Conroy launches National Cloud Strategy

By Julian Bajkowski

Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy has used his annual speech to the CeBIT conference to launch the federal government’s National Cloud Computing Strategy ahead of a looming election campaign where broadband enabled technologies are set to be a key battleground.

The wide-ranging tome sets out a raft of policy actions that Senator Conroy and the government are clearly betting will weld the National Broadband Network to future boosts in economic productivity in the Australian economy and reduce the cost and improve the quality of government services.

At the document’s heart is a clear commitment from the government to be an exemplar in the use of cloud services as it tries to wring the best value for money from its annual $5 billion spend on information technology that is now arguably trailing that of the private sector.

While governments in the United States and Britain have centrally mandated the use of cloud technologies to accelerate software development and save double digit percentages on software and infrastructure costs, Australia’s policy will take a more nuanced approach to government procurement while trying to foster greater private sector adoption of cloud services.

Senator Conroy argued that Australia rapidly needs to develop both public and private cloud capabilities as part of a digital economy to hedge against a slowdown in the minerals and resources sector.

“The reality is we cannot rely on the resource-based boom times to last forever and indeed, the trend is slowing. Australia’s terms of trade are falling,” Senator Conroy said.

“In order to protect and maintain our prosperity we need to address Australia’s productivity. Enhancing the digital economy is one of the keys to building productivity and innovation across Australia. It is fundamental to our future economic growth.”

While not setting any hard productivity targets, Senator Conroy conspicuously pointed to the public metrics of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s efforts in cloud adoption led by its tech chief Michael Harte.

“The Commonwealth Bank, for example, has matched different cloud services to different information security environments across its business. The use of cloud services so far has resulted in a halving of data storage costs,” Senator Conroy said.

“It has also produced 40 per cent savings in software services migrated to the cloud and reduced testing and development costs by 50 per cent. These savings mean that the bank is able to offer better service, for lower cost.”

A 40 per cent saving on the government’s software services bill is clearly a prospect that most political leaders and their treasuries would relish given that submissions from the Australian Government Information Management Office have estimated that the local non-cloud software pricing for the public sector from multinational firms is typically 20 per cent above that of comparable developed economies.

To get the ball rolling on the government cloud front, the Australian Government Information Management Office has been tasked with providing better guidance “to government decision makers on how to evaluate the benefits of cloud services and how to procure and manage them” the cloud strategy says.

A key initiative in that process is the establishment of a cross-departmental repository to allow information sharing “case studies, better practice risk approaches and practical lessons to enable agencies to learn from each other.”

“Government agencies should continue to undertake trials of cloud services, to determine how and whether more extensive and intensive use of cloud services should be accelerated within their agency. The successes and lessons learned by agencies in these trials, and in production of cloud computing deployments, should be shared among government agencies from a central repository,” the cloud strategy document says.

It adds that the new repository “should be available for any area in an agency to access – including officers from the IT, finance and business/service delivery areas” and that “consideration should be given to releasing high level information from the repository publicly, to give vendors and potential entrants insight into the needs of agencies and allow them to better design services to meet those needs. “

The document also says that “consideration should be given to whether such a repository could be access by the private sector… given that large private sector organisation often have similar needs to government agencies.”

Agencies will also soon have to run a ruler over cloud offering as part of their procurement cycles in technology.

“The Department of Finance and Deregulation (DOFD) will enhance procurement practices to ensure that government agencies are required to consider public cloud services for new ICT procurements,” the cloud strategy says.

Another big policy dot-point on cloud procurement is that “government agencies will transition public facing websites to public cloud services as their refresh cycle allows, where those services represent the best value for money.

There is also a commitment for the government to develop “a business case by the end of 2013 to analyse the benefits and drawbacks of a more centralised approach to the provision of cloud services to Australian government agencies.”

Local and state governments are also expected to be given access to the repository, a move that opens finally the door to different jurisdictions sharing similar infrastructure and software to reduce duplication and increase efficiency.

The Australian Computer Society has a been given a key role in providing governance advice for consumer protection when businesses they deal with are using cloud services and will take the lead role in co-ordinating the “National Standing Committee on Cloud Computing (NSCCC)”with help from  the Australian Information Industry Association “and other government and industry stakeholders.”

The NSCC’s specific task is to “develop a voluntary Cloud Consumer Protocol to encourage information disclosure by cloud providers and support consumers of cloud services in being well informed.”

On the privacy front the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and the and Office of the Australian Information Commissioner are set to publish guidance for the cloud services industry “about the new privacy reforms that are due to commence in March 2014.”

Senator Conroy did not answer questions during or after his speech, citing time constraints put upon him by the Senate Estimates committee.

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