As Australian businesses and the public sector continue to adopt cloud technologies, the clarion call for Australian government agencies to embrace the cloud has become louder and louder. Behind this call is the need to replace ageing and inefficient IT infrastructure and implement a system that can handle the ever-increasing amount of citizen data collected by the government.
Though often thought of as a single entity, the ‘cloud’ is a technological web comprised of different elements: data centres, fibre cables, servers, all which serve to provide a blanket of connectivity and accessibility. The cloud enables access to applications and services via IT anywhere, on multiple devices.
While businesses have shown a healthy appetite for new technology adoption, traditionally the government has approached it with tentative curiosity.
However, digital technology has the potential to support government in a landscape that is becoming increasingly complex and demanding – the sector is continually called on to improve service expectations amidst an environment of tight resources and declining public trust.
The cloud can enhance government operations and provide support for the challenges it faces. A recent Deloitte Access Economics report on harnessing public cloud opportunities in the government sector 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. For example, Australia Post began its journey to cloud in 2014 to offset the decline in physical letter revenue. Australia Post moved all its digital assets, including those on web and mobile, to the cloud, in order to increase availability, scale, and its ability to quickly introduce new consumer and business services. The organisation is also proactively taking steps to further support successful cloud adoption. Working with Amazon Web Services (AWS), they have introduced a cloud upskilling program – an internal training process designed to develop a pool of cloud-skilled talent. Australia Post has the nation’s largest physical retail footprint, and facilitates more than 80 per cent of the country’s eCommerce.
"The need for government departments to harness opportunities for public cloud adoption is evident given the examples of Australia Post and ABS, sentiment shared by government leaders"
In 2017, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) engaged the cloud to deliver services for the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, with a mandate to deliver quick survey results that that could be trusted by the public. It was necessary for the process to be as fast as possible for the public, that taxpayer funds were used efficiently, and quality results were delivered with integrity. This required an online return form, interactive voice recognition, and a platform for publishing the result.
Innovation was integral to meet this mandate.
According to ABS, the serverless computing approach, which offloads all infrastructure management to providers like AWS, was “almost the perfect use case”, due to the near infinite capacity and ability to build a cloud application with all the latest available security features. At its peak, AWS processed 100,000 submissions per second of the marriage form.
The need for government departments to harness opportunities for public cloud adoption is evident given the examples of Australia Post and ABS, sentiment shared by government leaders. The Federal Government’s Digital Transformation Agency in 2018 released its vision for Australia to be one of the top three digital governments in the world by 2025, and 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 in preparation for public cloud.
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. These concerns are directly addressed by the PROTECTED certification, awarded to AWS by the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) in January. This certification enables all Australian public and private sector organisations to store and process highly sensitive data at the PROTECTED security classification level on AWS.
The Australian government is in part addressing these barriers. A recent whole-of-government procurement agreement to access all of AWS is paving the way to help simplify cloud procurement for federal, state, and territory agencies, as well as government-controlled public universities. This centralised agreement provides agility to agencies, helping them to save costs from day one, due to the economies of scale achieved from the aggregated procurement. In addition, the deal also includes the provision of AWS Enterprise Support, AWS Professional Services, and AWS Training, in a direct bid to bolster the skills gap.
There is no easy answer or quick fix, however the Deloitte report provides recommendations for government organisations to successfully migrate to the cloud. The first step is to implement a deadline and work towards a goal whereby the majority of systems have moved by 2025. 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 Australia Post, ABS, and other early adopters, government agencies can embrace the cloud to meet the growing demands for secure and fast digital services for all Australians.