It's getting cloudy Down Under

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan June 2, 2013
The Australian Government is the latest national legislature to produce its own cloud computing strategy closely linked to digital economy ambitions. But how far will forthcoming elections in the country either validate or disrupt current thinking.

Stephen Conroy, Australia's Minister for the Digital Economy

Ok, so we've got to grips with the US Cloud First programme, we've applauded the achievements to date of the UK's G-Cloud.

And we've cast a wary (and very much ever more so) eye over the European Commission's pan-European Cloud ambitions.

But what about other parts of the world? Where is the rest of the globe when it comes to national cloud computing government initiatives?

Well, this week all eyes are down under after the Australian government published its long-awaited  Cloud NationalComputing strategy.

So what's in it? Well, not much you won't find in the US or UK strategies to be honest.

But looking on the bright side, that does at least suggest we're all pretty much agreed on what matters in a good cloud strategy!

Some of the main takeaways include:

  • The Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) will be in charge of implementing many of the government-facing aspects of the strategy.
  • Government will take the lead in the use of cloud services, with the goal of achieving greater efficiency, deliver better public servants and making the public sector more agile. 
  • Cloud is seen as a way of boosting SME engagement and opening up access to new business. 
  • Setting cloud computing standards is important, but will be left to the industry to determine.
  • Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) will be critical to the delivery of effective cloud computing. The NBN has a target of delivering fast internet speeds by fibre optic cable to 93 per cent of homes, businesses and schools by June 2021.
  • There are ambitions to create an indigenous cloud services industry in Australia.

Launching the strategy at the CeBIT trade show in Sydney, Senator Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy,  said that the cloud programme was part of wider government plans to plan for a time when the "resource-based boom times" are over:

“Australia's terms of trade are falling/ The strategy spells out the government's vision that Australians will create and use world class cloud services to boost innovation and productivity across the digital economy."

Interestingly, there will be a Cloud First leaning in government, but not an explicit mandate, said Conroy:

“The government will make changes to procurement policy to ensure that agencies consider cloud services. The government will be ensuring that agencies share their experiences in using cloud services so the value proposition becomes better understood within the overall government sector."

Robust and pragmatic

The Australian strategy comes across as robust enough in the main with Gartner's Distinguished Analyst Andrea Di Maio giving it kudos for its pragmatism in not pushing what he calls the "aggressive cloud first approach" of the US or the UK:

For those who are familiar with the open-source “religious” battles of the last decade, this is far closer to what most of those ended up producing: strategies that would recommend agencies to consider the option, but not forcing them to adopt it or to justify why it is not being adopted.

Some commentators may wish to see the government take a more aggressive stance but, given the context and the early stage of “cloud-first strategies elsewhere, I believe the Australian government has taken a smart direction.

Steve Hodgkinson of Ovum makes a similar point when he notes:

While the government’s National Cloud Computing Strategy does not quite create a “cloud first” approach, it does represent a significant and pragmatic shift in stated procurement preferences and in the logic of AGIMO’s role in promoting cloud services adoption by agencies. The logic has evolved from a negative/neutral stance to a positive one that nonetheless recognizes that there are still many issues and challenges that need to be addressed to progress cloud services adoption in the prudent manner required by the government.

As to the private sector ambitions for a cloud services segment of the Australian economy, both analysts see merit in the strategy document's proposals. Hodgkinson says:

The government is to be commended for resisting any temptation to create new regulatory arrangements specific to cloud computing technologies and cloud services. The approach will be to work with, and refine as necessary, the existing international and national standards and the regulatory and quality assurance regimes that already apply to services businesses.

Meanwhile Di Maio argues:

The uptake of cloud computing will also be influenced by the attitude taken by larger enterprises and how those will reverberate across their supply chain. It is wise for the strategy not to be prescriptive or condescending when it comes to larger enterprises, but I expect that working with industry associations and other intermediaries should explore the role of value chains.

Electoral implications

Tony Abbott, Leader of the Opposition in Australia

All told, it's a solid, if unimaginative, take on a national cloud computing strategy. What will be interesting is to see how much of a role it plays in the forthcoming elections in September.

Senator Conroy went out of his way to claim credit for the NBN programme, accusing his political rival Tony Abbot, Leader of the Opposition, of wanting to borrow nearly AUS$30 billion on what he deems a flawed broadband strategy.

On the other hand, he boasts:

"Labor's National Broadband Network will revolutionise access to the cloud. The NBN's fast download, and most importantly, upload capacity mean Australians can use applications in the cloud quickly and reliably. Without Labor's NBN, cloud computing cannot reach its full potential in Australia, which would leave us behind the rest of the world."

Cloud as an electoral issue? That would be different. That's never featured in the mainstream US or UK electoral debates as yet (although of course, it probably should do!).

There is of course always the chance that the outcome of the election might lead to changes in the national cloud strategy. The US version kicked off with presidential backing in the early days of the first Obama administration and continue undisturbed into the second term.

A better example might be the UK where the origins of the G-Cloud date back to the previous Labour Party administration, but the national cloud strategy was actioned in considerably modified form by the current Conservative-Liberal coalition.

In that instance, the changes were undoubtedly for the better - the original thinking being all around virtualisation, server consolidation and private clouds rather than the public cloud emphasis it ended up exhibiting.

It will be interesting to see how things progress down under as the election gets closer in Australia.


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