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What can Australia learn from the Obama Government’s ICT Strategy?

by Paris Cowan •
Free resource

It may be operating on the other side of the world, but the US Government is facing the same set of challenges when it comes to ICT management as public sector leaders in Canberra and elsewhere across Australia.

It is asking: How do we get the best return on ICT investment? How can government services become easier to use and more responsive to the needs of the public? How does the government simultaneously make some of its information transparent and accessible, while at the same time securing the rest?

The US Government Chief Information Officer, Steven VanRoekel, has officially launched the Obama Administration’s 12 month ICT roadmap, ‘Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People’, which outlines its strategy to meet these challenges.

“Ultimately this strategy aims to be disruptive,” it says. “It provides a platform to fundamentally shift how government connects with and provides services to the American people”.

As policies are not, and never should be, produced in a vacuum, the US document could be used to provide ideas and inspiration for future directions in Australian Government IT management.

Mobile Government:

Mobile service delivery is high on the US Government’s ICT agenda, certainly higher than it is within any Australian Jurisdiction, according to the most recent ICT Strategies and Draft ICT Strategies released across the country.

In its latest ICT roadmap, the US has gone as far as to give Federal agencies an ultimatum of mobile-enabling at least two key customer facing services before May 2013.

Particularly innovative agencies may choose to follow in the footsteps of the City of San Francisco, which to date has 10 mobile applications running based on its freely available real-time transport data, all of which have been developed by external organisations at no cost to the Government.

“[This is] more services than the city could provide if it focused on presentation development rather than opening the data publicly through web services,” says the Strategy.


Of course, the use of mobile devices comes with its own set of unique and uniquely challenging security issues. By virtue of their portability, these devices are more likely to get lost, and are designed to connect to unsecured wireless connections, bypassing trusted networks.

In response to this security dilemma, the US Government has resolved to secure its data rather than its devices, in an effort to become “device agnostic”.

“By embedding security and privacy controls into structured data and metadata, data owners can focus more effort on ensuring the safe and secure delivery of data to the end customer and fewer resources on securing the device that will receive the data.

“For example, security of an endpoint device becomes less of a risk management factor if data is protected and authorized users must authenticate their identities to gain access to it,” says the Strategy.

Cloud solutions, which the US Government has mandated as the default option of Federal agencies under its ‘Cloud First’ policy, also represent a way around this issue according to the Strategy. Information that is stored securely in the cloud is far less vulnerable in the event of a portable device being lost or stolen than that which is stored on the device itself.

The Strategy also requires the Department of Defence and the Department of Homeland Security to use the next 12 months developing a wireless security baseline to be deployed on a whole-of-government level.

What do we have in common?

Like the Australian Government, the US is moving to centralise ICT procurement and encourage the sharing of solutions between agencies in order to make its technology investment stretch further.

Under the new Strategy, a whole-of-government contract will be established for the procurement of mobile devices and wireless services within the next six months. The US Federal Government currently spends approximately $1.2 billion annually on mobile and wireless services and devices, and has accumulated an inventory of approximately 1.5 million active accounts.

Shared Services options are also on the agenda. Earlier in May, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released the Federal IT Shared Services strategy, outlining measures agencies need to take in order to further consolidate their ICT functions.

And again like the Australian Government (which supported the 2012 GovHack event as part of APS Innovation Week) the US is looking for ways it can make Public Sector Information freely available to the public, in order to leverage its value through applications and other products.

Over the next three months, US agencies will be required to identify two high-value data sets to be made publically available through web Application Programming Interfaces (API). This will go hand in hand with standard metadata tagging schemas across government.

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  • International
  • Hardware
  • Software
  • IT Services
  • Telecommunications
  • Policy
  • Barack Obama
  • Cloud Computing
  • Coordinated procurement
  • GovHack
  • mobile government
  • Security
  • Shared Services
  • Steven VanRoekel
  • US Government