GOVERNMENT INFORMATION SYSTEMS CONFERENCE
WELLINGTON, 2-3 MAY 2000
Knowledge management in Government
…exploiting the technologies
…managing the relationships
Tasmania is like New Zealand
Tasmania is like New Zealand.
We both have spectacular scenery
… we both have a bracing climate
… we both have fresh air, pure water, and unspoiled wilderness.
And we both face similar challenges and operate in similar ways
… challenges of remoteness from many markets
… challenges from a small population which, by itself, is insufficient for a critical
mass of economic activity
… and an approach to dealing with issues with a stubborn determination to do things
our way, and not be driven by our bigger neighbour to the north.
Tasmania is small, isolated, cold – at least in the opinion of people who haven‟t
experienced our fantastic sunny days – less wealthy, less wired, and dominated by a
single telecommunications provider.
Of course there are differences too.
Tasmania is just one State, and the smallest one at that. Unlike New Zealand,
Tasmania is highly decentralised, with the majority of the population scattered among
small communities outside the capital city.
Our telecommunications services are provided by a carrier that still has a close to
monopoly position in many markets including Tasmania.
And many programs and important elements of service delivery involve three levels of
government rather than the two you are familiar with.
Now, we are here to talk about how governments can best use information and
communications technologies and knowledge management to achieve policy
And the expectations amongst our political leaders are high.
Information and communications technologies are increasingly seen as being the
answer to many of the challenges confronting government, particularly in service
delivery, and access to information and knowledge.
Our experience in Tasmania supports this.
But in meeting the expectations of our political leaders, we have found that the
technology is rarely the most difficult issue to deal with.
The more interesting and challenging issues arise from using the online environment
to create new relationships
… relationships between government and its citizens,
… between the members of communities, and
… between the way in which people see the issues they face in their lives and the way
in which services are delivered to them.
Today, I would like to explore these relationships
… to see how technology has allowed government to re-enter communities and
provide more and better services than in the past
… and how the technology has allowed communities to strengthen their social fabric
and create new bonds between people
… to help restore a belief in the viability and strength of their community.
The technology has created new options that were not affordable, practical or even
possible in the past.
I want to take us through some case studies that illustrate the power of these new
… because the most important lessons are in the stories of how people experience the
technology and use it in new and surprising ways.
I probably should warn you now that they‟re not all success stories.
Pushing the edges of where ICT can take relationships between people, communities
and governments means learning from the things that should have worked but didn‟t
… as well as from the projects that delivered truly surprising but powerful effects.
As the technologies mature, we need to constantly learn from and take heed of both
the successes and the failures. These technologies have the same characteristics as the
technologies that have shaped our economic and social directions in the past.
As with cars, railways and electricity in the past, the technology is all pervasive, and
based on a product – information – that is quickly becoming a commodity. But just as
Henry Ford couldn‟t anticipate that his model Ts would start a revolution
… a revolution in areas as diverse as social relationships – courting would never be
the same again
… tourism – formerly the preserve of the rich and famous
… and a revolution that broke down the barrier of physical distance that had limited
the social and business relationships that most people could experience
we cannot anticipate all of the social and economic effects that ICT will bring.
We are still driving model T Fords.
Governments must take heed of the lessons that are now emerging if they are going to
maximise the economic outcome, respond intelligently to social change and actively
manage the inevitable dislocation that new pervasive technologies have always
Some of you may feel that you have heard these lessons before, or say to yourself that
they aren‟t very profound. You‟re right
… but they are important lessons nevertheless and are easily lost in the rush to build
ever more glittering technological prizes.
And they also hint at new possibilities that should satisfy even the most hard core
technologists amongst us.
Restoring a belief that government is there to help
In many regional communities, electronic services are associated with a reduction in
traditional levels of service delivery. For example, the banks have aggressively
replaced face to face service delivery with electronic services. And people have now
realised that the rhetoric – don‟t worry because you‟ll able to do everything
electronically – was not true, and probably never will be.
In Tasmania we decided on a different approach: Service Tasmania.
Service Tasmania represents a major reorganisation of the public face of government.
It is much more than just a network of shops, phone and online services that sell fees,
fines, taxes and charges.
Service Tasmania reflects how people think about the services they need.
… they have no interest in which part of government is responsible for a particular
… they don‟t care how we organise ourselves in the public sector.
