It's good to see Australia being an international leader in the egovernment space.
As reported in the Daily Star's Technews, the ANU's National Centre for Information Systems Research (NCISR) completed training 99 Bangladeshi key decision makers and officers in the strategy and management skills necessary to improve the effective use of ICT in public sector organisations.
This ten-day training was part of the eGovernment capacity building project, initiated by the Australian National University (ANU) under the AusAID's Public Sector Linkages Program (PSLP).
It focuses on supporting countries (particularly in the Asia-Pacific region) in building their strategic and operational capacity in the eGovernment area.
Friday, October 31, 2008
It's good to see Australia being an international leader in the egovernment space.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
For the last ten years I've been making use of Adobe Flash (formerly Macromedia Flash) within websites to provide rich content features and applications unattainable with HTML.
Unfortunately I still get asked the same questions about Flash, regarding accessibility, file size and how many users have the technology.
I'd like to put these to bed.
Flash is an accessible format (meets the W3C's requirements in the WCAG), usage is extremely high (over 95%) and file size for downloading is no longer an issue (Flash files are often smaller than equivalents, due to compression and effective streaming).
I've provided more detail in my full post below.
During the late 1990s and early 2000s there were valid concerns over how many people could access Flash files and whether their size would cause issues for dial-up users.
There were also accessibility concerns, which more often reflected the level of production values for Flash in Australia, rather than actual issues with the platform.
I've noticed that there are still many Flash 'doubters' about raising the same concerns as were raised ten years ago.
Fortunately there are some easy ways to put these concerns to rest.
Penetration rate - how many people have Flash?
Adobe representatives I have heard speaking at events regularly state that Flash penetration is greater than 97% in the western world - including countries such as Australia.
Ironically PDF penetration (also an Adobe created format) is slightly lower than this - so on that basis it would be better to provide content in Flash format rather than PDF.
Taking Adobe's self-promotion with a grain of salt, it is easy for organisations to check Flash penetration for their own website audience using their web reporting tools. Where their reporting doesn't provide this statistic, free web reporting tools such as Google Analytics do and can be easily and rapidly added to a site (via a small code block).
For example, for my agency's website, for the last month, Google Analytics tells me that 98.27% of website visitors had Flash installed (and 95% of visitors had Flash 9.0+ or later). This is even higher than that claimed by Adobe, and makes me very comfortable in advocating Flash use within it.
File size versus connection speed
It's also possible via web reporting to track the connection speed of website visitors. This will verify what percentage use broadband versus dial-up, and indicates what percentage are more capable of receiving larger files (250kb+).
This can be useful when validating the use of Flash, which appears to be larger than HTML pages (though often is smaller). However be careful when simply relying on a high broadband penetration rate to validate the use of Flash.
Often Flash is faster than HTML for delivering similar dynamic content. This is because of two reasons,
Due to straming even large Flash files do not take long to start running on the user's system, meaning that the raw file size is less important.
A recent experience we've had in our agency was in considering file sizes for internal elearning modules. In comparing the same module as a Flash file and as a DHTML (Dynamic HTML) file our experience was that the DHTML file was up to 10x as large in size - making Flash a far better option for sites with lower bandwidths.
There are also techniques to reduce the impact on users with slow internet connections, such as detecting the connection speed and running video at lower resolution or asking dial-up users to choose whether they want to wait for a Flash version or see a basic text page.
The simple answer for accessibility is that Flash is fully compliant with the W3C and US Government's Section 508 accessibility requirements. The Flash format is accessible.
However when developing in Flash, as when developing in HTML or PDF, the accessibility of the final product depends on the skill and experience of the developers.
Provided that it is clear in the business specification that the product must comply with appropriate accessibility requirements, and that the business can provide necessary alt text, transcripts, metadata, navigation alternatives, subtitles and details for a HTML equivalent - as would be required to make a DVD accessible - the Flash application will meet accessibility standards.
However if the business stakeholders and developers do not quality check the work - whether Flash, HTML, or PDF - it can fail accessibility requirements.
So in short, don't point a finger at Flash technology for accessibility issues, look to the business owner and developers.
There are still many negative myths around about Adobe's Flash technology - I'm not sure why.
However they are largely mistaken.
Flash is an extremely useful and versatile technology, with extremely high penetration and a very small footprint.
It is also fully accessible - provided your developers know how to use it effectively.
So if your agency is considering developing a multimedia application, a video (for online use) or another interactive tool, Flash is a format you should not discount quickly.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Google has released into beta a set of major improvements to Google Analytics that will make it an even more robust web metrics tool.
Including advanced data segmentation, data visualisation using 'motion charts', improved adsense integration, a more advanced administration console and an API for enterprise integration, this is the largest upgrade of Google Analytics for some time - however it could be some time before the features become available to all accounts.
I use Google Analytics to track traffic for this blog and as a secondary reporting system for our agency's websites.
In general I've found Analytics reports on around 65-75% of the traffic captured in our agency's web logs, but provides easier and more accurate geographical segmentation of traffic as well as better conversion tracking than can be achieved without extensive customisation of our weblog reports.
I also use Analytics to provide 'backstop' reporting to identify issues with our primary reporting (such as logs being corrupted or not transferred to the reporting system). This is very handy for providing evidence that it is a technical issue, rather than a decline in traffic, responsible for sudden changes in visits reported by a web log system.
If you've never investigated Google Analytics I'd recommend considering it in a secondary role to your main agency web reporting system.
For content external to agency hosted sites, such as MySpace, Facebook, WordPress, Yahoo Groups or Blogger hosted sites, Google Analytics could be considered as an option for a primary reporting system.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Like many organisations, my agency warns our customers about the threat of phishing - where criminals use emails and/or websites to attempt to dupe people into providing personal information or account information to a fake website.
Commoncraft has released a 'Plain English' video, which provides a visual way of communicating phishing to people and helping them understand the risks.
