Plotting a public sector cloud map

The NSW state government's decision to investigate and evaluate cloud services as an emerging trend is a step in the right direction. The pilot projects in the pipeline highlight the importance of a driving adoption at an agency-by-agency level.

The New South Wales state government is taking visionary but practical steps to towards cloud services adoption via a program of pilot projects. The projects recognise the need to treat cloud services as an emerging trend to be investigated and evaluated hands-on. It is a practical organisational learning exercise, not an ideological quest or a whole-of-government “grand plan”. Cloud services adoption is best driven at an agency-by-agency level with a focus on the promotion of early adoption, the realisation of business benefits, and the rapid propagation of lessons learned and successful solutions across agencies as confidence is gained.

Governments need to get hands-on with cloud services

Government adoption of cloud services is nascent but growing. Cloud services require a change in mindset about how to approach the sourcing and management of ICT capabilities and how to apply them to drive business transformation. This mindset change involves trade-offs between benefits, costs, and risks in the context of a sound appreciation of both the imperatives facing government ICT and trends in the evolution of the ICT industry.

Such changes of mindset are always difficult because there are many perspectives to balance for and against. Evangelists advocate for the “shiny new thing”. Conservatives worry about unfamiliar or potential risks. Many seek to perpetuate the status quo to protect vested interests and established practices. As purely theoretical arguments these discussions go back and forth without easy resolution, stymied by concerns over data sovereignty, privacy, and security. The best way to move the discussion along is to put cloud services to the test.

Practical steps to the cloud

The NSW government is at the forefront of the practical pursuit of cloud services in the Australian public sector. A series of disappointing whole-of-government ICT programs, critical audit reports, and shared services failures provided the proverbial “burning platform” backdrop to a new ICT strategy in 2012. The strategy acknowledged the need for a fresh approach to ICT management, explicitly recognizing two key industry trends: firstly, a move to a service orientation by both vendors and buyers; and secondly, the deployment of cloud technologies into mainstream business.

One of the strategy’s implementation programs involves a project to learn from a series of cloud services pilot projects:

Fire and Rescue NSW has implemented a Microsoft email-as-a-service solution and has deployed Samsung Chromeboxes as access devices as part of a broad transition to web services based applications.

NSW Trade and Investment has implemented SAP Business ByDesign as a SaaS ERP platform for a portfolio of 15 agencies. This department has also rolled out Google Apps for collaboration and office productivity applications.

The WorkCover Independent Review Office has implemented an IaaS hosted case management system.

ServiceFirst (the government’s integrated multichannel service center agency) is undertaking a trial of desktop-as-a-service and email-as-a-service solutions. The trial will establish proof-of-concept implementations for 100 staff over three months to test and compare the solutions. HP will implement the desktop-as-a-service trial. The email-as-a-service trials will be implemented by Unisys (using Microsoft services) and Fronde (using Google services).

The cloud pilot projects recognise the need to treat cloud services as an emerging trend to be investigated and evaluated hands-on. It is a practical organisational learning exercise, not an ideological quest or a whole-of-government “grand plan”.

The pilot projects are informing the government’s thinking on a range of cloud services policy areas, including: procurement approach; contractual terms; compliance with information privacy, security and record keeping obligations; data sovereignty; integration to legacy applications; interoperability; standards; transition and total cost of operation; as well as capex versus opex funding implications. More practical and useful cloud policy will emerge from analysis of these early adopter experiences.

Cloud services adoption is an organisational learning journey

At Ovum we have long advocated that the best approach to cloud services is hands-on. Cloud services require both vendors and agencies to learn and perfect new skills, so a phased approach is prudent and maximises opportunities for organisational learning.

The fact that cloud services already exist as on-demand shared services means that it is easier for agencies to start small and scale adoption up and out once benefits are demonstrated. This dramatically reduces implementation risks compared to traditional “big bang” ICT projects which commit agencies to solutions based on projects that may or may not deliver as promised. The cloud services approach is intrinsically more agile: 1) choose a cloud service that is already known to work; 2) deploy and configure it to meet an agency’s needs; 3) evaluate the results and lessons learned; 4) if the solution works well, scales up its use and promote its wider adoption in other agencies.

The dynamic nature of this market, and the fact that cloud services require new thinking and approaches to ICT procurement and management by agency executives, means that hands-on experience in agencies is the most important driver of success from a whole-of-government perspective. Cloud services adoption is best driven at an agency-by-agency level with a focus on the promotion of early adoption, the realisation of business benefits, and the rapid propagation of both lessons learned and successful solutions across agencies as confidence is gained.

Steve Hodgkinson is a research director at analyst firm Ovum.