Rather, they experience events in their life or business that involve THE
GOVERNMENT, and they want THE GOVERNMENT to respond.
They don‟t want to be told that
… to get a drivers licence you need to find and present a birth certificate, pass a
knowledge test and register for the driving exam – all in different places
They don‟t want to be told that
… every year they must renew their Crown Land hunting license, their permit to take
Brush Possums, maintain their water rights, as well as ensure they qualify for the Off-
Road Diesel Fuel Subsidy – with four different departments in four different places
And they don‟t want to be told that
… and here‟s a really tricky one - in the first weeks after a baby is born someone
needs to register the birth – State Government, arrange to visit community health
nurses or a parenting centre – State Government, book immunisation – Local
Government, and apply for family support payments – Commonwealth Government –
but only if they have the baby‟s immunisation records.
Service Tasmania presents a single face of government.
At Service Tasmania, event based service packages bring together Government
services and information in ways that make sense to the people who use them.
Service Tasmania currently provides more than 250 single point over-the-counter
services at every one of the 24 shops located around the State. Every shop provides an
extensive core set of services, whether the shop has one part time staff member or 20
The shops can do this not only because they are linked electronically with agency back
end systems but because the counter staff have access to a knowledge management
system. I‟ll come back to some problems we have experienced with this later.
An increasing number of services are also available over the telephone or over the
Internet. Payments and applications can be made, and information sought, 24 hours a
day, 7 days a week.
The success of Service Tasmania comes from it being an example of electronic service
delivery but one that uses a human intermediary.
The technology is vital but is insufficient by itself.
Creating Service Tasmania was a classic process of disintermediation - as agencies
closed their individual service points
… and re-intermediation as those outlets were replaced by a network of shops and
electronic service points that provided a complete service.
In terms of knowledge management, Service Tasmania is about breaking down the
information and business process silos that are so characteristic of large bureaucracies
such as government agencies. The ultimate objective is to put individual customers in
contact with the same knowledge base available to public servants.
To begin breaking these silos down, agency staff were involved in the development of
Service Tasmania from the start.
We formed a new relationship that led to a very different workplace culture
… there is a renewed sense of pride in the knowledge that agency staff could
contribute and counter staff could use to meet people‟s needs
… and a new service ethic amongst counter staff who are often the lowest paid and
were often the least valued.
But with all this pride in what is being done, there is huge importance in managing
In the case of the public service this was managing expectations upwards
… recognising what could be achieved
… valuing the knowledge held by long-term employees
… and re-establishing a close connection between public servants and their local
Service Tasmania has also generated a new sense of viability in small and isolated
rural communities. There are many stories of what has happened to towns and to
individuals since the shops opened.
At Triabunna, on our east coast, the Service Tasmania shop provides a near to full
retail banking service to a town that had lost its last bank branch.
When there had been a bank branch, the owner of the local hardware store had a
special courier to deliver her daily takings. Her dog Rex. He‟d trot along to the bank
every day, cash bag in his mouth, while she walked behind.
When the last bank branch closed in Triabunna, Rex was a lost dog, and the
community as a whole felt it was under real threat.
When Service Tasmania Triabunna opened its doors, Rex was back at work and the
community felt it was back in business. The importance of the relationship between
Service Tasmania and the community was in the feeling of viability it created.
On the two main Bass Strait Islands, the appearance of genuine government staff and
services that you didn‟t have to get on a plane to experience was major event.
But just as it was important to manage the public services expectations up, it is also
essential to manage public enthusiasm for the services.
The success breeds demand. Demand for more shop, more services, greater
interaction and depth of electronic services, 24 by 7 call centres and so on.
Service Tasmania also demonstrates that successful use of the technology and of
knowledge management does not require a high level of technical sophistication and
internal process reform to get out of the blocks.
From its first day of operation, Service Tasmania customers could do all of the things
they expected. Behind the scenes, the technical implementation of the transaction and
customer management arrangements was neither elegant nor perfect. Indeed, you
could accurately describe it as a sticky-tape-and-string job.
Putting the customer experience as the first priority, and always being driven by
customers‟ needs rather than technology or agency objectives, means that Service
Tasmania worked from the first day.
It is achieving consistently high levels of customer satisfaction
… while we are still developing and implementing the technical solutions.
