Australian parliament trials Windows 8 tablets

Members of the Australian Parliament and staff have been trialling Windows 8 tablets.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor on

The Australian Department of Parliamentary Services has begun a trial of Windows 8 tablets with MPs and parliamentary staff, following a successful trial of iPads between 2010 and 2011.

Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) CIO Eija Seittenranta told ZDNet in an interview that there was a small pilot of the tablets currently underway with six users, including Members of Parliament.

"We've given them a set of evaluation criteria where they will be shortly telling us what they thought of the device and how well it fitted their requirements," she said

The trial comes as the department moves to be more flexible with the technology it allows parliamentarians and staffers to use. Seittenranta said that they had now moved to allow parliamentarians and staff to bring their own devices, and in the longer term, would look to create a more formal support service for those devices.

"We don't want to constrain our clients, particularly the parliamentarians [who] want the choice because they move a lot and they have an incredible amount of material they need to be on top of," she said.

For mobile phones, Seittenranta said that the department would look to support iOS, Android, and BlackBerry devices, and for tablets, she said it was likely that iOS, Android, and Windows would be supported.

"[We want] flexibility, but not total open slather because our support arrangements would get very complex," she said.

Seittenranta was appointed to the new role of CIO for the department at the end of October after previously working in the Department of Human Services. Her role was created in response to a review by former public servant Michael Roche, who recommended that IT for parliamentarians in the House and the Senate, as well as their staff and in their electorate offices, be handled by the one group headed up by the CIO.

The CIO said that she was attempting to create a good service culture within the department, and noted it had already seen some success.

"In the last three months, we've nearly halved the backlog of problems, and we've now started a call out program to our electorate offices to ensure they're getting the service, and they don't have any outstanding issues."

The department was looking to consolidate the number of helpdesks so that, instead of calling one line for PC support and another for printer support, there would be the one number. This wouldn't lead to a headcount reduction for helpdesk, however.

"We'll probably keep the same numbers. What we're looking at is making sure they've got the right tools to support them," Seittenranta said.

"We're also looking at how do we increase capacity during those peak periods, such as in sitting periods, without having to increase numbers."

There are a number of projects already underway to improve IT for the parliament and parliamentarians, including upgrading electorate office broadband connections. Seittenranta said that upgrading the links from 2 megabits-per-second (Mbps) to 10Mbps with Telstra will be completed by the end of March.

The next task will be to complete the upgrade of over 4,000 desktops from Windows XP or Vista over to Windows 7 and Office 10. Seittenranta said that this upgrade had almost been completed within Parliament House, and the next phase of the upgrade would happen in electorate offices.

While the Department of Human Services was a much larger agency for its IT requirements, Seittenranta sees her new role as being just as critical, given she is working for people such as Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

"In some ways, coming into DPS has been quite daunting, considering the unique role of parliament and the very important role that some of our clients have in the country," she said. "So that puts a fair bit of expectation on my role."

But there were many common issues facing both departments, she said.

"A lot of the issues are very similar in terms of how we use technology to enable things to be done in different and better ways," she said.

The Roche report had also help her set goals and get a good insight into what needs to be done in the department.

"I've been pleasantly surprised by the calibre of the teams and the enthusiasm they have got for implementing these changes," she said.

In the lead up to the 2013 election, Seittenranta said that it was important to make sure all electorate IT was working, and to ensure that the Parliamentary website can cope with demand. She said that the department would consider looking into the use of cloud services to manage this during the election period.

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