Canberra's belated cloud embrace

The National Cloud Computing Strategy isn't quite “cloud first” but still a much-needed step in the right direction.

The Australian government has finally embraced cloud services as a critical element of the digital economy by releasing a National Cloud Computing Strategy. While not quite “cloud first”, the strategy creates an explicit requirement for agencies to consider cloud services for new ICT procurements, test and development activity, and to migrate existing websites to cloud services at natural refresh points. When combined with a range of other measures, this represents a significant step forward in the modernisation of the government’s thinking and approach to ICT industry development and to its own procurement and use of ICT.

The release is the culmination of six months of consultation and policy iteration by the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO). It sits within the broader context of a digital economy whitepaper, which is scheduled for publication in June 2013. It also provides new strategic context for policy on the government’s use of cloud computing.

For a number of years, we at Ovum have been outspoken about the need for more visionary leadership in regards to cloud services in the Australian government. In September 2012, we accused the government of having a “cloud last” policy because its guidance for agencies was overly focused on the supposedly new and novel risks of cloud services, which tilted the playing field unnecessarily in favour of the status quo.

The National Cloud Computing Strategy is thus a breath of fresh air because it adopts a more visionary stance that explicitly links cloud services adoption by both government and business to the development of the ICT enablers of Australia’s economic prosperity.

The strategy states the following vision: “Australians will create and use world class cloud services to boost innovation and productivity across the digital economy”.

Three streams of activity are designed to achieve this vision:

•           maximizing the value of cloud computing in government

•           promoting cloud computing to small businesses, not-for-profits, and consumers

•           supporting a vibrant cloud services sector.

Cloud first? Not quite, but close enough

Previously, Ovum has argued the case for a “cloud first” policy – as adopted by the US, New Zealand, and UK governments. Our argument is that “cloud first” sends a clear message about the imperative to adopt more agile approaches to the procurement and management of ICT capabilities.

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.

The goal is defined as: “the Australian Government will be a leader in the use of cloud services to achieve greater efficiency, generate greater value from ICT investment, deliver better services, and support a more agile public sector”. Key actions to achieve this include:

•           the creation of an explicit requirement for agencies to consider cloud services for new ICT procurements, test and development activity, and to migrate existing websites to cloud services at natural refresh points (subject to the usual value-for-money considerations)

•           enhanced guidance to agencies on how to evaluate the benefits of cloud services and how to procure and manage them

•           initiatives to improve the transparency and sharing of information about cloud services adoption, case studies, and lessons learned across agencies

•           a range of activities associated with the reform of funding models, promotion of cloud services trials, investigation of community cloud feasibility, policy guidance, and skills development.

These actions, and others, have been outlined in a revision of the Australian Government Cloud Computing Policy, which was released on the same day as the National Cloud Computing Policy.

Promotion of cloud services and supporting a vibrant cloud services sector

The strategy also contains a range of more outward-looking actions usually seen in industry policy. These are focused on boosting cloud services awareness, confidence, and skills in the small-medium business, not-for-profit, and consumer sectors. Actions are also outlined to encourage collaboration and the sharing of information across industry and tertiary/research institutions, build skills, and ensure adequate and effective regulation.

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. However, the Australian Computer Society will lead the development (in collaboration with other industry bodies) of a voluntary “cloud consumer protocol” for service providers targeting the consumer market.

Too little, too late?

Overall, the new strategy is well founded and pragmatic in its focus and intent, and it hits the spot pretty well. A criticism already expressed by some is that it doesn’t go far enough and that it is “late to the party” in the context of global developments and the needs and expectations of the Australian market in relation to the rollout of the National Broadband Network. A firmer “cloud first” policy could have been adopted and targets and incentives for cloud services adoption could have been defined.

The strategy is the result of much discussion and debate across many agencies and includes input from a wide range of industry players (including considerable input from Ovum). Our view is that it represents a significant step forward in the modernisation of the government’s thinking and approach to ICT procurement and use. At the very least, it sets a clear direction and is a good start. As always, what matters now is implementation.

Steve Hodgkinson is a research director at analyst firm Ovum.