It's an approach that, by reducing the word count and adding visual and audio dimensions to the communication, can be much easier to absorb and understand.
Monday, October 27, 2008
While in Australia Malcolm Turnbull is the latest Australian parliamentarian to join Twitter (at http://twitter.com/TurnbullMalcolm), in the US the public sector is now applying the tool for everything from crime updates and traffic alerts to the daily schedules of US governors.
The US public sector is beginning to discover that Twitter and other microblogging services are useful tools in supporting crisis management and in distributing small chunks of information rapidly to diverse stakeholders in a targetted way.
As reported in the Govtech article, Twitter is a Continuity of Operations Tool, State Agency Discovers, the Washington State Department of Transport (WSDOT) is now using Twitter to aid the organisation to manage the impacts of major weather events.
"In an emergency, people will come to our Web site, [www.wsdot.wa.gov] en masse to the point that it overwhelms our servers -- we've had that happen during snowstorms and other major weather events," Brown said [WSDOT spokesman Lloyd Brown]. Because the Web site is a popular source of traffic updates, sometimes it can't handle a sudden spike in page hits, he said.
"One of the things that we're considering if we get into an emergency situation like that, we can update Twitter and our blog with our handheld BlackBerry or iPhone or whatever we have. It's a continuity of operations opportunity for us," Brown said.
The potential for this use of Twitter arose from a recent series of major traffic incidents which left the department's website reeling under the traffic. The webmaster began tweeting updates on the situation and the number of people listening in grew rapidly.
Given that WSDOT, like a number of other public agencies in the US, is already an active user of diverse online channels (with its site containing Youtube video, a blog, rss feeds and an internet radio station), adding Twitter to the lineup isn't a big step outside their comfort zone.
To view how WSDOT is using Twitter, visit their channel at http://twitter.com/wsdot.
In February 2008, Janssen-Cilag Australia & New Zealand launched an internal microblogging platform called Jitter.
The platform won the organisation an Intranet Innovation Award.
Nathan, from the Jannssen-Cilag team, has published a case study, Jitter: Experimenting with microblogging in the enterprise, on how the tool has been used.
This provides some insights into the challenges of using this type of technology inside an organisation - namely, introducing people to micro-blogging, and stimulating it's use as a communications channel.
Thanks to Ross Dawson for making me aware of it.
Friday, October 24, 2008
The French government has introduced a Web 2.0 portal featuring a forum, wikis and video to support debate on their digital strategy and encourage ideas outside traditional 'government-think' limits.
As discussed in The Connected Republic, the French site is at http://assisesdunumerique.fr/forum/.
The UK government is working towards the pilot of a 'Digital mentoring' system to support people on the wrong side of the digital divide to cross over.
As discussed in Connected Republic, Digital Mentors, the white paper for the initiative states,
Government will pilot a ‘Digital Mentor’ scheme in deprived areas. These mentors will support groups to develop websites and podcasts, to use digital photography and online publishing tools, to develop short films and to improve general media literacy. The Digital Mentors will also create links with community and local broadcasters as part of their capacity building, to enable those who want to develop careers in the media to do so. Depending on the success of these pilots, this scheme could be rolled out to deprived areas across England.
More information is available at http://digitalmentor.org
It could be an interesting program to consider for Australian communities.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
One of the recommendations of the Gershon report was that the number of IT contractors be cut by 50% - replaced by full-time staff.
Given the cost of contractors, it makes enormous sense to take this step.
However, with virtually full employment in the IT industry, falling IT graduates and a lack of talented IT people in cities such as Canberra, how does the government go about enticing contractors to shift into staff roles?
Certainly there are perks for being employed rather than contracted - sick leave, security and more of a traditional career path.
However these perks are less relevant for GenX and GenY workers, who have a different view on what are and aren't perks than do older, more established and more security conscious baby boomers.
In the current environment the majority of the benefits for being employed rather than contracted are on the employers' side - a stable workforce, less on ramp (and off ramp) costs and reduced payroll costs.
So I will be very interested in seeing how government will go about meeting this recommendation without high unemployment, a depressed private sector or a surplus of IT workers.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
I have been reading a paper by James Robertsen of Step Two entitled Successful collaboration requires support. It discusses the need for central support and nurturing of online collaboration within an organisation rather than simply a 'build it and they will collaborate' approach.
While I agree with James' points, I do not feel that it is necessary for all collaborative groups to succeed. Sometime failure can be more educational, or can provide an organisation with insights into the actual priorities of staff and management - or can simply be due to changing communities and situations.
Considering an organisation as an ecosystem, with different operational units being different niches, each with their own specific characteristics and environments, over time some groups will thrive, some will survive but with less success and some will fail (particularly as the environment changes).
I see collaboration as an intersection of communication and knowledge, therefore any collaborative community is keenly affected by changes in its composition, the people, the organisational environment and priorities.
For example if a community leader leaves, or is simply not present, a community may fail, or one or more people may step into these shoes and take a community to new heights.
Sometimes the community leaders are not the obvious candidates, those who make the most 'noise' (the most posts or the most controversial). Instead they are often people in the background who provides the 'engine' of the community - as a critical source of knowledge, as a mediator between strong personalities or by asking the questions that make others reconsider what they believe.
Equally when an organisation changes structure, direction or priorities, some communities grow in significance and interest and others will fade. This is a wholly natural progression in the 'life' of an organisation and does not represent failure by the leaders or administrators of collaborative communities. Nor does it imply that the concept of collaboration is flawed.
My personal experience of collaborative communities over more than ten years of operating and participating in them is that they all ebb and flow over time. Often only a few individuals are required at their core, however without a mosaic of participants, who often are transient or contribute little to the discussions, the communities do not provide the knowledge transfer of value to an organisation.
Therefore, in my view, the best way to foster collaborative communities and support an environment where they can be successful (based on their own characteristics and niche) is to expose them to as large a group of participants as possible, thereby enabling others to learn from and share their own experience - even if it is not directly relevant to their current job.
