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Australian Computer Society

Databases, the Internet and Society

by Tom Worthington, President of the Australian Computer Society

7 August 1996 at the 1996 Annual Conference Oracle User Group - ACT, Canberra

Announcement & Summary

Tom Worthington Tom Worthington will argue that the skills which designers of database applications apply are just as important when building Internet based applications. He will talk about his experience in putting the Federal Government on-line in Internet policy development and implementation in the Department of Defence, on interdepartmental committees and for the ACS.

About the speaker

Tom Worthington is National President of the Australian Computer Society and Deputy Director, Information management Planning, Australian Department of Defence. Tom is co-author of the ACS InfoBahn Policy, the Defence Representative on the Commonwealth Internet Reference Group, one of the authors of the new Architecture For Access To Government Information and has been described by Information Age magazine as one of the 50 most influential IT&T people in Australia.

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For more registration details see the conference home page, or e-mail: Thea Howie .

Draft of 31 July 1996: The content of this talk will be developed at between 31 July and 7 August. Suggestions and comments welcome:


The Internet: potential public good and potential disaster

First of all I would like to tell you a little about what professional bodies, such as the ACS are for and then explain why we need them even more in the age of the Internet.

About ten years ago I was trained in database design and database application design at the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Part of that training was the importance of a sound design, built for long term use, taking into account the needs of the user. That is what all IT professionals should learn and it is what is required of ACS members .

The personal computer came along and disrupted the comfortable world of IT professionals. Non-professionals could get a computer and program it themselves. While this might work okay for small applications, it caused and continues to cause problems where the non-professionals over-extend themselves.

Easier to use tools, which took away some of the effort have come along and solved some problems, also many users have learnt their lesson and leave big jobs to the experts. The same problems are now arising with the use of the Internet in corporate applications.

In the next few months we are likely to see major disasters, as poorly designed Internet applications release confidential and incorrect information to the public and Internet applications fail.

The issues which apply in building an Oracle (or any database) application apply to Home Pages on the Web and more complex Internet applications: security, integrity, reliability, backup, protection of personal privacy, intellectual property and public safety.

I have lived with these issues for the last two years, building Web pages and writing policy about it for Government agencies and the ACS . You are all going to have to live with these issues very soon. The Internet provides almost a textbook example of every major ethical and technical issue in IT. You need to equip yourselves with the professional knowledge to deal with it now.

What I want to do know is take you through a few items from my work to illistrate the problems. The written text of this talk, from now on paints a relatively positive picture. If you want the less positive details, you will have to register for the conference. ;-)

Vision for a Networked Nation

In 1994 Roger Clarke and I wrote "Vision for a Networked Nation", as an ACS submission to assorted government and parliamentary enquiries.

The vision essentially was that Australians would have easy, low cost access to on-line facilities for routine business, cultural and government activities. We wanted to make the Internet an ordinary tool for people to use. Much of that vision has already been achieved, through the work of people in Australian academia, government, industry and the community. However there were also warnings of the possible negative effects of the Internet, such as increased monitoring of citizens private communications.

War comes to Mallacoota

Map of Northern Australia Exercise KANGAROO 95 took place in an area of over 4 million km square, across the Top End of Australia from July to the end of August 1995 and involved over 17,000 Australian Defence Force troops, and visiting units from the USA, Malaysia, Singapore, Papua New Guinea, the UK and Indonesia.
Robert Lester and satellite communications Reports and photographs were transmitted from the exercise area using stand-alone portable satellite communications terminals, capable of full 64k duplex high speed data.

As manager of the Defence home page, I received the reports at Defence headquarters in Canberra and up-loaded, them to a publicly accessible Internet server at the Australian Defence Force Academy.

K'95 Logo During the exercise the Department of Administrative Services announced K'95 trucking tenders on its Government Electronic Marketplace Service (GEMS). GEMS was linked to the K'95 home page, demonstrating the synergy possible with the Internet.

"Commercial off the shelf" lap top computers and Internet software were used for transmitting the photos and reports. Photos were processed for efficient on-screen display, but also proved useful for printed reproduction.

Tom Worthington at Mallacoota For the first week of the exercise I was officially on holiday, but maintained the K95 home page remotely using a pocket modem and lap top PC from Mallacoota, Victoria.

In the next few months the limitation will not be bandwidth or location, but people's ability to sift information. Already on-line executives can receive much more information in a day than they could absorb in a year. We are starting to see software for filtering information, so they get the high priority material, condensed in an easy to use form. This is especially a priority for Command Support Systems (CSS) systems. We will see the same techniques used to condense information for low bandwidth users.

Some examples of information condensing:

We will be launching the Defence Home Page MKIII in September and I hope to incorporate some of these techniques. It is easy to build a Web page with lots of flashy animated graphics which look good in a demonstration environment; it is difficult to build one which looks good and also gets useful information out to the public, but it is possible.

Internet applications from Australian Government organisations

Commonwealth Government on-line policy and implementation

Australia's stake in the global information industry

See also