NSW Govt trials Gmail, MS cloud email


news The New South Wales State Government has revealed that it will trial both Google- and Microsoft-based cloud email platforms, as its interest in the new cloud computing paradigm continues to develop.

In February this year, the state 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.

Today, Minister for Finance and Services Greg Pearce announced the suppliers selected to deliver the cloud-based services to shared services agency ServiceFirst, as part of a broad initiative to pilot cloud services across a range of NSW Government agencies. Hewlett-Packard will supply the Desktop as a Service aspect of the trial, while Unisys will supply the Microsoft-based ‘messaging as a service’ (email and collaboration services) aspect of the trial. New Zealand-headquartered IT services company Fronde will supply the Google cloud email platform.

Pearce said the testing of multiple cloud-based systems across different scenarios and environments would provide industry with vital information about the specific needs of government. “Cloud services facilitate simple, convenient and on demand access to a shared pool of computing services and falls under the objectives of the NSW Government ICT Strategy,” Pearce said. “Cloud is part of the future of ICT service delivery and these pilots will play a key role in helping government make the right decisions about adopting cloud-based solutions.”

A new version of the NSW Government’s Procure IT Framework was released in June 2011 to provide improved standard contract terms for procuring ICT services. Expressions of interest were called in February this year to provide Desktop as a ervice and Messaging as a Service, including a Proof of Concept, to ServiceFirst. The ServiceFirst trial will run for three months.

Pearce said: “The guidelines in this framework for use by government agencies seek to enable
more efficient processes and outcomes when entering into arrangements with suppliers for ICT procurement. Multiple cloud based systems will be tested across different scenarios and
environments to ensure they are cost-effective, secure and efficient.” 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.

The news comes as other states are also looking at the potential to deliver services through cloud computing. Queensland IT Minister Ian Walker recently said the state would shift to a ‘cloud-first’ IT procurement model and is already considering a similar email/collaboration project as NSW, following the collapse of its whole of government email program.

Analysis of the Victorian Government’s recent whole of government ICT strategy has also shown that the state has placed a heavy focus on the adoption of cloud computing.

However, not all jurisdictions are as positive about cloud services. The Federal Government earlier this month released a new cloud computing security and privacy directive which requires departments and agencies to explicitly acquire the approval of the Attorney-General and their relevant portfolio minister before government data containing private data can be stored in offshore facilities. The move is expected to stymie the use of offshore cloud computing facilities by Federal Government departments and agencies.

Most of this is as expected, but I can see several points worth being made from Minister Pearce’s media release today. Firstly, it’s not surprising that HP picked up the desktop virtualisation work. The company has expertise in both its own solutions and those of VMware, as well as substantial experience deploying desktop solutions to the public sector.

However, the email situation is a little different. For starters, keen-eyed observers will note that Unisys may not technically be providing what we normally think of as a cloud-based email solution in its trial involving Microsoft technology. To get the full benefit of scale here, what we would expect to see is the Federal Government dealing directly with Microsoft with respect to its Office 365 suite, especially so now that Microsoft has announced that it will be constructing local datacentres for its Windows Azure platform.

NSW probably isn’t going for a straight Microsoft solution because of the company’s offshore hosting issues. It will be able to get more flexibility through going for a hosted email solution with Unisys, hosted, no doubt, on-shore. I would be surprised if Unisys is acting as an integrator for a Microsoft-based email solution with data stored offshore.

However, it’s worth noting that in the case of Gmail, there really is no option — all data must be stored offshore in Google’s datacentres, which, we have recently discovered courtesy of Edward Snowden, constitute attractive honeypots for the US National Security Agency to pick over. Another interesting factor is the appointment of Fronde — a NZ IT services firm — rather than an Australian Google integrator to conduct the trial.