To make communities fail, the best approach is to restrict participation to a small group, avoid cross-fertilisation and suppress active discussion and left-field ideas.
In other words, collaborative communities, in my view, thrive in open systems and die in closed ones, just as trapping two spiders in a glass jar over several months is not conducive to having them thrive.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Step Two will be running a free information session discussing the winners of the 2008 Intranet Innovation Awards in Canberra on Tuesday 11 November from 2-4pm.
According to James Robertson of Step Two, the event will include a look at,
- Transfield Service's uniquely effective approach to rolling out
SharePoint team spaces.
- Highly successful collaboration amongst cabin crew at British Airways.
- The rich suite of functionality delivered by this year's Platinum winner, Fuller Landau (Canada).
- The Competitor Wiki at Scottrade in the US.
- An intranet that speaks the news when postbus drivers ring an 0800 number in Swiss Post.
Registration for the event is available online at: www.steptwo.com.au/seminars/iia-canberra
Monday, October 20, 2008
In August I analysed traffic to our agency's website in July 2008 using Hitwise's data measurement service, comparing our share of web traffic against the total to Federal government websites, other government websites and the top websites visited by Australians.
The results provided me with a view of how important government websites are in peoples' online lives - not very. Less than 2.5% of website visits were to government sites.
It also helped me form some ideas as to how Australian government departments can make their online channels more effective means of engaging citizens.
Reviewing Hitwise's reports from July 2008, tracking around 2.95 million Australians' visits to over 647,000 websites (using ISP logs), the total government sector (6,634 sites) accounted for only 2.26 percent of all tracked website visits by Australians.
In comparison, Google.com.au and Google.com together accounted for 9.64% of Australian visits to all tracked websites, four times as much as the total government sector (Google.com.au, the number one site visited by Australians, accounted for 7.85% and Google.com for 1.79% of visits).
Facebook, the fourth most visited website, received 2.36% of total tracked visits - slightly more than the entire Australian government.
MySpace, the seventh ranked site, received 1.78% of total visits - almost 50% more than Federal government sites.
Only one government website regularly reaches Hitwise's Top Twenty list of Australian sites, the Bureau of Meteorology (coming in at 16th position with 0.51% of traffic in September 2008). In fact, this site alone accounts for almost a quarter of the visits to the total government sector.
To put these figures into perspective, I roughly estimated from my Agency's actual web traffic that each Australian web user in July 2008 made 270 visits to Hitwise tracked websites (note that at an average visit duration of 10 minutes, this is significantly less that the figure reported by Netratings in March 2008 (PDF) - of 13.7 hours/week online).
Of these estimated 270 visits,
Even if you discount my estimate and take another measure of the average number of website visits per Australian each month, the proportion based on Hitwise's tracked websites remains the same.
What does this mean for government?
Even a few visits per month by Australia's estimated 11 million plus regular internet users users adds up to a significant online audience for government in Australia.
However my conclusion is that Australian government departments should not rely on reaching our citizen audiences simply via our official websites.
We need to reach out and engage our customers via the websites they choose to use.
These non-Government websites account for over 97.5% of regular internet usage by Australian (per Hitwise's July 2008 figures).
If Australian government wants to effectively communicate with citizens online, our departments need to invest in understanding where our audiences spend their time, reaching beyond our official sites to engage them in the online communities they choose to frequent.
How do we engage citizens on their own turf?
There are many different ways that private organisations reach out to user communities, and government can learn and use many of these approaches, such as
Hitwise checked the numbers drawn from their web reporting service (thank you Alex and Rebecca). The idea for this post, the conclusions drawn and any calculation errors are mine alone.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Forbes magazine has asked whether IT departments are their own worst enemies, in an article, The un-marketing of IT, citing examples such as,
I've seen IT teams engage in this type of behaviour time and time again over my career and the usual outcome is to reduce the business's trust and respect for IT practitioners - not because these actions are necessarily wrong, but simply because they are not explained well to business users.
As the article suggests, if IT teams committed to explaining clearly to users why these types of actions were necessary and provided alternate ways to meet business needs it would be easier to build bridges in other areas.
Extending this to web design and development, I've experienced many websites where unusual navigation or rigid processes are used to move users through a web service to their desired outcome.
These situations meet business requirements and allow the user to achieve their outcome, but are often painful and offputting journeys, which do not lead to repeat usage or goodwill.
Often the user feels like they have survived an obstacle course rather than had a pleasant walk in the sun.
When developing websites (or applications) it is as important to consider the journey - the user experience - as it is to consider the destination.
Simply adding contextual support, removing unnecessary steps and modelling navigation on well-understood models can do wonders to smooth the user's journey and vastly improve the user experience.
The Gershon Review of the Australian Government's Use of Information and Communication Technology report has been released by the Department of Finance, and it makes for an interesting read.
Peter Gershon's key findings were that,
1. There is weak governance of pan-government issues related to ICT.
2. Agency governance mechanisms are weak in respect of their focus on ICT efficiency and an understanding of organisational capability to commission, manage and realise benefits from ICT-enabled projects.
3. The business as usual (BAU) ICT funding in agencies is not subject to sufficient challenge and scrutiny.
4. There is a disconnect between the stated importance of ICT and actions in relation to ICT skills.
5. There is no whole-of-government strategic plan for data centres. In the absence of such a plan, the Government will be forced into a series of ad hoc investments which will, in total, cost in the order of $1 billion more than a coordinated approach over a 15-year period.
6. The government ICT marketplace is neither efficient nor effective.
7. There is a significant disconnect between the Government’s overall sustainability agenda and its ability to understand and manage energy costs and the carbon footprint of its ICT estate.Some of the key activities outlined will have major impacts on the way in which ICT is managed in the public sector, such as,
There were some very interesting points regarding the vulnerabilities of the Federal government in the IT area, partially due to the concentration of power in Canberra. For instance,
There was considerable discussion of how to create professional IT career paths, to better manage the ICT workforce, improving staff retention and corporate knowledge.
