news Queensland’s new LNP State Government late last week revealed plans to dump the troubled colossal whole of government email project begun under the previous Bligh Labor administration, with IT Minister Ros Bates highlighting the possibility to shift to a “cloud-based solution” instead.
The project, dubbed the Identity, Directory and Email Services (IDES) program, was begun in 2007 with a budget of $252 million and was slated to consolidate some 80,000 state government email accounts into one overarching platform based on Microsoft Exchange 2007, by December 2009. It was being undertaken by state-owned ICT services group CITEC, and was also to see some 350,000 identities managed, likely through Microsoft’s Active Directory software.
In the process, numerous installations of IBM’s Lotus Notes/Domino and Novell’s Groupwise platforms were to be rationalised. The key vendors at the heart of the project were Data#3, which was hired to conduct content filtering and email archiving operations, using Symantec software, along with Dimension Data, which was to conduct the migration.
However, in December last year, the Courier Mail newspaper revealed the state had spent spent $46 million on its whole of government email platform, but had only actually migrated some 2,000 accounts. At the time, Simon Finn, then-Information and Communication Technology Minister reportedly said that the project ws within budget, and that the number of users, which were rising every week, was slated to reach 53,000 by the end of 2013. By June this year, only 3100 users were using the platform, according to the new State Government.
This report came after Queensland’s Auditor-General had already heavily critised IDES in June 2010, noting that delays had been experienced, although the project as a whole was under budget. The key problem with IDES appears to have been that there was “no program board with adequate stakeholder representation to drive the program forward and to deliver the outcomes and benefits,” according to the report. CITEC was the only body involved in decisions about the program’s schedule.
Last week, new LNP IT Minister Bates said in a media release that the project was to be scrapped and never should have been approved in the first place. “The central problem with IDES was that it never represented good value for money and Departments could source alternative products,” Bates said. “The Auditor General termed IDES a financial and functional disaster, in large part because there was no effective oversight of its implementation.”
A Departmental review of IDES recently concluded that a further investment of $25 million over the next three years would be required to make it viable, Bates’ statement said. The program will now be closed by 30 June 2012. “I have recommended that we stop IDES and explore other options including a potential cloud-based whole-of-Government email solution,” Bates added, noting that a cloud-based solution “could provide benefits for the Government’s short-term cash flow position and could also provide a sustainable long-term option from a technological perspective”.
“A cloud-based solution doesn’t require a large capital investment and provides an effective way to manage a commodity-based information technology service,” she said. Bates said existing IDES users would be supported until a replacement was established.
Queensland has done the right thing here, in my opinion. Mainstream enterprise IT strategy currently usually holds that the provision of email to users is a service that is highly commoditised in 2012 and can usually be outsourced to a more capable external organisation and delivered as a service. It doesn’t make sense for large organisations to be running their own email platforms, when external companies can do it more efficiently.
If I was advising the Queensland Government, I would recommend that it investigate getting a major IT outsourcer such as Fujitsu or CSC to build a large version of the latest version of Exchange for it, and host that implementation in the outsourcer’s own datacentre, with the entire platform to be provided as a service. This kind of stuff isn’t rocket science, and there’s a number of major companies operating locally who are very well versed in these kind of implementations now.
The identity management portion of this is a little bit more tricky, however, and I note that Bates hasn’t addressed it in her media release. I would envisage that identity management is currently too difficult a project for the Queensland State Government to tackle on a whole of government basis, and that this aspect is best managed by each individual department for now. Queensland has bigger fish to fry when it comes to technology projects right now.
Bates’ mention of ‘cloud-based email’ may have some jumping up and down and stating that this opens up the possibility for Queensland to shift onto Google’s Apps platform, or even to Microsoft’s Office 365. However, I consider a migration to these platforms to be a very remote possibility for Queensland, due to their nature as offshore-hosted environments. Australian Governments usually want to keep their data onshore.