Building a sense of community
Tasmanian Communities Online
Thanks to a Commonwealth Government funding program called Networking the
Nation which arose from the part-sale of the national telecommunications provider,
Telstra, 60 Online Access Centres will have been established in rural and regional
Tasmania by June this year.
These centres provide access to computers and the Internet as well as training in their
The initial aim of the Online Access Centres was to accelerate the uptake of
information technology by people living in rural and regional Tasmania. They sought
to deal with the equity issues and to overcome other barriers to access.
They have been a huge success
… but our early policy objectives such as equity of access haven‟t proved to be the
Instead, the success of the centres has been in rebuilding and reinforcing a sense of
community and of place.
After World War II most Australian towns built a local community hall as a centre for
It was the venue for the weekly community dance.
It provided a focus for fund raising, school recitals, youth groups, church activities
and all of the other things that made up the social fabric of small towns.
The Online Access Centres have turned out to be the new community halls. They are
bringing together individuals and groups, and uniting communities once more.
They aren‟t the answer to all the ills of rural and regional towns but there is no doubt
that this bringing together of the community has been a consistent and significant
feature of the centres.
Further, micro businesses that are so typical of those small communities are using the
centres as a launching point to jump into electronic commerce.
Again, the management of expectations in the relationship between government, the
centres and the communities is important.
The question of sustainability is now a major issue. There isn‟t a consensus about how
to manage the funding into the future and on the extent to which government has an
Giving communities control and choice
Tasmanian Community Network (TCN)
The power of the technology comes from the new and innovative uses people make of
it to solve problems and create opportunities. Government can‟t and shouldn‟t be at
the centre of these innovations. It has a role in education and in kick starting
… but it needs to pass the reins to the community as quickly as possible.
In Tasmania, the strategy we‟ve used to do this is called the Tasmanian Community
Funded by Networking the Nation, the TCN brings people from local communities
and businesses together to identify their own needs and develop local solutions using
the technology as the lever for change.
The groups plan how ICT can benefit their needs, bring positive change and create
This is done by sharing information, ideas, resources, expertise, and
The vision of the Tasmanian Community Network is
… to create sustainable change in Tasmania‟s community life and economic
It is made up of networks of people working together to
… stimulate economic development,
… improve the quality of life, and
… reduce the isolation of our island economy.
TCN maintains a sense of local control and direction based on what the community
decides is important, not on what other people tell them is important.
TCN supports both physical communities and communities of interest.
This is a strong vision, and the program has achieved some important successes.
Communities have taken control of their projects.
A group of local government authorities in the centre of Tasmania have formed a
coalition and are building a local web portal. They are confronting what locals call
„the doughnut effect‟ where they are seen as the hole in the middle of the Island. They
want to bring tourism and other business to their towns rather than be bypassed.
Another community scheme has seen students from a local school partnering with
residents at a nearby home for the elderly. They shared knowledge and information
about using computers and the Internet. The students and the residents call it “the
pimplies teaching the wrinklies”.
Real success lies in the community groups taking control of their project. Perhaps
such “community ownership” is the best measure of their success.
But we have learnt some difficult lessons.
In many of the communities, there is no body of knowledge that allows people to see
what might be possible. The TCN has helped overcome this gap but we now face
significant resistance from some communities to the project team disengaging and
In some cases TCN has reinforced a feeling of dependence on government
… exactly the opposite effect to what was intended.
The program has also experienced difficulty in involving a sufficiently wide cross
section of each community. In some small communities, the process load can fall on
the same people every time. They quickly suffer from „participant fatigue‟.
Taking knowledge outside the ramparts
I have talked about the external face of some of our programs … the outcomes we are
seeking to achieve.
But all of these programs present real challenges to us as the custodians and managers
of information and knowledge.
The technologies are attractive, intellectually challenging and powerful.
We can be captured by the elegance of the solution, the joy of the technology, the fit
of the jigsaw.
The technologists amongst us still hold too many keys to the kingdom. They are too
concerned with maintaining the illusion that these are arcane mysteries that only they
And yes, I know we all are shocked to discover there are snake oil merchants in ICT.
With ICT come traps
… have we got the solution for you – whatever your problem is
… you need the perfect solution, highly engineered and technically elaborate
… we want to enter into contracts where the life of the commitment is longer than the
life of the technology or solution
… and ICT solves business problems rather than enables business solutions to
………and of course those damned silos … well we‟ll get to them after we implement
At each step along the path we have found that applying rigour and discipline pays off.