Also discussed was cross-agency planning and purchasing, where already slow, out-dated and complex procurement processes lead to sub-optimal outcomes and do not take best advantage of government's buying power. That's not to mention the need to revisit data centre management to also take advantage of central buying power.
The next step is for the government to have a think about the report's recommendations and take some actions in a reasonably short timeframe.
I await with anticipation.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Some departments block them totally, others just monitor usage, is there a case for allowing or even supporting public social network use in government offices?
The other day the Sydney Morning Herald published an article on The pain and potential of Facebook in the office where Nick Abrahams, a Deacons law firm partner provided his personal view on the use of public social networks within a corporate environment together with some statistics from the Deacon Social Networking Survey 2008 on usage in nearly 700 Australian organisations.
Without giving clear conclusions, Nick raised some interesting points around the commercial risks of allowing these networks, including potential over-use, harassment, discrimination and the release of private or corporate in-confidence information.
He also flagged the risks of blocking these networks - such as reduced collaboration, unattractiveness to younger potential employees and being seen as out-of-step with accepted social conventions.
A couple of the findings Nick highlighted were that 20% of organisations blocked access to public social networking sites, only 14% of employees (currently) use social network sites during office hours (including lunch!) and that 76% of employees believed that organisations should allow staff to access these sites in the office.
Demographically only 4% of employees over 35 used social networks at the office, whilst 25% of those 25-34 and 33% of those under 25 years did. Also 46% of respondents who used social networks stated that, given the choice between two job offers that were otherwise roughly equivalent, they'd pick the organisation that did not block Facebook.
There is clear evidence that social networks provide benefits. The experience of many organisations now using internal social networks bears out that they do support collaboration - where they are supported by an appropriate organisational culture.
The efforts by the US intelligence services (an internal facebook equivalent) and the work by software providers such as Microsoft to develop social networks for organisations indicates that in the future more online social networking in organisations is likely to be the norm, rather than less.
However internal social networking is different - easier to manage and control than public social networking. Once it goes public an organisation relies on each and every individual involved to conduct themselves responsibly at all times where their comments are visible.
Is the situation with public social networking any different to where we are with telephones, letters, emails and even online forums (which are not commonly blocked)?
With these mediums we put appropriate policies in place, sometimes train people on acceptable conduct and rely on trusting individuals to do the right thing, to act in their own self-interest (continued employment) and back these up with potential legal options (scaling up from disciplinary action) to ensure usage is appropriately managed.
Should government agencies treat public social networks differently to other mediums, as people are behaving in a less formal manner but may still be indirectly representing the organisation?
Or should they use the same principles of policy, training and actions as for other mediums?
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
I've been looking at the success of the Future Melbourne program, a wiki and blog based approach to shaping the future urban landscape of Australia's second largest city.
The program allowed citizens to directly collaborate, edit and comment on the plans for the future development of the city. It attracted more than 30,000 visits by nearly 7,000 individuals and over 200 edits to the plans, ranging from spelling and grammatical corrections through to lengthy well-considered contributions (and not one instance of spam, off-topic or offensive content).
Reading through an offline presentation on Future Melbourne, the program involved several stages,
Participation Policies & Guidelines and a Netiquette guide were developed to help participants understand the framework for engagement.
The wiki was monitored on a day-by-day basis to ensure appropriate conduct was upheld and changes were tracked via the wiki system.
Some of the learnings of the program included:
I hope other public sector organisations are considering similar routes to engage their customers and community.
I find egovernment an exciting area to work in.
It offers benefits to citizens and businesses in reducing the time and cost of engaging with government
It offers benefits to taxpayers due to the cost savings achievable within the public sector and the ability to improve transparency in government.
It offers benefits to individuals and communities by providing new and effective ways to collaborate with community and advocacy groups, businesses, agencies from other jurisdictions, the community and individual citizens to deliver improved policy and service outcomes.
I find that many Australian public sector organisations are engaged in exciting experiments with digital web and mobile technologies to improve their engagement and service delivery. There are also many innovative individuals working in different areas to advocate the use of modern tools to improve the solutions to age-old issues.
However finding out about these initiatives and the lessons learnt in each case isn't easy.
There are limited forums for communication between public sector organisations and the means by which we share information is often limited by funding, time and bureaucratic overheads.
In the private sector competitors often keep secrets from each other as a may to build competitive advantage. In the public sector secrets are often necessary for customer privacy or state interest, however they can also reduce our ability to provide community benefit where they cross into restrictions on learning from mistakes or successes.
Lack of information sharing also results in duplication of work, very slow learning from mistakes and redundancy - which costs government and therefore taxpayers and service recipients time and money.
I'm working through approaches to improve communication across egovernment practitioners in Australia, drawing from New Zealand's excellent wikis, the online forums used in the UK and US and the European Union's fantastic community site.
Do others have any ideas they can suggest to me to help us share our information across all levels of Australian government in an appropriate way?
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Considering the 30-40 nominations received in Australia's annual egovernment awards, it's staggering to consider than in the UK there were over 588 initiatives to be nominated in 2008.
Judging is underway and finalists in 11 categories will be published on 7 November.
If you're seeking a source of inspiration regarding egovernment initiatives, the e-Government National Awards 2008 finalists will be certainly worth reviewing.
Just as organisations are beginning to listen to the conversations about them on forums, in blogs and in online newspaper comments, Twitter has become a powerful and important mechanism for tracking US public opinion during the US Presidential election.
In a custom-built application, Twitter has used its search and trending tools to build an updating commentary on the election, visible at http://election.twitter.com.
Thinking back to the days of tickertape news releases and stock updates, this is a high-tech equivalent reflecting the views of US Twitter users.
With the integration of a mention weighting system and positive/negative indications,it would be possible for any politician or organisation to get a 24/7 view of their public sentiment.
