a digital service design guide detailing how services will be developed, operated and maintained
- smarter ICT investment strategies and better reporting and accountability of ICT expenditure across government
- the availability of a digital mailbox for all government communications
- greater adoption of shared and cloud services
- improved ICT skills and support for the digital economy
- increased transparency and accountability of ICT projects in the public service through a public dashboard for government ICT performance and a league table of agency performance on online engagement, open data, platform-agnostic service delivery and user satisfaction.
While Finance and the Department of Communications (Communications) have a lead role in realising these objectives, agencies across the public sector are embracing new ways of thinking and employing communications technologies to great effect.
Department of Human Services: myGov
The myGov digital service is a four-year funded initiative (2012–13 to 2015–16) to improve people's access to online services. It is rapidly becoming a critical element of the department's digital service delivery strategy, providing Australians with easy, fast and secure online access to information and services across government agencies.
There are some 2.5 million active myGov accounts, enabling people to do their online business with Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support, the Department of Health (for the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record service), the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
An average of 5,600 new accounts is created daily. Some 100,000 people use the service every day, and this number is growing. Over time myGov will become a cornerstone of government service delivery to individual Australians.
A key aspect of the myGov service is to adopt a ‘known’ or ‘validated’ customer model with an associated user profile. The establishment of the myGov profile enables the name and date of birth of a person to be matched against agency records when they are linking their myGov services.
The profile service enables the person to use the ‘tell us once’ service which allows people to notify myGov of simple changes to their personal circumstances (such as name, address and contact details) and have the information automatically updated to their participating agencies.
Privacy and security matters are at the heart of the design of the service and are the subject of regular discussion between relevant officials involved in the myGov service. Personal information and letters are stored in agency systems and only presented in myGov. This enhances the security of the service by not creating a single repository of data and allowing the agency to maintain control over its customer records.
In 2013–14, 62% of agencies reported they had implemented strategies to move toward comprehensive digital information management systems in accordance with the Australian Government Digital Transition Policy. Twenty-three per cent of agencies reported they had implemented business processes that were fully digital, resulting in no paper records being created. Fifty-four per cent of agencies reported they had addressed an area of weakness identified through agency self-assessments.
2 Australian Communications and Media Authority 2009, Trends in Communications and Media Technology, Applications and Use, Australian Communications and Media Authority, Canberra.
5 LinkedIn, About Us, LinkedIn, Mountain View, California, viewed 10 October
6 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2013, Household Use of Information Technology, Australia, cat. no. 8146.0, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra, viewed 10 October 2014.
7 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 2014, Social Media use by Governments, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, France.
8 Waugh, P 2013, ‘The Government Data Landscape in Australia’, weblog post, 20 October, AGCTO, Department of Finance, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, viewed 19 September 2014, http://www.finance.gov.au/blog/2013/10/26/government-data-landscape-australia.
9 The Coalition 2013, The Coalition's plan for the digital economy & e-Government, Liberal, Barton, ACT, viewed 10 October 2014, http://www.liberal.org.au/latest-news/2013/09/02/coalition%E2%80%99s-plan-digital-economy-e-government. The key objectives have been taken from a recent speech by Chris Dale, Assistant Secretary of the Government Network Services Branch (Finance), to the CeBIT eGovernment Conference 2014; Dale, C 2014, CeBIT speech eGovernment Conference 2014—Opening Speech, Department of Finance, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, viewed 10 October 2014, http://www.finance.gov.au/blog/2014/05/07/cebit-speech-egovernment-conference-2014-opening-speech.