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The rise of digital-enabled WofG collaboration

by Poppy Johnston •
Free resource

Collaboration and communication technologies used by the public sector have come a long way in recent years, with governments now experimenting with a host of new features such as social networking, group conferencing, online profiles, instant messaging, crowdsourcing, and real-time co-authoring of documents.

For instance, the Federal Government’s govdex platform is currently moving in a more innovative direction, with Data#3 recently announced as the supplier to deploy a new cloud-based version of the Whole-of-Government (WofG) community collaboration and file sharing system.

Based on Microsoft Azure and Office 365, the customised cloud service will provide government staff and industry partners with a “modern collaboration environment through which they can interact, and coordinate work efforts, seamlessly, across organisational and geographic boundaries", according to Department of Finance Chief Information Officer and Chief Information Security Officer John Sheridan in a blog post.

The new platform is aimed at reducing barriers to information sharing across organisations and improving mobility, while delivering savings to agencies by leveraging public cloud infrastructure and coordinated government pricing agreements.

The core capabilities of the platform include “real time collaboration”, such as real time document co-authoring and instant messaging, and “online profiles”, which will allow members to “easily discover each other and work together by searching persistent profiles detailing the skills, experience and interests of each member.” 

The platform will also support “discoverable communities”, where members can determine the visibility of the community by assigning them “open”, “semi-private”, or “private” levels of access.

First established in 2006, govdex is built on Atlassian Confluence and JIRA software that has been experiencing “shortfalls in performance, features set and usability [which] mean[s] that the solution no longer meets user expectations”, according to an earlier Sheridan blog post announcing the replacement program back in December 2016.

The existing platform facilitates collaboration between registered users from federal, state and local governments, not-for-profits, the private sector, and educational institutions.

Although the Federal Government’s govdex replacement will use Microsoft Office 365, government entities in other jurisdictions have dabbled in less conventional options, like Workplace by Facebook.

The NSW Government is currently piloting “an integrated, cloud-based solution to allow all NSW Government employees to work collaboratively and from anywhere”, as it is described in a dashboard depicting the progress of key NSW ICT projects. The project is budgeted at $3.8 million, and falls under the back-office transformation (“Digital on the Inside”) priority area embodied by the government’s digital strategy.

In April 2017, a Department of Finance, Services and Innovation (DFSI) spokesperson told ITNews that a "limited technical pilot of Workplace by Facebook is being conducted within NSW government agencies", despite no decisions being made at the time regarding a specific technology platform.

A budget of $1 million has also been allocated to the implementation of a “panel of options”, which will allow public sector employees from different agencies to connect and work with each other to deliver “seamless and integrated” services for citizens.

Internationally, Workplace by Facebook has been adopted by the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech), which was formed after a restructure in 2016 to lead digital transformation of the public sector.

The take up of collaboration software and communication tools across the public sector is part of a broader movement directed at breaking down silos and making it easier to collaborate and share ideas across all parts of government.

This trend looks set to continue, with Western Australian planning to introduce an ICT Resource Sharing Portal by 2019 to encourage agencies to share resources and expertise in both the short and long term. According to Western Australia’s Digital WA 2016-2020 ICT strategy, the portal will “reduce duplication across the sector, help transfer knowledge, and increase the depth of expertise available to government”.

The WA government will also introduce a Collaboration and Innovation Portal to help agencies connect with the business and the community.

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