Posted: 30 Apr. 2021 3 min. read

Let’s get on the cloud bandwagon with our eyes wide open

I thoroughly enjoyed being part of this afternoon’s panel at the first AFR Government Services Summit in Canberra, talking about one of my favourite topics– cloud’s endless potential. In this case, improving and modernising the way Federal, State and local Governments work together to serve citizens.

It was great to sit down with digital leaders from our South Australian and Victorian Government departments to explore the challenges, concerns, and most of all the opportunities that exist in moving to the cloud. 

Credit: Dominic Lorrimer, Australian Financial Review. From L to R: Eva Balan-Vnuk, Lisa Tepper, Dan Newman and Paul Smith

In the last few decades, our Government entities have invested in a myriad of technology solutions which are increasingly dated, and hard to maintain. Guaranteeing data and cyber security is increasingly difficult. And, as well as the technical journey of migrating functions and services to the cloud, it’s equally important to take often reluctant civil servants on the change journey, too.

Eva Balan-Vnuk, Executive Director, ICT and Digital Government, Department of the Premier and Cabinet, South Australia said it for everyone at the Summit: “Like everyone else, we’re working with old, aged or outdated infrastructure.”

The good news is that citizens, and the services they need and expect, are driving the case for modernisation and change. And providing more personalised, quicker and better services to citizens is almost impossible with the myriad of technical systems and siloes that exist. It’s one of the main reasons the likes of the South Australian Government is revisiting its on-premise data centre, and thinking about the best way to migrate its data and services into the cloud – and leveraging this agile platform to benefit the community.  Already, in the last 12 months, the Eva said the South Australian Government has leveraged its Office 365 tenancy to drive collaboration across 100,000 public servants during COVID-19, and it has transformed how works gets done. 

“More than ever, we’re working across agencies to solve citizen problems by leveraging the public cloud. It has been amazing.”

Lisa Teppner, Executive Director, Digital Strategy and Transformation, Department of Premier and Cabinet, Victoria agreed that the challenges Governments face are multi-disciplinary, complex, and multi-departmental. These same challenges also create conditions ripe for change. “There is huge potential. Our response to the bushfire recovery was a great illustration of how Government should operate more like in future. To respond as quickly as we did, we needed the right cloud-based digital infrastructure. Since then, we’ve seen a stronger sense of coordination across Government, using cloud-based platforms to deliver to citizens. And we’ve gradually been building our capabilities around those services.”

Although it’s still early days, we all agreed that Government is at the start of its journey towards the cloud.

Some Federal and State agencies have landing zones, or are trialling working with private sector hyper scalers in hybrid environments. Yet we know there are concerns around data sovereignty and cyber; and these concerns are valid.

One of the reasons I find cloud so exciting is that it has answers for these types of concerns. And it’s encouraging to see Government leaders feeling the same way, with more Government entities thinking about the economic rationale for moving to the cloud, developing a business case and strategy, and considering the costs of not making the move. 

Although we’ve made a promising start, but it’s not enough.

Whole-of-Government platform architectures, the mainstream adoption of public and hybrid cloud at pace, conducting cost and risk analyses… we need to continue to be innovative to unlock more value and get a productivity advantage. And let’s not forget that hyper scalers have invested millions of dollars in their solutions, and these can be leveraged by government service providers everywhere.

Understanding what to do with data is one of the keys to cloud success.

As Lisa said, “as part of Digital Victoria, we put in a data centre – and we need to understand our legacy of that data, what can be decommissioned, what can be moved to the cloud or containerised… it’s a journey, and we have lots of built up infrastructure to deal while avoiding exposing data inadvertently.”

Eva agreed data security is very important. “If agencies wish to host data in the cloud, we need to undertake information assessments and understand which sensitive information needs to be stored in different places, so we can protect that data.”

So, what’s the ultimate imperative to change?

The panel agreed on the following key benefits:

  • Firstly, cyber security cannot be managed or monitored well with old, aging infrastructure.
  • Scalability
  • Pace
  • Elasticity
  • Modernising systems and making them more user friendly.