Any sudden changes in the normal flow of comments could then be mined to detect and pre-emptively prepare for issues before they reach the broader media.
For the sceptics, who do not see Twitter as a valid channel for government communication with the public or media, here's a list of US government 'A-list' Twitterers, including the White House, Senator Obama and a selection of State Governors and large US agencies.
And for those who like poetry and the big picture, 3D Twittervision provides an interesting global insight - particularly during major crises.
AGIMO's Australia.gov.au portal has received kudos recently from the US's Government Technology publication in an article, Australia National Web Portal Links Citizens to Government Services.
It's good to see Australia's achievements recognised overseas and I hope to see more of this as the AGOSP initiative rolls out some impressive new functionality into the site.
I hope to see further development of their other services, such as GovDex and online consultation in coming years as well, to help the public sector to continue to reach customers in a cost-effective manner and engage them in the business of governing Australia.
Monday, October 13, 2008
New Zealand YouTube users have been asked to submit video questions up to 30 seconds long, and a number will be selected to feature during the debate.
Recognising over 10 years of reporting on egovernment topics from around the world, Victoria's eGovernment Resource Centre has been selected as one of the ten finalists for the 9th annual PoliticsOnline award for the top individuals, organisations and companies having the greatestimpact on the way the Internet is changing politics.
By being in the top ten, the eGovernment Resource Centre is being acknowledged alongside the Democratic Nominee for the US Presidency (mybarackobama.com) and is being recognised as more significant than the UK's Prime Minister's website (number10.gov.au)
I'd like to congratulate the team at DIIRD in Victoria who work on this site as probably the most effective and consistent voice in Australia on egovernment topics, helping to bridge the gap between policy and practice.
A representative from DIIRD has been invited as an honoured guest to the World Democracy Forum in Paris for the award ceremony, although I understand this will probably not involve the people who work every day to make the site a success.
The full announcement is at the eGovernment Resource Centre.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
A challenge in any organisation is to foster two-way communications.
Many organisations have used suggestion boxes, 'chat with the CEO' email accounts, or other primitive tools to offer pseudo-two way communication, but without the immediacy or ability to readily expose discussions to the broader organisation.
These are often mistrusted by staff as they are essentially black boxes - suggestions go in from individuals and responses may come back, but there is no mechanism for others across the organisation to witness or participate in the conversation.
That's where staff forums can fill a major gap, providing a mechanism for organisations to unblock their communications channels, not only from staff to management, but between staff in different offices.
The following video illustrates how effective an online forum can be for engaging staff and improving customer service outcomes.
It is about British Airways, a 2008 Intranet Innovations Awards gold medal winner, who has engaged its 17,000 cabin crew in discussion around customer service and internal process issues via an online forum.
Friday, October 10, 2008
With a ICT staffing crisis already underway in Australia, it's interesting to read in USA Today that in the US Women (are) fleeing tech jobs because of (the) glass ceiling.
I've never understood why people discriminate at the office on the basis of gender, and I hope that with Australia having a female Federal Government CIO, that the ICT 'boys club' is not alive and thriving in Australia.
What do others in the industry think?
For an insight into the tools Google uses to create an environment suited to innovation and collaboration within the firewall, visit this presentation on Innovation @ Google.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
CAPTCHA is a security provision designed to confirm that an online user is actually human by asking them to complete a simple test which is difficult for computers to interpret.
Often appearing as wavy or handwritten words and numbers, CAPTCHA (standing for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) has been widely implemented as an online security confirmation system within email systems, blogs, ebusiness and egovernment sites. In fact you'll see it in use when commenting on this blog.
Example of a modern CAPTCHA image (source: Wikipedia)
However CAPTCHA is increasingly under threat due to the multiple ways of circumventing this security and organisations need to consider whether it is still worth implementing CAPTCHA or more advanced security systems.
How effective is CAPTCHA?
As was recently reported in AllSpammedUp, Spammers are once again attacking Microsoft's CAPTCHA, used in their Hotmail email system to distinguish between legitimate human customers and automated spam systems.
While 10-15% doesn't sound that significant, given that spammers are able to use automated systems to create hundreds of email addresses a minute - then use the successful ones to distribute spam email - that level of success is quite high.
Hackers are also able to use cheap eyeballs from third world countries to break CAPTCHA - with Indian crackers paid $2 for every 1,000 CAPTCHAs solved.
Other techniques also exist to break CAPTCHA, such as advertising a porn site, embedding CAPTCHA codes from legitimate sites and asking people to solve these codes in order to access the adult content for free.
Given all these different ways to defeat CAPTCHA tests, and the barriers for those with vision impairments (who often unable to complete visual tests where an audio equivalent is not provided), let alone the difficulties real humans have in interpreting CAPTCHA tests correctly, this approach to security is seriously under threat.
However effective alternatives to validating that humans are really humans are not yet available for use.
Where next for CAPTCHA?
Microsoft and other large providers of online systems remain dedicated to strengthening CAPTCHA technology, even where the line of what is actually readable by the average human begins to blur.
They have limited alternatives as to effective tests of whether a user is human or computer to help minimise the success of automated hacking attempts.
Some mechanisms already coming into use are to ask questions via CAPTCHA text which is based on trivia more difficult for a machine to guess, or to have multiple CAPTCHA images which must be reinterpreted based on additional text - also stored as a CAPTCHA image.
All of these remain vulnerable to cheaply paid third-world CAPTCHA breaking groups, albeit increase the difficulty for machines.
Where should organisations use CAPTCHA?
Given the lack of alternatives, organisations need to continue using CAPTCHA, but selectively apply other methods of detecting machine-based attacks (such as rapid or logically sequenced attempts at creating accounts or logging in).
Where possible CAPTCHA should be used only to validate the 'humanness' of a user, rather than as an outright security measure, thereby limiting system vulnerability.
