news The New South Wales State Government today kicked off two trials of virtual desktop and cloud email services, in a move which could eventually signal a mass migration of some 30,000 government users into the cloud and which represents one of the first concrete steps by the state into the new cloud computing landscape.
Australia’s public sector has in the past notoriously been averse to purchasing products and services which fall under the cloud computing umbrella. While pure play cloud and software as a service vendors such as Salesforce.com, Google, Amazon Web Services and others have experienced a solid level of success in various aspects of Australia’s private sector with their solutions, the fact that most such services have been hosted offshore has prevented such companies from making strong in-roads into Australian governments at any level — federal, state and local. Similarly, companies such as Microsoft, Oracle and SAP which offer both SaaS and on-premises models have continued to see strong public sector demand for their traditional solutions, with only slow uptake of their SaaS options.
However, over the past year, the NSW Government has been giving increasing signs that it is moving to adopt the kind of ‘cloud-first’ IT procurement strategy which jurisdictions such as the United States, United Kingdom and New Zealand have pursued over the past several years, in a move which could fundamentally change the way the state buys and uses technology.
In two new tendering initiatives released today along with a statement by NSW Minister for Finance and Services Greg Pearce, the state made it clear just how serious it is about the shift to cloud computing.
The first tender document lays out NSW’s plan to trial what it described as ‘messaging as a service’ (MaaS) technologies. The state’s IT shared services group ServiceFirst currently provides Novell’s Groupwise platform for email and calendaring services to a number of departments and agencies. However, Groupwise is widely regarded as representing a legacy environment for collaboration compared with Microsoft’s dominant Outlook/Exchange platform, or even Google’s Apps (Gmail and Google Calendar) system.
In its documents, ServiceFirst stated that its trial of MaaS options would delivering serivces to about 100 staff of ServiceFirst government customers, but must be ultimately scalable to larger numbers of staff — up to 30,000.
“This call to market and the implementation of any subsequent proof‐of‐concept solution will inform the broader pilot project under the NSW Government ICT Strategy 2012,” the document stated. “This pilot project will investigate and trial new delivery models to better understand the implications of cloud based services for the NSW Government. The outcomes of the project will inform the development of whole of government policies and the implementation of service offerings on the ICT Service Catalogue. Key areas to be studied will include the technical, regulatory, cost, contractual, and usability aspects, the impact on the agencies involved and application for whole of government.”
“In order for Government to better understand the benefits and implications of the change to a service paradigm, respondents are asked to offer proposals for a proof‐of‐concept project to deliver messaging as‐a‐service to approximately 100 staff of ServiceFirst customers. Proposals must be capable of scaling up to many thousands if required.”
The state has similarly flagged plans in another tender document to kick off a trial of what it described as ‘Desktop as a Service’ (DaaS) solutions.
The definition of DaaS is a little vague. In its document, ServiceFirst described DaaS services as “s a solution that provides end users with access to typically used applications to perform their duties”, leaving it up to vendors to decide whether that would include a wholly virtualised desktop environment or perhaps just virtualised applications or applications delivered as a service. The desktop trial will similarly target just 100 staff.
In both cases, the state has placed fairly loose requirements around vendor solutions to be delivered as part of the trial, stating that the trials were an opportunity for the IT industry to provide “innovative solutions without being constrained by legacy technology and to provide alternatives including open source and non‐typical approaches to the requirements”.
However, vendors may still face the issue of data sovereignty in their responses, with the state noting that a number of pieces of state legislation would guide to storage and use of data through the cloud computing services.
ServiceFirst as an organisation currently provides a wide range of centralised IT services to government departments and agencies across NSW — serving some 8,300 staff in 46 NSW government agencies located in about 300 locations across NSW. Its current ICT infrastructure is somewhat out of date; for example, it still runs Windows XP across many desktops (although it also has Windows 7 in some places), as well as Groupwise and Novell file and print services.
Its desktop environment utilises Zenworks and Citrix for application delivery, versions of Microsoft Office ranging from Office 2003 to 2007 and 2010, and versions of Internet Explorer ranging from 7 to 9. It uses SAP’s HR and finance platforms, TRIM, Sharepoint and Objective document management platforms, Active Directory and Novell eDirectory for ID management, and BlackBerrys, iPhones and iPads for smartphones and tablets.
In a separate statement, NSW Minister for Finance and Services Greg Pearce said cloud-based IT solutions were “a large part of the future” and the NSW Government was keen to take advantage of this trend to improve government services.
“We will test multiple cloud based systems across different scenarios and environments to ensure they are cost-effective, secure and efficient and if successful we will look at how they can be rolled out across government,” said Pearce. “The trial will test technical and regulatory questions, as well as opportunities to reduce the Government’s annual ICT expenditure. Importantly we need to know whether NSW Government agencies and ICT suppliers have the technical capacity for the wider adoption of cloud based solutions across the diverse range of government services,” he said.
NSW is also planning separate pilot projects in the areas of Enterprise Resource Planning as a service, Infrastructure as a Service and shared services multi-tenanted email as a service.
Pearce said work is underway with WorkCover, Fire and Rescue NSW, the Department of Trade and Investment and Businesslink who have already engaged with suppliers of cloud-based email, finance and case management services. “Assessing the potential of cloud across a range of solutions will ensure our assessment of cloud-based opportunities is as comprehensive as possible,” said Pearce. “The Department of Finance and Services will monitor and report on all the projects throughout 2013.”
Wow. It’s absolutely fantastic to see a government such as NSW take leadership in evaluating the potential of cloud computing services to help support government service delivery, and I applaud NSW for having such vision. NSW truly is leading Australia in terms of evaluating and adopting cloud computing technologies at the moment, and while I have no doubt there will be some hiccups, this is truly a revolution which needs to come to the nation’s problem-plagued state government IT sector.
Right now I have only good things to say about the approach which the Coalition is taking to IT administration in the NSW State Government. Pearce and co truly “get it” and are forcing the public service to move forward in a positive way in this area. I haven’t been so impressed with a government IT strategy in quite some time, and I look forward to some good results from the trials announced by Pearce today. Such positive is hugely refreshing. I can only hope the other states follow where NSW is leading at the moment.