Discipline about examining the necessity of technological solutions and the return on
investment, social and economic, that they will deliver.
Rigour in examining the validity of claims about what will be delivered and how the
risks in the process will be managed.
Sometimes you have to leap off in a new direction without perfect information. And
ICT is clearly at that stage in many areas. But even then we have seen the benefits of a
well thought out and thorough process.
This disciplined process lets us use the technologies to take knowledge that was
formerly the secret preserve of bureaucrats and professions and place it in the hands of
communities and individuals.
This is not so much about what the knowledge is but how to create systems that allow
that knowledge to be captured, collated, maintained and made easy to discover.
We have found that a carefully thought out approach allows us to use the same
systems that provide professionals users with the depth of information they require,
while allowing other general users to use the same systems to gain access to the
information they need.
In other words, we have found that we don‟t need and indeed it isn‟t desirable to
develop and maintain two separate systems and duplicated information holdings.
The technologies have allowed this approach to work. It simply wasn‟t practical in the
But again it must be implemented in a rigorous way.
If much of the government information you can find on the web is wrong – and it is
… or out of date – and it is
… or incomplete – and it is
… or hard to find – and yes it is
you don‟t even have the start of a knowledge management system.
And even if we overcome all of these barriers, we know that the information people
value is simply not there.
We can become so focussed on infrastructure questions and equity issues between the
information rich and information poor, we risk created infrastructure and access but
no meaningful content.
Access rich but content poor isn‟t a very good deal.
One of the critical issues is getting authorship and custodianship right..
I‟d like to discuss a number of examples that explain what I mean.
ENACT provides an authoring environment for Parliamentary Counsel that allows for
automatic consolidation of legislation. It provides professional users of legislation
such as lawyers with a feature rich and content rich environment.
But the same environment gives the public the same level of online access to all
Tasmanian legislation. It is available immediately it becomes law because the same
system is used to create the legislation, to manage the workflow as a Bill passes
through the Parliament, and provides immediate online access.
This electronic version of the legislation is the only authorised copy.
The Land Information System of Tasmania, the LIST, is an innovative system
developed by the Tasmania Government that provides access to all land information.
It makes it accessible to business and the community … to professional users and
The LIST has won national and international awards. It is our longest running
example of electronic service delivery.
The LIST is also successful on a commercial model for government. Its main users are
real estate agents, surveyors, and conveyancers. But it is now also used by Service
Tasmania staff, who can answer questions and provide information to the general
public in minutes. This information used to take weeks to extract from paper archives.
This information is of significant and immediate commercial value, and I can tell you
that the Department which delivers the product has significant and immediate
feedback if there is a problem.
The LIST can deliver these benefits because it keeps authorship and custodianship of
the data with the agency that generates it. They continue to use their own data for
internal business purposes but are able to contribute that data to enterprise wide
systems with little additional overhead.
The biggest job that goes on behind the scenes in the LIST is not getting the land
information online, but forming and maintaining partnerships and information sharing
agreements between these contributing business units.
The Discover web site is an interactive and dynamic electronic workplace for the
Teachers, students, parents and members of the broader community are able to access
teaching and learning strategies, digital resources, good practice guidance, and
contacts and events. They can participate in online learning and in discussion forums
that allow teachers to share their experiences about using online and digital teaching
The site emphasises participation and contribution, encouraging the sharing of ideas,
practices and resources. In other words, it creates a sense of community and a feeling
that it is a „teacher‟ and a „school‟ place. It builds relationships.
The Department of Education web-site which preceded it was a list of policies and
activities, arranged according to the structure of the department.
Discover works because the authorship is distributed among the people who have the
most interest in it being accurate and useful
… to the teachers who want to share skills and knowledge with each other
… to the students who want to collaborate with each other
… and so on.
It a vehicle to spread knowledge that was formerly the province of a group of
specialist teachers and schools among the wider educational community.
For example, the site has allowed teachers in remote schools to deliver courses in
drama and creative drawing even though they are not specifically trained in these
areas. One teacher has used the site to provide other teachers with complete
instructions on how to teach children in a classroom to build, and fly, a kite, and to
explain why it works.