We spoke about the need to prioritise and create a different model for government; one where Government doesn’t invest in new physical systems, but focuses on implementing new models enabled by Service as a System (SaaS) to drive efficiencies.

We’ve learned a number of lessons along the way.

1. Be deliberate and strategic

Some five years ago, many businesses in the US blindly undertook a ‘data centre evacuation’ by lifting and shifting their entire operations to the cloud. I wouldn’t recommend this.

We need to take a more measured and strategic approach – for example, how can organisations anchor their residence in the cloud with one or two hyper scalers? With SaaS as a landing zone. And adopting existing technology as a consumer, rather than investing in and building new solutions from scratch. Gradually, once you have all your data assets in the cloud, and use the likes of artificial intelligence and machine learning, that’s when you can achieve true scale and deliver on the promise of data.

2.  Take your people – including your leaders – on the cloud journey with you

Another key lesson is taking people on the journey with you. Although there is no one cloud journey that is the same as another, organisations can learn from each other. This also means building employee awareness, and managing their change experience. We need to demystify cloud for people and get workforces in lockstep behind the cloud to unlock its huge potential.

Taking gradual incremental steps, and starting with proofs of concept will deliver true business value. You don’t need to make all the moves at once. And, on your journey, you can use your organisational muscle memory of how you moved, so you move even better the next time.

3. Develop rewarding, digital career paths

Hyper scalers and advisers can’t just implement a new cloud solution, they must transfer their skills, too. The full value of the cloud won’t be unlocked if those expected to use it every day don’t know how to. This forms part of transition planning and as Eva said, is about “finding, borrowing and growing talent”.

In addition, Government needs to paint a picture of how civil servants can develop rewarding careers in IT and technology. It needs to attract both junior and experienced service designers, user researchers, security specialists, cyber security specialists, dev ops experts and more – to work in Government for the noble purpose of serving citizens.

I actually think this is a really exciting area to explore. Let’s think outside the box and test multi-disciplinary, reverse secondments, create flexible career paths for people in Government, and take on not just graduates but go further downstream by engaging early with High School and TAFE students to unlock new talent pools. It could be as simple as certifying them in the necessary tech skills and giving them new opportunities to work in this space. We need to take a coordinated approach across Government so it becomes a place where digital leaders can see their future.

The power of collaborating in ecosystems

Throughout the course of the day, we heard about how we’re all stronger together. We too explored how various parts of Government are revisiting procurements processes to make it easier to do business with small, agile and creative enterprises to get the best from all worlds.

This is very exciting for everyone involved in refining government services. Everyone, large and small, has a role to play. Especially when working with joint incentives and outcome-based procurement approaches. The magic happens when Government, hyper scalers, national advisers and local businesses are all working seamlessly together in an ecosystem – all playing to their respective strengths – to benefit citizens.

Whether its reusing someone else’s technology, leveraging the cloud and SaaS – it’s all about finding the best and fastest way to provide citizens with the right information or service, at the right time, in the right (and most  secure) way.

Let’s get on the cloud bandwagon with our eyes wide open.

  Panellists:

- Paul Smith, Technology Editor, The Australian Financial Review

- Eva Balan-Vnuk, Executive Director, ICT and Digital Government , Department of the Premier and Cabinet, South Australia

- Dan Newman, APAC Lead Partner, Cloud Engineering, Deloitte Consulting

- Lisa Tepper, Executive Director, Digital Strategy and Transformation, Department of Premier and Cabinet, Victoria

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Dan Newman

Dan Newman

Lead Partner, Cloud Engineering

Dan leads the AWS Alliance team in the Asia Pacific region and is the Cloud Engineering practice leader nationally, focusing on AWS, cloud transformation and innovation.  Dan has over 20 years’ experience consulting to large public and private sector organisations and has deep expertise in digital transformation, enabled via cloud technologies and business models. Dan has played a lead role in the planning, design and delivery of multiple large-scale transformation programmes ranging from $200m-$1bn+ in Australia, South East Asia, US and the Middle East.