Finally organisations need to use the most current versions of CAPTCHA and update regularly to reduce the risk of intrusion to only the most sophisticated hackers.
There are a variety of ways to simply and cost-effectively offer customer support online and, given that it's not yet common in the Australian public sector, I thought I'd quickly outline my own thinking on the case for and against offering this type of service.
In this post I'll focus on text chat - the simplest mechanism for live customer engagement online.
There are also more complex approaches, including asynchronous voice chat, synchronous voice chat, video-conferencing, co-browsing and virtual presence. I believe that an organisation needs to come to terms with basic text chat before exploring these options.
What is text chat?
Text chat refers to the ability to send and receive text between individuals via the internet. In context of customer support, this approach commonly involves accessing a chat window within or as a pop-up out of an organisation's website.
Within the window the participants can type in their questions, comments and responses, review them and then send them to the other person in real-time.
This is different to email in that the exchange is real-time and is fully visible to both parties at all times.
Who uses text chat?
The Utah and Virginia state governments makes good use of text-based chat, via a third-party service named Livehelper. This is a footprint free, low cost approach well suited to initial steps into the channel. Also using the tool is the US National Cancer Institute.
In Australia, there are few governments agencies using text chat at this time for customer or public engagement, with the National Library being a standout - supporting cobrowsing via a third party service, Questionpoint produced by the US Library of Congress and the Online Computer Library Center.
Others include the National Cervical Cancer Screening Program and the State Library of Victoria.
The Queensland government used to provide an online chat service for community consultation via Generate, using IRC (Internet Relay Chat), however discontinued this in 2004. A good presentation on the service, Ministers Online (PDF), is available from AGIMO.
Several government bodies, such as NSW Health, use it within elearning sessions and some, such as the NT Department of Employment, Education and Training, make it available for supporting remotely located students and teachers, however do not make it publicly available.
Benefits of text chat
There are a number of benefits in the use of text chat, both for customers and an organisation.
Disadvantages and risks
Reasons to not introduce text chat
Text chatting can be a more efficient use of customer service operative time while simultaneously supporting more flexible information sharing than phone-based communication.
It does not replace phone use, instead supplements it by providing an alternative customers can choose to use to engage an agency. It can be managed through existing call centres and generally through phone and written correspondence policy and be easily run as a pilot before a more complete implementation.
Due to chat logging, both the organisation and the customer can have an accurate record of the contact. This can be stored with the official customer record for later reference in a way that is difficult to achieve with phone based communication.
The primary risks are around security and staff written communications ability - both of which can be managed.
Security can be addressed through appropriate communication of the risks to customers, allowing them to choose whether they wish to engage in this manner, similar to the warnings at the start of phone conversations "This call may be recorded". As chat doesn't replace other engagement channels, customers are not disadvantaged if they do not wish to use it.
Staff's ability to manage the channel can be addressed through training, selecting staff already competent at written customer communications and by placing appropriate guidelines in place (as commonly exist for phone or written correspondence).
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
The 2008 Cone Business in Social Media Study in the US, has found that 93 percent of social media users believe a company should have a presence in social media, while 85 percent believe a company should not only be present but also interact with its customers via social media.
With 60 percent of Americans now reportedly using online social networks, this means that more than 50 percent of the US population believes that the organisations they engage with require a social media presence.
Extrapolating this to Australia, which generally runs a few years behind the US, there's strong reasons to look seriously at engaging via social media channels.
It is estimated that almost half of all Australians use online social media (Neilsen). As such I'd expect that at least a third of Australians would similarly want to find Australian organisations represented at social media sites and around a quarter expect to engage them online.
As Australian Anthill's Brad Howarth suggests in the article, Not just for kids - social networks just grew up,
If social networking isn’t part of your marketing strategy, the only person’s time you’re wasting is your own.
Here's a couple of other interesting findings from Cone's report on how organisations are expected by their customers to engage,
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Following from my post this morning on Telstra's use of Twitter, Chris Brogan wrote an excellent piece last month on how organisations can use Twitter to better engage their customers titled, 50 Ideas on Using Twitter for Business.
For me (as it was for Chris) the number one reason or idea for using this type of tool is for listening to your constituency. Hearing what real people are saying about your organisation, services and topic area provides an ongoing temperature of public opinion.
Another key reason in my view is for building an organisation's online reputation.
Most communicators understand that their organisation's public reputation shapes how people engage with them, thereby influencing their capacity to send messages out to their customers as well as their capacity to provide effective customer service.
However in my view few Australian organisations (particularly in the public sector) have as yet grasped how important it is to establish a sound online reputation. Assuming that their past reputation will carry over only goes so far, and it can rapidly be damaged through inept online engagement (or no online engagement at all!)
Laurel Papworth explains this well in her article, Twitter: Reputation Management in Social Networks.
She uses the diagram (illustrated below) to explain the stages in development from creating an online profile (not simply a 'corporate' website!!) to building reputation and trust-based relationships.
Incidentally, the power of Twitter to allow customers to self-organise rapidly is demonstrated in one of the most recent posts in Laurel's blog, Twitter Agency - crowd sourced consultancy.
Telstra recently took up 'tweeting' as a channel for providing customer service.
Discussed via their Nowwearetalking site, there's been a lot of initial feedback on the approach taken.
Telstra has also linked to some of the broader online commentary in their post.
This step helps legitimise Twitter and microblogging as a customer service option for Australian organisations.
It also provides insights for other organisations so they can learn from both Telstra's missteps and successes.
I'm watching carefully to see how Telstra's foray into microblogging goes. The channel has been used successfully in the US.
When executed well I believe it has customer service and marketing/PR benefits in some, but not all, service delivery areas.
I am co-presenting the first presentation on Wednesday at the Ark Group's Advancing Intranet Management in the Public Sector conference in Sydney.
My colleague and I will be discussing how our agency's intranet was used to support staff through the recent major reform of the Australian Child Support Scheme and the cultural shifts through the Building a Better CSA program.