I said earlier that I would talk about some of the problems we have faced in
developing and implementing a knowledge system for Service Tasmania.
Staff in Service Tasmania shops provide over 250 different services to customers, on
behalf of more than 15 different departments and other parties. The number of
services and parties is growing rapidly.
We introduced an online resource manual to overcome the problem that counter staff
could not be expected to become expert in every service. We tried to capture that
expertise in an online knowledge system.
This was and remains a good idea but it hasn‟t yet worked in practice. We found three
First, the knowledge capture was left to the individual agencies
… and to be frank, they didn‟t do such a good job because the people doing it didn‟t
understand how important the task was and because some recognised that their unique
position as a knowledge holder was under threat.
Secondly, the counter staff come from agencies where hard copy procedure manuals
or individual knowledge were the norm. We didn‟t spend enough time working with
them to form a relationship to guide the development of the system.
Thirdly, their desktop environment couldn‟t manage the legacy systems and other
agency back end databases at the same as providing the instant and easy access they
wanted to the knowledge base.
Finally, a system designed to capture and manage knowledge wasn‟t capable of being
annotated by the counter staff as they discovered the best way to meet the needs of
their customers. So we had a knowledge management system that couldn‟t capture
Interestingly, some staff started to use agency web sites as a more reliable and east to
access system than their own purpose-built system.
Next time I have the privilege of talking to you, I expect to be able to give you a happy
ending to this saga and to share with you a successful approach to this critical issue.
Let me finish with the Tasmanian Motor Registry.
So far I have talked about our real achievements and some of the mistakes and
problems that have arisen along the way. I don‟t normally finish with a case study of
how things can go horribly wrong.
But on this occasion I will because this sketch highlights many of the things I have
mentioned. I am sure you will go away remembering our successes just as much as the
hard lessons we have learned.
The motor registry system in Tasmania is quite small by national standards. It deals
with 760 000 registration certificates, 360 000 drivers licences and 53 000 public
vehicle licences. However it has all the complexity of a motor registry system serving
a much larger population.
It has been on its last legs for some years!
Several years ago, a major and expensive review was undertaken of the motor registry
system. The solutions that were available at that time were simply too expensive even
to be contemplated. So the system has been subjected to many costly band-aid fixes.
It has become a legacy system in the truest sense of the word – it is extremely
complex to use the integrity of the data is poor, and its functionality and its flexibility
are extremely limited.
But now it is facing two pressures that have the potential to break the system
completely. The first is a national road reform process which means that Tasmania is
required to provide data from its motor registry system to a national database. There
are strong financial incentives for Tasmania to comply.
The second involves Service Tasmania.
Motor registry functions make up a substantial proportion of the transactions that
Service Tasmania performs. Previously, these transactions were performed by counter
staff who had extensive knowledge of the system and its peculiarities
… knowledge that wasn‟t written down and that they were reticent about sharing.
Service Tasmania is based on using generalist counter staff, generic business process
supported by codified information and agency systems.
Unfortunately, the motor registry system has problems with all of these tasks.
Consequently, the error rate has increased to an unacceptable level.
Further, the Government‟s timetable for bringing these transactions online means that
the system will be subject to even further stress.
So we are now faced with a time critical project to replace the system – and to do it at
an affordable cost.
In the context of knowledge management within government, the lesson from this
saga is that you need to be prepared for the possibility that agency legacy systems just
can‟t manage the transition, and the whole purpose of a new approach to service
delivery can be put at risk by a single point of failure.
Because of the inter-dependencies between motor registry transactions and other
agencies such as Police and Justice are so important, this failure echoes through many
other systems, most of which are well engineered and highly responsive.
And because motor registry functions are such a frequent area of interaction between
customers and the government, failure of that system or unacceptable error rates in
these types of transactions can undermine public confidence in the new approach.
What started out as a single agency problem has rapidly become a whole of
government problem. The big question is whether this type of problem means that we
need to swing the pendulum back towards a centralised model of government?
My view is that, while this may be an easy answer, the cost in the long term may be
What I have done today, is attempt to tell you about the way we have gone about
building relationships as the essential foundation for exploiting the technologies. I
believe that the path forward is clearer when we look at these almost anecdotal
examples. As the technology matures, different approaches will become clear and
continue to evolve. But until then we need to look to the lessons that are available to
guide government in this important area of social and economic policy.