Balneus

Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Draft note to Parliament House webmaster

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-01-19


Here is a rough draft of an email to the Australian Parliament House webmaster (webmanager@aph.gov.au) outlining a few points about the recent outage without notice or redirection (see notes at the bottom of the post).

If you feel it could use toning up, amping up, needs extra points, has superfluous points, spellchucking, etc, please add a comment and I’ll consider editing it (check back for any updates).

Dear Sir/Madam,

I write in relation to the unavailability of the parliamentary website over the weekend of the 10th and 11th of January, 2009.

The aph.gov.au domain went "off the air" without warning to visitors, in the middle of a transaction with the Senate Submissions system, and without even redirection to a static page on a different server explaining that the site was down for scheduled maintenance, and when service was expected to resume.

That this downtime was apparently planned weeks beforehand shows a much greater disregard and disrespect for the public, the ultimate stakeholder, than if it was unscheduled.

Even without the continuous service capabilities most would expect of an important publically-available service, involving handover/failover to off-site servers, the minimum actions for a planned outage should have included both of the following:

  • Redirection of all external web requests to a static page on another server, informing the user that there was scheduled maintenance underway, and when normal service was expected to resume.
  • Prominent notices (especially on the http://www.aph.gov.au public-facing home page) informing users of the planned downtime, probably with advance warning of one week.

The lack of such notice for the public displays poor planning, especially for those who were in the middle of electronic transactions when the parliamentary systems became unavailable.  No longer are parliamentary web applications "read-only" as far as the public is concerned: the public can upload information that is significant to parliamentary operations, and this information must not be corrupted or lost.

It also raises many questions about preparedness for unscheduled outages and disaster recovery.

The recent Gershon Report ("Review of the Australian Government’s use of Information and Communication Technology") highlighted the low awareness and use of IT governance and infrastructure control references across a large percentage of Australian government agencies, including the management tools (such as COBIT and ITIL) used by the Australian National Audit Office to assess IT capabilities.  The recent failures (and other errors in the Senate Submissions subsystem) highlight the benefits that could be gained from introduction or greater use of these management tools and disciplines.

While I applaud your efforts to create a site that produces valid and accessible HTML, I believe that these recent problems can justify a loss of public confidence in the general integrity of Parliamentary IT systems and planning.

Therefore, I urge you to seek appropriate resources, including the expertise of other agencies such as ANAO and the Australian Government Information Management Office, to improve the service levels and data integrity of the Australian Parliamentary information services to the standards they warrant and the public deserve.

Yours….

Well…. there you go.  If you want background, go and have a look at "The Parliamentary Dog Ate My Homework" (2009-01-13) and related posts.

I’ll probably send this off in about a week, when hopefully a few of you good folk will have eyeballed and sanity-checked the above note first (and I’ll be updating it within this post until then).

Meanwhile, I’ll be preparing another note to web.senate@aph.gov.au about the ongoing problems with the Senate Submissions system, including details discussed here and here, which are unrelated to the general outage of parliamentary webservers.

Again, please add a comment to this post, even if it is just "that seems fine to me, Dave".

Thanks in advance.

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8 Responses to “Draft note to Parliament House webmaster”

  1. Jacques Chester said

    I would perhaps cast it in terms of ‘stakeholders’. Managerial types love to talk about stakeholders, without perhaps realising that it was originally a gambling term of art.

    You should point out that the public is a stakeholder. Outage announcements and planning must take that into account in the future or they’re not quite doing their job.

    Another point. Why did downtime on the internally-facing system bring the public-facing system down? Are they on the same server? If so, that’s a pretty big security risk they should consider.

  2. Dave Bath said

    JC: Don’t think we can infer they are the same server. The public-upload area certainly hasn’t got the same ip.
    ping  www.aph.gov.au
    Pinging  wopared.aph.gov.au [202.14.81.230] ...
    ping  senate.aph.gov.au
    Pinging senrepiis1.aph.gov.au [202.14.81.67]...

    The only provable problems are in the lack of handover and planning coupled with simple disrespect.

    Thinking about your “stakeholder” bit.

    Am I also being too harsh about “justify a loss of public confidence in the general integrity of Parliamentary IT systems and planning”? That’s perhaps the longest bow.

    (And btw: I circumvented WP address mangling with the   immediately preceding the  www)

  3. Jacques Chester said

    Well you have to remember that giving vent to your own anger often puts the other person on the defensive. When they are on the defensive a funny thing happens. Their ears fill up with something shaped liked index fingers and all they can hear is ‘la-la-la-la’.

    Or at least that’s how I reckon. Easier to catch a fly with honey than pepper.

  4. Dave Bath said

    JC:
    * Added stakeholder where I thought it most pertinent.
    * On venting my own anger, I tried to add honey (“While I applaud….”, and I’m thinking about expressing the angrier bit (“loss of public confidence”) in “risk” terms.
    Thanks…. thinking more.

  5. P said

    You could also note that Senators (and the Senate) have been poorly done by in two ways:
    * makes them look amateurish
    * going incommunicado during a committee submission period is very poor service.

  6. Lyn said

    ‘Risk’ is good. Like ‘stakeholders’ it’s management speak.

    In the second par, I’d be inclined to make the transaction bit clearer. ‘I was in the process of uploading a submission to the dadidadida when so and so happened and the bit about not getting anything to say whether the submission was received either in part or in full.’

  7. […] Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-02-08 For those who were following the "Parliamentary dog ate my homework" discussion, (and later posts), I’ve sent in a note based on this post. […]

  8. […] of IT systems in parliament house… follow the bouncing links from the following post:"Draft note to Parliament House Webmaster" (2009-01-19) and any post that mentions "parliamentary […]

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