If you're attending the conference, please come and say hello at some point.
Monday, October 06, 2008
There are many different approaches to writing a blog post.
The Lost Art of Blogging provides an example of one of the more effective in The Homeric way of blogging : storytelling.
Humans respond strongly to stories and there is no reason why this technique should be less useful in official communications than in personal ones.
After all, the most effective business cases tell a story, as do many excellent advertisements.
This is a useful presentation on different styles of blogging and how frequently they should be used.
I am unsure how the author determined the appropriate frequency of different types of blog posts, however it does provide some ideas of approaches to content.
Sunday, October 05, 2008
Thank goodness that another Australian institute has taken the step to start placing a pictorial history of Australia up in Flickr.
As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald in the article, Australian history gets Flickr treatment, the State Library of NSW has begun loading its photo collection into the online image library.
It can require a great deal of hard work and organisation to get archives into a viable state to place online (as the Powerhouse museum has already done so well).
The benefit is that a priceless visual history of Australia becomes visible to all Australians, rather than requiring people to travel to the photos to see them (such an antiquated notion!).
Eventually it may be possible to aggregate all the individual collections into a national view of Australia's past in a way never before achievable. Then through user-based tagging, comments and search, different pathways through the images can be used to tell different stories, bringing the past back to live via the people who lived through it.
Saturday, October 04, 2008
Research since 1997 has indicated that the 'fold' in webpages (the bottom of the first visible screen of a webpage) is no longer a hard barrier for people.
However the myth of the fold still persists in many web designs.
Boxes and arrows has hosted an excellent article by Milissa Tarquini, Blasting the Myth of the Fold.
In the article Milissa provides a clear call to web designers to move beyond the fold-based design of the past and recognise that, provided the site's purpose is clear in the first visible screen, placing important content below the fold does not make it unfindable for web users.
She compares the clickthrough rates of items of a number of AOL pages, finding that in many cases links below the fold receive as many, and sometimes more, clicks than items at the top of the page that are supposedly more visible.
One of the interesting findings reported is that due to different browser resolutions and rendering engines, there is little consistency in where the fold occurs in web pages anyway. The most common fold line is experienced by only 10% of web users as variations in PC screens and browsers means that the fold appears differently to different site visitors.
Milissa's advice is to instead provide visual cues and compelling content to encourage users to scroll through your page, thereby no longer forcing designers to cram in all the important content into the first screen that appears.
Friday, October 03, 2008
Following my security theme today, I've never seen much value in passwords as strong security measures - they need to be easy to remember for the user, and therefore rely on common letter and number patterns of relevance to the user, which inevitably become easier to break.
People need to remember passwords for many different services. I count at least 50 passwords I personally use on a monthly basis including phone, ATM and online.
This makes it tempting for people to,
A five second Google search threw up a large number of articles decrying the weakness of passwords as a security method.
One I found interesting was How I'd hack your weak passwords, which provides details on the mistakes people make when creating passwords, and points out that when people use the same password across multiple sites the password is only as good as the weakest site's security.
So what's the alternative?
Given that passwords are not a strong security measure as they rely on the user to select secure passwords, the only real alternatives are to,
Given that most people are unwilling to spend extra money on a PC attachment to allow biometrics scans (though, like seat belts in cars or fire alarms in houses, they could be mandated by government and rolled out with new PCs over time) and issuing physical tokens is a costly exercise (and prone to physical theft), the most viable short-term option is to improve how we communicate with our customers.
I think that we could do a better job of educating people on how to create and manage large numbers of secure passwords, and addressing this area would by itself save significant costs in terms of fraud prevention and personal loss - not to mention password reset calls to call centres.
In the longer-run, I see a strong case for mandating biometric scanners on PCs.
What do you think?
Missouri's state government is struggling to manage the need to competitively attract and hire IT professionals in the face of a wave of baby boomer retirements.
Their solution, as detailed in the NextGov article, Cat's in the Bag!, has been to explore new (and cheap) ways to reach young professionals - even when they come dressed as a cat with a red bowtie to the first job interview.
The CIO of Missouri has been holding virtual career fairs using Second Life.
As discussed in the article, it's important to seek new employees where they congregate and feel comfortable, rather than solely relying on techniques that worked in the past, but do not reflect the cultural bent of highly qualified applicants today.
Seeking technologists and trolling for employees with disabilities in virtual worlds makes sense. Techies are well represented there due to their curiosity about new computer frontiers. And the disabled, especially those with physical handicaps, often are attracted to worlds where those problems no longer hinder them.
For an investment of only a few hundred dollars per year in virtual worlds his ROI is excellent - and the little cat with the red bowtie, the avatar of a recent computer engineering graduate, now has a job at Missouri's Department of Natural Resources.
The opportunity cost for other organisations not yet using digital aid recruitment tools is only likely to grow over time.
Due to the rise of online social networks and informational sites, secret questions based on biographical information are losing strength as a supplementary to password-based security.
As discussed in a Time article, Those Crazy Internet Security Questions, as more information on individuals becomes easily available - either provided by them directly or via government, corporate and collaborative online databases - the secureness of personal questions diminish.
The article provides a ten second case study on how easy it is to get the biographical information of a prominent person from their wikipedia entry and online postal database.
Speech transcripts, videos, blog posts, social network profiles, news sites and genealogical websites can also provide significantly more information quickly and cheaply.
It's slightly more difficult to get information on an 'unknown' person - but many are doing hackers the favour of providing their own biographical information online - as well as adding to the available information on their family and friends.
This raises a need to steer secret questions away from purely biographical information, or seek stronger alternatives.
So what was your mother's maiden name again?
Thursday, October 02, 2008
Yesterday (Wednesday) I was privileged to attend a think tank in Melbourne discussing the future of the Victorian Government's whole-of-government intranet, CentralStation.