I don’t know for sure. But if I had to guess, I’d say that what we’re seeing here is the trial of two options at different ends of the IT scale. It’s likely the Unisys email solution is stored on-shore in a Unisys datacentre, and not using Microsoft’s offshore Office 365 software as a service platform. In this sense, it is likely this solution can be described more accurately as “hosted”, rather than “cloud”. On the other end of the scale, we’re likely seeing Gmail, hosted offshore.

Out of these two options, there really is no doubt which the NSW Government is likely to pick. The Google option will no doubt lose out. Despite the fact that it’s easier to use than Microsoft’s platform, will probably be welcomed by more users and will be cheaper and simpler to administer, the offshore hosting aspect and the access by US law enforcement authorities will be a huge issue here. It’s a pity. Because if I’m right, despite the NSW Government branding the word “cloud” all over its media release today, there really isn’t much “cloud” in an on-shore hosted Microsoft Exchange implementation with a traditional IT outsourcer.

I could be wrong: Happy to be corrected.


  1. It would be good to see a true apples to apples comparison of the two collaboration platforms.

    With regards the hosting location, given that as I understand it Unisys is a US parented organisation “access by US law enforcement authorities” and the US Patriot act still apply regardless of hosting location.

    • It amazes me that Gmail cannot support folders. Anyone in any enterprise role who needs to file emails needs support for folders.

      I know all about tags and the power of Search but I use both gmail (personal) and Exchange (work) and really I cannot see how gmail would improve my productivity at work without proper folder support. Tags just won’t do it – sorry.


        • If I have a folder hierarachy as follows

          Vendor A
          Activity 1
          Activity 2
          Project 1

          etc. then I can organise my emails into very narrow containers where the folder name can be the same or very different across any other hierarchy but be specific to the parent folder context.

          If I try and do the same with tags then I will never have the flexibility and ease to uniquely categorise items and then rename them and then find / locate a unique container easily. The act of moving an email into a folder can provide the equivalent of 5 or 6 tags and can be immediately copied elsewhere to assign a different equivalent 5 or 6 tags. A folder rename easily changes what a tag can’t.

          Folders lend themselves to structure, tags just cannot de-clutter and manage an email inbox like folder’s can. The search capabilities are equally powerful across gmail and Exchange but if you don’t get the power of folders over tags then you haven’t tried to work with both options in a structured enterprise scenario.


          • Wow your forums engine is pretty weak. Hopefully this makes more sense

            — Vendor A
            —- Activity 1
            —- Activity 2
            —- Project 1

    • We need to focus on a pragmatic, business outcomes focused, view of both privacy and security though don’t we … rather than ‘theoretical’/’academic’ view? Yes, agency in-house ICT capabilities can in theory be world-class in terms of security and privacy … but the fact is that they are not … and the government is not willing/able to spend the money required to bring in-house ICT capabilities up to world-class standards.

      Despite the PRISM hysteria, I’m sure that the enterprise-licensed versions of both Google Apps and Office365 will pass any rigorous review of their privacy and security protection of information when compared to the affordable alternatives. Indeed the experience of agencies that have already done this evaluation is that either of these SaaS solutions are significantly more secure and trustworthy than the current under-invested, ageing, agency ICT environments … as well as being a significant step forward in functionality and accessibility.

      In any case, ‘cloudy is as cloudy does’, so these trials will prove the issue one way or the other won’t they with Privacy Impact Assessments and sign-off by the appropriate audit authorities. Then we will know.

  2. “Despite the fact that it’s easier to use than Microsoft’s platform, will probably be welcomed by more users and will be cheaper and simpler to administer, ”

    don’t necessarily agree with this statement at all. explain how Gmail is so much easier to use than Office365?

    Cheaper? yes, i can agree with that, but Simpler to Administer? can’t agree with that either…

    • “Simpler to Administer? can’t agree with that either…” Shannon, do you have evidence to back this statement up? You’ve administered both 365 and Apps? Have you done a comparative analysis of administrative features that leads you to this conclusion, or are are your comments defamatory nonsense?

