Cyber, data, identity: Canberra's approach to delivering an 'integrated urban plan'

Home Affairs and DTA bosses detail the government's plan for how the public service will 'get its act together' and get rid of the silos that currently plague 180-plus 'cities and towns' within Canberra.

The federal government currently operates in silos, with Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) chief Randall Brugeaud likening it to the way individual cities and towns design, buy, and build their own water, electricity, and mobile networks and their own infrastructure such as roads and public transport, as well as buildings.

"This makes sense for each city or town in isolation, but when they need to connect and share services or support the movement of people into neighbouring towns, it becomes more problematic," he said.

"Currently, the [Australian Public Service] is made up of a large number of cities and towns."

Speaking at his agency's own Digital Summit on Thursday, Brugeaud said while in the short term, it is simpler for each city or town to continue to operate independently, the approach is siloed, fragmented, and inefficient, and creates issues in the longer term.

"It also creates friction, frustration, and inconvenience for the people in need to access these services," he said.

Drawing the analogy back to the Australian Public Service (APS), he said with around 180 cities and towns operating at the Commonwealth level, complexity is furthered when state and territory governments, with their own cities and towns, are added to the mix.

"Many operating in perfect isolation with no visibility of what might be happening just around the corner," Brugeaud said.

"We can't possibly operate like that. We can't possibly operate in the fragmented manner in which IT and technology acquisition, procurement, and deployment have evolved over the last 25 years," Department of Home Affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo said, building on the statistician cum digital transformation chief's analogy.

"We need a rapid paradigm shift … we have to get our act together."

Pezzullo discussed how exactly the government hoped to achieve this, focusing on three elements: Cyber, data, and identity.

"Digital cannot happen properly and cannot function properly and safely without cybersecurity," he said

"We're looking very hard at how we further harden our networks, how we further harden our perimeter defences, both for government data and also, subject to legislation that will be introduced into the Parliament, broader networks.

"It's so vitally important that we protect this data from cyber criminals and indeed from hostile state actors."

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Secondly, he said digital would not be able to function properly without identity assurance.

"Everyone in digital needs to know that they're dealing with the authentic person … identity management, identity security, identity assurance is just so vitally important," he said.

Equally important, Pezzullo said, is data security.

"Home Affairs, working with our partners in the DTA, the ASD, and elsewhere, we're looking long and hard at the question of data security. Where is your sensitive data stored? Both in terms of public networks, but also private networks? Who has access to that data? Is that data vulnerable? Can it be penetrated by hostile actors be they cyber criminals, foreign intelligence services, or others? Is data spilling into the dark web?" he explained.

"Things like your identity, your credentials, a fake identity is being created based on those credentials.

"If we get those three elements right … not only will this benefit government services … but also potentially, we can provide assistance to the private sector, to help them with cybersecurity, with identity assurance, and with data security."

The Australian government last month announced it would introduce a new permissions capability architecture, which it expects would be used for delivering Commonwealth digital services that require permissions.

The plan for the new platform is for it to be used across a range of government applications and both Brugeaud and Pezzullo highlighted this work as the shape of things to come.

"Despite many past attempts, we don't have a whole-of-government architecture to help guide the creation, integration, and reuse of capabilities and services across government," Brugeaud said. "The whole-of-government architecture will give us a view of what's happening across the APS cities and towns and allow us to progressively design and deliver an integrated urban plan."

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