Um … what? No open tender for Qld’s cloud email



blog If you’ve been following the Queensland Government’s long-running and troubled attempts to deploy a whole of government email solution (dating back to at least 2008), you’ll be aware that the project hasn’t precisely been a bed of roses so far. From 2008 through 2011, the state’s so-called Identity, Directory and Email Services program was able to bring just 2,000 users onto its new, Microsoft Exchange-based platform.

The project was eventually scrapped 15 months ago under the new LNP administration in the state, and Queensland IT Minister Ian Walker has been vocal about wanting to adopt an email platform based on cloud computing, rather than the internally-deployed approach that failed Queensland last time. The only problem is, according to iTNews, now that the state has decided to progress with a cloud-based email platform, it’s not doing so via open tender. The media outlet reports today (we recommend you click here for the full article):

Queensland’s Department of Science, IT, Innovation and the Arts (DSITIA) has quietly commenced negotiations with two cloud providers to set up a contract for “public cloud communication and collaboration services”.

Now, on the one hand, you have to applaud Queensland for expediting this project, which has been on the drawing board since 2008 and needs to get into high gear. Open tendering processes run by government departments are, after all, some of the slowest processes known to man — and if the Queensland Government was to seriously go out there and evaluate the entire market, it would take an age.

There is also the fact that, as we’ve seen recently with a similar project with the NSW Government, there are really, ultimately, only two viable technology solutions for the Queensland Government’s cloud needs on this scale, being Microsoft’s Office 365 system and Google’s Gmail/Google Apps option.

However, on the other hand, it should be obvious that even though Queensland will inevitably pick one of these two solutions, there are many different ways to buy these packages. In NSW, for instance, it was IT outsourcer Unisys which picked up the Microsoft trial, and New Zealand-based Fronde which picked up the rights to trial Gmail for the state.

Queensland will need an integrator, whichever way it goes and I severely doubt that there are only two companies locally that are able to provide such services. At the very least, Queensland should be looking outside its own state borders for the best expertise in Australia, as its local IT industry is, frankly, just not as large as that found in Sydney, for example. And lessons learned from other major organisational email deployments around Australia will doubtless be able to be applied in Queensland as well.

So is short-changing its own tendering processes a good thing, or a bad thing, in this case? Well, based on prior experience, I’m going to say Queensland should be playing this by the book and avoiding as much risk as possible. One need only look at how badly botched Queensland Health’s tendering process was for its payroll replacement project (subscription link) to see how dodgy tenders can go wrong. And let us not forget: This email project is one which the Queensland Government has already failed to deliver once.


  1. if it goes to MS or Gmail it will be held offshore, so I wont be emailing any govt dept, I’ll revert to this old thing stuck in my garage, under 7 inches dust and dirt, hrmm, whats it called again, a frix, no, fox, no, oh.. thats it a _fax_ machine.

    • Both MS and Google could provide storage locally. There is nothing stopping them doing so for a contract of this size.

      Both have datacentre resources in Australia, and could presumably expand them.

  2. forgot to mention.

    why they dont just employ a couple of ex ISP sys admins to build, and configure a real email system that wont fail i’ll never know, we have been doing it for longer than most of them have been in politics, and I guarantee you I’ll save them countless thousands by not using ms products, and a decent NAS (never really been a believer of SANs for email, too much bother and unreliability) that wont fall over every month

  3. Surely the recent NSA revelations would remove Google Apps or Office 365 from any shortlist.

      • What indeed … in-house IT dept (tried that … works OK but not sustainably affordable) … in-house shared email service (tried that didn’t work) … outsourced managed email service (maybe … but expensive … and … but … but … there is no money) … on-shore cloud service (maybe … but unproven … subscale and risky?) … Google/Office365 … (known to work, known to be affordable and known to be travelling in the right direction).

        The NSA snooping issues are somewhat overblown I suspect and mainly relate to the free versions of these cloud services. It ought be possible to ‘work the problem’ rather than treating it as a show stopper. Other jurisdictions, for example, have deployed Google Apps after detailed security and privacy assessments and remain confident in the integrity of the platform even after the NSA revelations.

  4. Hmmm … it all depends what they have gone to market for. No need for a public tender to pick between Google Apps and Office365. I’m guessing implementation services will need to remain contestable as there are quite a few vendors that could do this and no real advantage for government from picking only one … as tempting as this may be. The better approach (if they are interested in learning from history) is to avoid two poisonous outcomes: (1) Creation of a monopolistic constraint on agency adoption … a bottleneck created by either the need for agencies to work through a central agency or through a single vendor with a constrained workforce (2) Creation of a forced march adoption program … which simply becomes something for agencies to rebel against … particularly if the benefits are unclear and there are also perverse financial incentives.

    The choice of either Google Apps or Microsoft Office365 will not itself create a monopolistic constraint because these are both very large scale shared services – more than capable of absorbing all Queensland public servants. The constraint will be the implementation, integration and user hand-holding to support a smooth implementation in a change-resistant workforce [illustrated by the two comments above by Nobby6 … though he or she may not work in Queensland].

