Thursday, October 02, 2008

Building a better Vic whole-of-government intranet

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,
  • can provide 'communal good' services assisting councils and department to work together in ways which cannot be cost-effectively provided by individual government agencies,
  • must support and complement departmental intranets rather than compete with them,
  • requires strong central governance to maintain content standards and review processes, while allowing autonomy to engaged groups,
  • needs to consider a 'narrow and deep' approach to content and community by focusing on assisting and supporting key groups to achieve their goals rather than simply providing an infrastructure which groups need to self-develop, and
  • requires an ongoing promotional strategy to engage public servants and ensure the intranet's functionality has sufficient awareness.

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,
  • cross-agency collaboration tools,
  • cross-government expert discovery (people finder focused on skills rather than names),
  • cross-goverment information sharing based on topics of common interest (shared bookmarks, forums, blogs and research),
  • build awareness and share best practice functionality implemented in specific department/council intranets (possibly providing their central operational infrastructure, and
  • support ongoing development of a cross-government public sector identity (what is it to be a public servant in Victoria).

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.


  1. Hi Craig,
    I'm the person who created the first Victorian whole of Government intranet in 1996. It grew out of a technology platform called VGEMS (Victorian Government Electronic Messaging Service) which was the first attempt to connect all Victorian Government agencies (X400 protocol).
    Even with our modest initial aim (to share provide access to up-to-date core documents, such as the Cabinet Handbook), it was revolutionary.
    Years later, I still believe there's a lot more we can do to enhance our use of intranets to support innovation in government. The Central Station team's enthusiasm and openness to new ideas is a positive and refreshing step forward.
    Sue H

  2. Hi Craig

    Like Sue H I've worked around the Victorian Government's online initiatives since the early nineties working with Sue on from about 1997.

    Looking at the many Web 2.0 tools and the more important changing in strategy for collaboration using the web we need to provide more powerful tools for individuals to connect with each other, discussions, documents and processes. That is instead of trying to link up internally, provide access and tools so that individuals can efficiently link up what is relevant from the "outside".

    I think the same approach might work with large organisations when developing their Intranets and other internal communications/collaboration projects. For example rather than trying to build a massive KM system to improve organisational problem solving set up a system that allows a "wikipedia" of problems and their solutions to evolve.

    Thanks for your thoughts I enjoy reading them from time to time.



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