Federal government employees will become human guinea pigs as a preliminary test to an Australia-wide rollout of smartcards federal government services delivery under a proposal floated by Special Minister of State, Senator Eric Abetz. Delivering the keynote address to the government stream at the South East Asian Regional Computer Confederation (SEARRC 2005) in Sydney.
Abetz told an audience of state, federal and international CIOs one proposal he is considering includes "all Australian government public servants (carrying) a standard card of some type, perhaps using smart chip technology, to replace the plethora of identification tokens that currently exist across the public service".
If successful, lessons learnt from the government employee smartcard rollout would be applied to citizen smartcards.
Computerworld understands the proposal has the backing of the Department of Human Services and Centrelink and will enable public servants to work on collaborative, cross-portfolio projects without having their employee identities constantly reinvented.
Parts of the scheme are expected to be finalized by the New Year; however, Abetz declined to name specific dates for the introduction of citizen smartcards, saying only that the current "26 different services and concession cards needs a simpler architecture".
Meanwhile, the Australian Government Information Management Office is working on what Abetz called "a common set of business rules, a common ICT architecture and authentication requirements" which would be backed by "strong privacy safeguards".
Badged as the latest iteration of Australia's e-government strategy, the initiative will reposition the federal bureaucracy's transactional machinery to take far better advantage of service oriented architecture (SOA) and interoperability between applications.
One example of the new SOA footing is the ability of agencies such as Medicare to automatically retrieve and populate electronic forms with information from Centrelink records - for example a person's benefit entitlements - without the customer travelling back and forth between agencies to replicate processes and transactions.
However, Abetz also stressed any government smartcard introduction would retain distinctly human features that have been accepted and liked by community, citing an intention to retain the popular Department of Veterans' Affairs "Gold Card".
Rather than replacing the Gold Card, Abetz said the government would seek to upgrade the existing card to make it interoperable with other agency systems and give the card some new smarts that would allow community members to "cut through red tape and bureaucratic roadblocks".
It is anticipated the smartcard scheme will require additional budget funding, with a pay-off from savings to the government to be recouped within three to four years.
Minister for Human Services Joe Hockey is currently touring remote communities in the Tiwi Islands north of Darwin and was not immediately contactable for comment. -- Computerworld Today (Australia)
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