Being the only state government in Australia I am aware of with such a tool, I was surprised to learn that it had been originally created in 1996. To my knowledge that makes it one of the earliest whole-of-government initiatives in the world supporting public servants across state departments, authorities, local government and other public bodies to collaborate and share information more effectively for the benefit of citizens.
The intranet has been redeveloped several times and currently has a dual focus, providing both whole-of-government content and collaboration tools.
The event was attended by around 30 representatives from state agencies. It was also attended by an invited five person expert panel of experienced online professionals from the Vic private and educational sectors and from the non-Vic public sector (such as myself) to provide an external perspective on the initiatives Victoria is considering.
I think the event went well, with some excellent contributions from the group and several 'ah ha!' moments.
My views from the day on the approach were as follows,
A whole-of-government intranet,
From reflecting on the day, my impression is that whole-of-government intranets are useful tools for aggregating and distributing services and information across government bodies, such as,
I wish the CentralStation team at the Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development (DIIRD) all the best in taking the outcomes of the think tank forward in the next generation of Victoria's whole-of-government intranet.
I would also suggest that other jurisdictions could learn a great deal from Victoria's experience in operating their whole-of-government intranet for the last 12 years.
Reflecting Forrester's Groundswell report, Universal McCann has released a study detailing how the internet has turned all customers (citizens) into influencers.
Titled INTERNET USERS, THE NEW INFLUENCERS - When did we start trusting strangers? (PDF), the study included around 17,000 internet users from 29 countries, finding that enmasse customers have moved from being passive consumers of products and services to active participants in their creation and evolution.
This has been characterised by three trends,
- the rise in social networks,
- the importance of digital friends, and
- the proliferation of influencer channels.
This has led towards the 'democratisation' of influence online - making every internet user both a potential creator of content and influencer of others.
The study found that organisations needed to reach out to internet users, becoming,
- transparent and honest,
- participate in the conversations,
- encourage customers to share their opinions, and
- approach and collaborate with new content creators.
A slideshow is available as below...
Key findings included,
- 44% of people surveyed have a blog (compared to 28% in 2006),
- 57.5% have a page on a social network (compared to 27% in 2006),
- 42% download video clips (compared to 10% in 2006),
- 34% of users share their opinions about music, and
- 55% share their photos online
Internet users do not rely on brands to inform themselves.
- While 69% visit brands’ official websites,
- 82% prefer to search for information on a search engine
- 55% prefer to read people’s comments on personal profiles on social networks like Facebook.
The preferred methods for exchanging information about a product were,
- via instant messaging (44.5%),
- via email (42.4%),
- followed by blogs (30.4%), and
- social networks (27.6%).
Technorati has released its report, State of the Blogosphere / 2008, providing a view on the growth and application of blogs as a medium.
The report can be summed up in the statement "blogging is here to stay".
Notable to me in the report was that the fifth top topic and sixth most used tag was 'politics', and most of the other top twenty topics and tags were areas in which government has a significant influence and role.
While 12% of bloggers reported that they did so officially for their organisations, there was no breakdown between public or private organisations.
My assumption, based on my own observances, would be that the share of public sector bloggers would be highest in the US and Europe (where guidelines are in place and there is political and senior civil service support for blogging) and lowest in Australia (where guidelines are not yet in place).
Given the level of blog discourse already occurring on topics related to government services, perhaps Australian agencies need to more closely consider blogging as a communication and interaction tool.
- Technorati has indexed more that 122 million blogs since 2002,
- Bloggers are creating almost one million blog posts per day,
- Four in five bloggers post reviews of products or brands that they love (or hate),
- One-third of bloggers have been approached by companies to be brand advocates,
- 95% of the Top 100 US newspapers have journalist blogs (if you can't beat them, join them),
- 50% of bloggers receive more than 1,000 unique visitors per month, with 18% receiving more than 10,000,
- The more active a blog is, the greater its visibility and traffic, and
- Two-thirds of bloggers do so under their real identity.
- 36% of bloggers are aged 25-34 and 27% are 35-44. 23% are 45 or older,
- Two-thirds are male,
- 44% are parents,
- 70% have undergraduate degrees or higher, and
- 40% have incomes in excess of US$75,000 per year.
- 79% of bloggers post on personal matters (topics of personal interest not associated with their work)
- 46% post on professional topics (about their industry and profession but not in an official capacity for their employer) - such as this blog
- 12% post on corporate topics (blog for their employer in an official capacity)
Top blog topics
- 54% blog about personal/lifestyle areas
- 46% blog about technology
- 42% blog about news
- 35% blog about politics
Benefits of professional/corporate blogging
- 54% say they have received increased professional recognition (better known in their industry),
- 26% have used their blog as a resume/reference in job seeking,
- 16% have more executive visibility within their organisation,
- 11% got promoted as a result of their blogging,
- 2% were fired or put on probation as a result of something they blogged about.
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
IBF has launched Intranets Live, a monthly 'online media channel' featuring interviews and commentary on intranets and intranet topics from around the world.
While it is useful to access a monthly podcast on what is occurring around the world in the intranet area, the price tag for this option would require careful consideration by intranet managers.
Uganda has become the latest nation to announce that it is following a centralised government portal strategy, launching a statewide web portal managed by their Ministry of ICT.
This reflects the approach taken in many other nations, including Australia (www.australia.gov.au and www.business.gov.au) to provide a central face to government online, to a greater or lessor degree.
Given the enthusiasm for this approach in the virtual world, are we likely to see a similar approach to government shopfronts, phone and paper-based transactions reflected at federal level over time?
We've certainly seen some state-based jurisdictions move to single shopfronts - at least in smaller jurisdictions.
However if this isn't the strategy in these channels, what is the rationale for providing different messages in different mediums?
Doesn't it weaken the argument for citizens to not need to know which agency they are dealing with?
- A single central port of call online
- Department/Agency-based offices and paper correspondence
- Service-based phone numbers
What's your view?