The Federal Government will develop a strategy to optimise departmental and other websites for mobiles by the end of the year, but has stopped short of labelling it a priority.
AGIMO’s first assistant secretary of agency services, John Sheridan, told a Senate estimates hearing this week that the department's website work so far had focused on ensuring government websites were accessible for visually impaired users under the WCAG 2.0 standard.
“Over time we anticipate we’ll do some work on mobile strategy as well,” Sheridan said.
He revealed discussions with agency CIOs around such a strategy, but would not place it as a priority at this point.
An recent iTnews survey of 22 government websites found less than a quarter of those surveyed offered sufficient access for mobiles.
Sheridan was grilled during the hearing over the issue by opposition senator Scott Ryan, who claimed many accessed the websites through an iPhone, which was not fully compatible with some dropdown menus on sites.
He said the calculator on the Australian Tax Office website did not work in particular because it was based on Adobe's Flash platform, which Apple devices do not support without a third party browser.
“You can’t access the ATO or Centrelink site in as an effective way as I can on my laptop,” Senator Ryan said.
He suggested AGIMO should pressure those two agencies to ensure people that only had a tablet or iPhone could access the website.
Sheridan said it was not AGIMO's role to “put pressure on agencies in that regard”.
“You say, you focus on access, isn’t this really an access issue?" Senator Ryan countered.
"Isn’t prioritising what appears to quite sluggish adoption on what appears to be features of electronic interaction. Shouldn’t you be saying this is an access issue?”
Google has predicted a billion people globally would use a smartphone as their primary internet device this year, with the search giant's Australian financial industry leader calling on the big banks and retail stores to better adopt mobile site strategies.
Sheridan confirmed the Government had set no targets for departments and agencis to meet mobile website standards.
Coincidentally, US President Barak Obama this week issued a memorandum to all Government agencies setting out a 12-month roadmap requiring agencies to establish measurable goals to better use mobile and web-based technologies on their websites.
The call to action by Obama - who had proved one of the country's first technology-friendly presidents - came as an attempt to help stop people from navigating “a labyrinth of information across different Government programs", especially from mobile devices.
Telepresence network growing pains
Sheridan also revealed during the hearing that AGIMO’s national teleprescence network may require further investments to cope with demand.
The network, which connected 36 federal and state government offices, had exceeded expectations, saving travel costs of some $26 million over 1800 official meetings since the $13.8 million system was established by Telstra and Cisco in 2009.
The service had seen accelerated demand in recent months however, with the savings reported by Sheridan this week far exceeding the $24 million savings special minister of state Gary Gray said the Government would achieve using the system by next year.
As a result, Sheridan told the Senate that additional investment may be required to cope with “capacity constraints” in using the telepresence system over Telstra's Next IP network.