CeBIT 2010: Human Services backtracks on public Wi-Fi

Centrelink wireless networks will not be publicly accessible, despite original tender documents stating otherwise.

The Department of Human Services (DHS) has said that it has no interest in making wireless access points in Centrelink offices available for use on public devices.

Centrelink initially tendered for the implementation of Cisco and Aruba-based wireless local area networks (WLAN), providing controlled access to the public for use of the facilities. Specifically, the tender states:

"The introduction of this Wireless LAN (WLAN) will also be available to the public so that public laptops and wireless devices, either provided by Centrelink or owned by the public, can be used in a self service capacity allowing the public to directly engage with publicly accessible Centrelink and other Government Web sites and systems from within a Centrelink office."

However, according to department deputy secretary of ICT infrastructure, John Wadeson, Human Services has no plans to follow through with this objective.

"In the future someone might say, 'we could use this wireless for our customers as well'," Wadeson said, "but we bought it to facilitate Customer Liasion Officers (CLO)."

CLOs - referred to as "Chloes" by department staff - are essentially meeters and greeters in Centrelink offices, which determine a customer's need and point them to either self service PCs or a capable attendant. The wireless access would be used on a fleet of 160 UMPCs by CLOs in order to bring up a client's Customer Reference Number (CRN) and better determine what they need.

While the original tender speculated that this access could be extended to the public, a spokesperson for the department told Computerworld Australia that this was unlikely to happen.

"If someone has a plan they haven't talked to me about it," Wadeson said. "We can't get to the position of making it open totally on government facilities, there's a whole lot of issues around that."

Human Services, which is looking to co-locate 21 Medicare and Centrelink in consolidated offices this year, is also looking to replace the current devices used by CLOs.

"It became clear that for most of our young women, lugging around this thing for more than ten minutes would be a bit of an effort," Wadeson said, "so they started putting them in shoulder holsters which made them look like a child walking around with this thing.

"We tried other solutions, looking put the device on a stand and wheeling it around, but people thought it was to stand in a queue."

The Department is looking at potential new devices - the iPad included - to replace the two to three-year-old UMPC fleet.

For the most part, however, the Department is looking to pass basic customer relations through self service portals available in-office. These PCs have limited access to Centrelink and other government services, as well as banking and other relevant sites.