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Australian government signs up to Cloud First thinking

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan October 9, 2014
The Australian government has formally joined the Cloud First club, but questions remain about how robust the thinking is behind this.

Late last month diginomica flagged up the lamentable lack of progress that’s been made in US federal government circles despite the presence of an offical Cloud First mandate authorised by the Whitehouse.

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Down under in Australia the government there is now following in the US (and UK) footsteps with its own Cloud First enforcement in a bid to convert a sizeable chunk of the country’s AUS $6 billion IT spend to the cloud.

Since July 2010, cloud services in the federal government hasn’t topped AUS$4.7 million.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, Attorney-General George Brandis and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull this week confirmed that government departments and agencies will now be required to adopt cloud services where it is fit for purpose, provides adequate protection of government data and delivers value for money.

The three ministers stated:

We want to see a greater adoption of cloud services and cut through the red tape generated by the process developed under the previous government,” the ministers. The removal of this unnecessary red tape will promote productivity and the efficient use of government resources.

Backing up this commitment is the third version of the Australian Government Cloud Computing Policy lays out a plan that will see the creation of cloud services panel by year's end, as well as a trial of automated relocation of critical data to a government cloud by December.

It sets a December 2014 deadline for the Department of Finance start to trialling the relocation of agency data to a “secure government cloud”.

The policy states:

The availability of cloud services offers an opportunity for government to deliver services more efficiently, as well as providing services that are more responsive to business and community needs.

In a significant move, last month the government cleared the way to move cloud services offshore by removing a requirement for approval from portfolio ministers and the attorney-general. Now authorisation is only needed from agency heads. The policy states:

The removal of this unnecessary red tape will promote productivity and the efficient use of Government resources.

There are significant caveats still that will allow cloud sceptics some wriggle room. Cloud First applies only when:

  • Cloud solutions are fit for purpose.
  • The cloud option offers best value for money.
  • The cloud option offers adequate security as defined by the Protective Security Policy Framework.
  • Purchasing bodies are central government departments or agencies (not government corporations).

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And unlike the UK’s G-Cloud strategy which has a stated goal of moving 50% of new IT spend to the cloud, the Australian policy doesn’t lay down any metrics for achievement.

That’s an omission that's come under fire from OzHub, a consortium of cloud providers including Macquarie Telecom, Infoplex, Alcatel-Lucent and F5 Networks, with OzHub chair Matt Healy stating:

The new Cloud Computing Policy shows intent, but lacks targets and strong central leadership.

Industry is ready but the government must set real targets. We’ve been in the starter’s hands in the race for take-up of cloud computing for too long.

The competition among nations to take advantage of the investment opportunities represented by the Cloud phenomenon is fierce and Australia must push itself forward to be seen as a serious contender.

But Ovum’s global public sector chief analyst Steve Hodgkinson reckons that this version of the cloud strategy is an improvement on previous intitiatives:

Cloud services have defined the ‘state-of-the art’ of enterprise-grade digital innovation for the past few years globally, so it has been rather incongruous up until now that the government has appeared to view such innovation with deep scepticism in Australia.

Finally there is a recognition, as Ovum has argued for many years, that government needs to show leadership in the way that it puts its demand on the table to both stimulate innovation in the ICT industry as well as to drive productivity within the public sector itself.

Hodgkinson welcomed the decision to move more decision-making responsibilities to agency heads as:

further recognition that the government has finally woken up to the fact that cloud services are now a mainstream element of the ICT industry … not something so unproven as to require explicit ministerial approval.

My take

Clearly I welcome another government introducing its own version of Cloud First, but the lack of targets is disappointing. While the UK is not going to hit its 2015 target, at least it's something that the authorities have had to aim at and to measure against.

That said, the slackening of overly-cumbersome processes around offshoring cloud services is to be commended.

Welcome the Cloud First Club Australia!


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