The Internet and continuing online developments offer the Australian federal government the opportunity to transform its dream of a unified information management strategy into reality, according to a new report.
Apart from significant cost savings, a unified information management strategy would pay an additional customer service premium by enabling the delivery of a genuine single interface to the public.
The preliminary report, "Management of government information as a national strategic resource", was compiled by an information management steering committee, whose members are drawn from a large number of departments. To promote greater co-operation, the report recommends that each agency appoint its own CIO who would be accountable for the delivery and implementation of the information management plan. Given the strategic nature of this role, it is unlikely the position would be outsourced, says a government spokesman.
According to Eric Wainwright, deputy director general of the National Library of Australia (which is the lead agency in the information management project), "technically, it wasn't feasible in the past because we didn't really have any way of getting widespread access to information across agencies. Even within the large departments it has traditionally been difficult for everyone to get access to all the sources of information that would benefit them.
"However, the rise of online information sources and then particularly the means of getting access to online sources through the Internet and through networking in general, allows us to provide information wherever it needs to be."
Technically, says Wainwright, it should be no more difficult for someone in a government agency in Western Australia to get access to the information they need from Canberra, than it is for someone in a Canberra-based agency.
The report strongly argues that in many areas, the government needs to adopt a much smarter approach to information management.
"Unnecessary duplication can be avoided and common standards can reduce transaction costs and difficulties. This requires not just the technology but also commitment by managers and staff to make the necessary structural changes, both within and across agency boundaries."
Electronic commerce is a case in point. While there has been a lot of movement on the electronic messaging front lately, the current overall strategy is criticised in the report. "The situation regarding electronic messaging across the Commonwealth is generally inefficient and unnecessarily costly. There is a general inability to handle document attachments, a lack of directories and uniform addressing, inadequate security and unreliability."
On electronic commerce, the criticism is even more direct. "In the past two years, there have also been major developments towards enabling electronic commerce and secure electronic transactions generally to be undertaken at a much lower cost across the Internet.
"The Commonwealth has not been positioning itself well to take advantage of the adoption of secure electronic transactions for a range of its purposes, and there are at present dangers of duplication and incompatibility of approaches. There is a need for immediate action in this area."