    • hey mate,

      I’ve seen the Google Apps control panel. I’ve seen the Exchange panel. I’ve used both client-side apps extensively for many years. There is a world of difference between them. Exchange has about a billion more features than Gmail, but it is also a lot more complex. The evidence I’ve seen shows clearly that the younger generation of workers prefers solutions such as Gmail, while older workers who have been in the workforce longer prefer solutions such as Exchange.


  3. Do we know what their current email platform is ?

    It will be interesting to see how the migration is achieved to whatever new platform is chosen. Often there is focus on the new email platform, but we have seen plenty of examples of email migration projects going badly awry – especially in this sector …

    • Various versions of in-house and externally hosted Microsoft Exchange I think …

      • Well if we don’t know the facts lets just make them up! Service First are still using that very special mail package “Group Wise” to deliver mail to most of their customers. That being the case anything they choose will be better for users and easier to administer.

        The comment in the last part of the article sounds like its written by a Google fan boy to me. The Microsoft offering provides a far superior user experience if you start looking a little broader than just email which no doubt the NSW Government is doing. In terms of price, do you really think that Microsoft will not come to the party to ensure they are competitive. Unless you have seen the prices on the tendor documents then it’s probably best to keep your Google bias in your pocket.

        • Group Wise? Really? Can anyone provide a summary of what email/office productivity software is actually deployed in NSW gov agencies?

        • I am not surprised to hear GroupWise mentioned – still in use more widely than people realise, especially in the government space. Hope they factor in the migration project costs of GroupWise to cloud – which is not straightforward, especially if coexistence is needed.

          I was hoping to hear that they used Domino, as that always generates a response from the Domino fanbois.

          These two platforms are keeping me busy in migration work via http://emailmigrations.com . Long may they continue…

  4. Hmmm … we need to keep an eye on the big picture trends here.

    The phased approach to piloting and assessing cloud services solutions is a pragmatic way forward. The reason is two-fold: Firstly, the cloud services market is still at a relatively early stage of evolution in terms of the capabilities of the vendors to satisfy government needs. Secondly, agencies need to develop new ways of thinking and new skills to successfully procure and manage cloud services.

    Cloud services require both parties, vendors and agencies, to change their mindsets and learn and perfect new skills … it takes two to tango … so a phased approach is prudent and maximizes organizational learning.

    The NSW government is head and shoulders more advanced in terms of the quality and discipline of its ICT strategy thinking and implementation than the other state governments at the moment. This is partly a consequence of it having recognized a few years ago that it did indeed have the proverbial ‘burning platform’ but is also a product of some good decisions and pragmatic leadership. Their stance on cloud services, for example, has been to embrace it as the future direction of the ICT industry for the benefit of both agency innovation/productivity and also the development of the NSW ICT industry.

    A good example is the visionary adoption of Google Apps and SAP Business By Design SaaS solutions by the NSW Department of Trade & Investment. These projects explicitly confront the causes of the failure of traditional approaches to ICT procurement and shared services in government and seek to achieve a ‘step change’ upwards in the department’s ability to use ICT capabilities as a catalyst for improved innovation and productivity across a portfolio of 15 agencies. The SAP ERP SaaS project, in particular, is one of the most visionary and exciting cloud services projects in any government world-wide – it is genuinely game-changing in terms of creating a new logic for ICT-enabled business transformation in the public sector.

    The reason that NSW is ahead of the game is that it has a clear strategy and has mobilized an action-oriented program of cloud services pilots and projects in different agencies in order to gain early hands-on experience of cloud services adoption. The dynamic nature of this market, and the fact that cloud services require new thinking and approaches to ICT procurement and management by agency executives, means that hands-on experience in agencies is the most important driver of success from a whole-of-government perspective. Cloud services adoption is best driven at an agency-by-agency level with a focus on innovation and organizational learning … with an eye to business outcomes and the propagation of lessons learned across agencies as experience is gained. The NSW government ICT strategy is showing a resolute determination to live in the future rather repeat the mistakes of the past.

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