news Independent analyst firm Ovum said this week that developing and maintaining ICT capabilities constitutes an ongoing challenge for government agencies, with one of the organisation’s Australian public sector specialists noting that the utilisation of cloud computing services could provide an edge in an “unsustainable game of ICT snakes and ladders being played by many government agencies”.
According to Hodgkinson, a research director with Ovum and a former deputy CIO of the Victorian Government, Ovum’s assessment of the pattern of audit reports in recent years showed government agencies were unable to sustainably advance strong ICT capabilities due to constraints in funding, resources and skills.
“Governments’ demands for ICT-enabled policy and service innovation are outstripping their capacity to fund the ICT capabilities of agencies. Mature, enterprise-grade cloud services provide a solution to this dilemma. They deliver a cloud innovation edge to agencies, enabling them to benefit from access to sustainable world-class ICT capabilities at a lower cost than would otherwise be possible,” Hodgkinson said in a statement this week.
Although local cloud computing circles have traditionally steered clear of the public sector as being too security conscious to be willing to host data in what has been seen as risky environments, recent initiatives by the government’s peak ICT strategy agency, the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) have prompted a shift.
In April 2011, AGIMO released the final version of a strategic directions paper on cloud computing. The paper pointed out the substantial benefits of shifting to the cloud model, and outlined a phased transition model for services to shift to different types of cloud offering specific benefits and adequate security. At the same time, the Defence Signals Directorate had published a checklist paper to enable departments and agencies to perform risk assessments to determine the feasibility of employing cloud computing services in their operations.
In October 2010, AGIMO had launched a major purchasing initiative, ‘datacentre as a service (DCaaS)’ to inform the way it purchases infrastructure-, software- and platform-as-a-service over the coming years.
Hodgkinson stated that a range of attributes characteristic of the cloud model constitute the cloud innovation edge, which helped cloud providers stand apart from the internal ICT capabilities of all but the biggest and most capable agencies. These attributes include focus, resilience, scale, multi-tenancy and iterative evolution, Internet-age security, use of service oriented architecture, self-service, social and mobile technologies and vendor ecosystems.
He said that agency ICT departments could rarely achieve or sustain all these attributes due to resource and skill constraints, and the challenges of supporting diverse and fragmented legacy infrastructure and applications. Cloud service providers score here, with their ability to define a catalogue of services optimised to run in a standardised infrastructure to world-class best-practice levels of performance.
According to Hodgkinson, the cloud innovation edge gives an important strategic perspective on the long-term benefits of the cloud computing model versus in-house ICT for selected applications and infrastructure services. Ovum predicts the maturity and sophistication of the leading cloud providers to grow rapidly and sustainably. “Unfortunately, the outlook for the maturity and sophistication of the in-house ICT capabilities of most agencies is a continuation of snakes and ladders development. Increasing fiscal austerity further compounds the likelihood that this will be the case,” he stated.
Hodgkinson proposed that agencies:
- Include cloud services in their ICT strategy. A strategic perspective is required to position cloud services as part of a transformation of the agency’s approach to sourcing and managing ICT, he said.
- Discover the cloud services available from trusted enterprise ICT vendors. Agencies may find that the most expedient way into the cloud is to leverage and evolve with existing trusted vendor relationships and procurement arrangements, he said.
- Analyse application and data portfolios to identify cloud services opportunities. One of the advantages of cloud services is that they create both the imperative, and the opportunity, for agencies to focus on information and data rather than technology and software, he said.
- Get hands-on experience with cloud services. Agencies should put selected applications and/or infrastructure services to the test and see the reality of cloud services for themselves, he said.
I believe Hodgkinson is right about much of this — Governments need to stop constantly trying to solve all of their IT problems themselves, or simply handing the issues off to an external outsourcer to solve. The cloud computing model can bring many of the strengths of both of these approaches together in a more flexible whole. However, I will note that cloud computing services in Australia are currently relatively immature, and that much of what Hodgkinson is talking about is not easy to achieve yet.
Much of the cloud computing infrastructure available in Australia is purely of the infrastructure as a service variety — many of the true cloud applications which would be useful to government don’t appear to have arrived yet; and if they have, I’m not sure to what degree they are mature yet. Personally, I would recommend governments look at targeted cloud investment — use it where it makes sense, but don’t try to force its use, as has been the case in the US Government to some degree.