Australian government agencies have some of the toughest challenges faced by any country – to meet the ever-shifting needs and demands of an incredibly culturally diverse nation, across a huge geography, all the while using public resources wisely, and with great accountability, writes Peter Moore.
As the nation continues to embrace cloud-first and digital-first strategies, government agencies are challenged to make significant changes to their IT infrastructure to provide timely access to digital services and store large amounts of citizen data securely.
The ‘cloud’ is not one single piece of technology. Just as, when we look up to the sky, we see stratus, cumulus, and cirrus clouds, all meshing together to create a blanket across the sky, so too can we consider the technological cloud to comprise of different elements: data centres, fibre cables, servers, which provide a blanket of connectivity and accessibility. The cloud allows us to access applications and services via IT anywhere; to pick up a streamed documentary on the bus exactly at the point we left it at home; and to communicate with family, friends, and colleagues across the world.
While consumers are seizing new technology with both hands, in many cases governments are still only poking at it with curiosity. A recent survey revealed that government decision makers saw numerous benefits in cloud – from improved agility, in that operations can be scaled to meet times of peak demand; to improved productivity through time savings in analysing data or in streamlining processes; and improved services, reliability, and data security.
There are already many examples of how cloud adoption has helped the government to drive agility and speed innovation, while lowering costs. In 2017, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) used the cloud to deliver services for the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, including an online return form, interactive voice recognition, and a platform for publishing the result. The serverless computing approach, which offloads all infrastructure management to providers like AWS, was “almost the perfect use case” according to the ABS, due to the near infinite capacity and ability to build a cloud application with all the latest available security features. In the busiest time of the survey, AWS processed 100,000 submissions per second of the marriage form.
The South Australian Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI) had a similar challenge. Its move to cloud was spurred by ageing infrastructure that could not cope with required workloads. The DPTI started with a pilot that moved a small workload to the cloud – the public-facing Traffic SA website that lists roadworks, incidents, and planned events across the state. This was low risk, significantly decreased operational costs, and allowed the DPTI to explore the capabilities of cloud. With a successful pilot the agency is now transitioning other services to the cloud with significant results. For example, workloads that previously required 56 hours of huge computing power at an onsite hosting cost of $2,500 per month, now run in just 14 hours and cost just $100 per month.
The support of greater cloud uptake among government leaders is no surprise when considering examples such as these. Almost all (94 per cent) of respondents to Deloitte’s research agree that procurement processes should be modernised, and that government should invest in upskilling their workforce to be better prepared for public cloud.
The Australian government is making good progress to address this, and recently signed a new agreement enabling Australian Federal, State, and Territory agencies, and departments, as well as government-controlled public universities, to access all AWS, through a simplified procurement model. This centralised agreement provides agility to agencies, helping them to save costs from the day they sign up, due to the economies of scale achieved from the aggregated procurement.
The research also revealed the primary barriers to public sector adoption of cloud are concerns around data privacy and data sovereignty, and lack of information. This is directly addressed by the PROTECTED certification, which was awarded to AWS by the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) in January. It enables all Australian public and private sector organisations to store and process highly sensitive data at the PROTECTED security classification level on AWS.
While there’s no silver bullet, the Deloitte report provides recommendations for government organisations to successfully move to the cloud. The first step, is to set a deadline for the majority of systems to be migrated by 2025 to ensure immediate focus. This is not a long time in the world of major IT projects, so planning needs to start as soon as possible for some applications. It also recommended that government sector leaders bring forward approaches to shift capital budgets to operating budgets in fiscally sustainable ways.
In adopting these recommendations, and taking note of the experiences of the ABS, DPTI, and other early adopters, government agencies can embrace the cloud to quickly and securely deploy improved digital services for all Australians.
Peter Moore, Asia Pacific Regional Managing Director, Worldwide Public Sector, Amazon Web Services.
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