    Governments with their heads screwed on are seeing cloud services as a way to benefit from, and harness, the decentralised innovation potential of cloud services … rather than as just a new solution to try and ram down the throats of agencies in some kind of centralised socialist economy forced march. In this context the old standardise/consolidate/rationalise whole-of-government procurement logic is less relevant and useful. Instead, the best path is to create an environment where agencies make their own decisions to choose cloud services because they are (in their eyes) better, faster, less expensive and less risky than other options. Central agencies should add value by facilitation and ‘making themselves useful’ to share and propagate success … rather than pretending that it is possible for them to know better than agencies what agencies actually need.

    Maybe there is value in all agencies being on either Google or Microsoft platforms … maybe. The increasing interoperability created by APIs makes this less obvious however … particularly when set against the costs and risks and own-goals of whole-of-government forced march strategies.

    Cloud services is a vibrant and competitive global market place at an early stage of evolution. This market can deliver the apparent paradox of highly centralised cloud solutions (e.g. either Google Apps or Office365) which can be adopted in a very decentralised agency-by-agency manner and still deliver economies of scale and the benefits of SOA via transparent APIs. The magic is that economies of scale and interoperability are service attributes … they do not need to be created by WoG procurement strategies using the outdated tools of standardisation/consolidation and rationalisation. Light touch coordination and voluntary collaboration between agencies is all that is required. In some ways the best WoG ICT strategy may simply be to fire a cloud first policy starter’s gun and stand back out of the way … while providing drinks stations and physiotherapy as required … and handing out medals to winners at various stages of the event.

    Governments are well advised to value the fact that competition accelerates innovation and reduces prices. Competitive forces are best to be attenuated rather than throttled by centralist thinking that seeks to constrain the options available to agencies in pursuit of the mirage of ‘whole of government benefits’.

    • @steve,
      “The NSA snooping issues are somewhat overblown I suspect and mainly relate to the free versions of these cloud services.”

      your very delusional if this is what you honestly think – It is across the board. Christ, they spy on foreign governments, they wouldnt bat an eyelid to read some corporate gmail, let alone, another governments email

      What is scarier, is the U.S. Stored Communications Act, a little known act that classifies all data older than 180 days as abandoned, this means it can be accessed at any time, without warrant or just-cause, oversight, or any reason at all. Not even their closest ally, Canada, permits any government dept to host data in the U.S.

      There are extreme privacy concerns with hosting that anywhere offshore, and I’d be horrified if our uninformed pollies allowed this. Most would not be overly aware of the NSA spying, since mainstream media in this country has given it about 12 seconds air time, likely at the direction of the federal government who got the direction from head office (washington) we are afterall hte US’s 51st state (or so THEY think)

      • The Australian government has been supplying data to the NSA directly, not to mention accessing NSA data directly.

        We are closely tied to the NSA Nobby, the Americans aren’t in the spying game alone, we are working hand in hand with them.

        (google: five-eyes)

      • Hmmm … but what to do Nobby6? It still seems to me that this is a problem that can be worked … ideally with on-shore services … but not necessarily.

        You say “There are extreme privacy concerns with hosting that anywhere offshore”. There are also extreme privacy concerns with hosting uncategorised or sensitive data in any ICT environment characterized by systemic under-investment, poor leadership and management, inadequate security protections, out of date and up-patched software, ageing infrastructure, poorly trained staff with low morale and high turnover etc. etc. … so your ‘onshore’ nirvana is not necessarily a safe haven either. The problem is that Queensland is fast running out of options …

        The discussion needs to focus on the actual factual functional, technical and commercial merits of the different sourcing approaches (in-house vs. shared services vs. managed services vs. cloud services). Your NSA concerns may well be valid to some degree, but they are just one facet of the benefit/cost/risk tradeoffs that need to be made.

        Governments need to put their demand on the table to stimulate an industry response that will lead to the establishment of an adequately trustworthy (perhaps on-shore hosted) basis upon which they can buy public cloud services. Agile thinking + cloud services = innovation and productivity.

        • There is the ‘little’ issue of the US Patriot Act, allowing the US govt to seize all data held by US owned companies, without recourse and without having to prove by evidence, any wrongdoing.

          This is why I think if you look deeper, that ASD/DSD have advised Commonwealth agencies to ensure data holdings are kept onshore, or in private clouds.

  5. Well TechnologyOne want’s ‘something’ to show for all the money gifted to the LNP.

    $20,000 worth of donations, for a $20,000,000 contract seems like a damn good deal to me.

    Pity all the other Brisbane/QLD based IT companies, that were NOT greasing the palms of the Liberal Party (aka Ros Bates).

  6. I’ve said it before and it hasn’t been fixed yet in Gmail. Where are the folders? Tags don’t cut it.

      • +1. Tags works much better than folders. But then again, the issue is one of change – someone who is already used to the folder system will find the tag system different and hence too difficult to use.

        On the issue on not using the tender process, everything about the LNP in QLD is about charging forward like a bull (e.g. new laws). They may get it right some times, but one of these days, they will charge right into a china shop, and it will be the next debacle they’ll have to answer for.

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