The Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) is looking towards app development and desktop virtualisation as part of its trial of iPads, DPS told Senate Estimates this morning.
(Credit: Josh Taylor/ZDNet Australia)
The department has been trialling iPads on the parliament network since December last year, and in May approved the use of iPads and other iOS devices on the internal parliamentary Wi-Fi network for both public servants and parliamentarians. The iPad trial by DPS has expanded from 10 iPads to 40 iPads for a range of department employees, DPS secretary Alan Thompson told a Senate Estimates hearing today.
"We have 40 across the department. We've found them to be very useful," he said.
Thompson later told ZDNet Australia that approximately 200 people have taken to using iOS devices on the parliamentary network since June.
One of the public servants to participate in the trial, Parliamentary Librarian Roxanne Missingham, told the hearing that the department had been working to build up technical knowledge of the iPads and testing out applications and services on them.
"We've [tested how] applications like parliamentary handbook and other applications work on iPad. We're interested in moving into apps for things like the handbook and we're also now moving into a new trial of a new project to test full connectivity to the desktop and internal services," she said.
The department has taken over responsibility for electorate offices IT from the Department of Finance and Deregulation, and Thompson said that although the issuing of mobile devices do not fall under that responsibility, he is looking for a way to fund iPads for federal politicians.
"We'd like to find ways to fund them for members and Senators," he said.
Security issues have plagued parliamentarians since the department allowed Wi-Fi access for the iPads, as the auto-login feature on the iOS device conflicted with the department's security policy to change password access to the network every 90 days. According to Liberal Senator Scott Ryan, the auto-login led to a number of members and Senators being locked out of the network.
"The Apple device kept trying to get in with an old password, which triggered a security shutdown," he said.
Assistant secretary for infrastructure services with DPS, Freda Hanley, explained that the department is aware of the issue, but could not say if it has been resolved yet.
Ryan also complained about the recent issue of a touchscreen model of the BlackBerry smartphone, which he said has been very unreliable. He said he would have preferred to have been able to bring in an iPhone.
"The Apples don't seem to have the reliability issues. The staff have more reliable iPhones than I have BlackBerry," he said.
Although the department couldn't provide figures on complaints from parliamentarians on the new BlackBerrys, Thompson said that the response to the devices had been negative.
"Anecdotally, I am aware that there is a significant dissatisfaction with devices that have been issued recently," he said.
The push for Apple's signature iOS device is currently stalled by Defence Signals Directorate (DSD), which has yet to approve the use of iOS devices on secure government networks in a similar way as it has to RIM's BlackBerry and PlayBook. Although a review was set to be completed in September, DSD told ZDNet Australia that it was waiting for the launch of iOS 5 before giving final approval.