Cloud Architecture by Accountant: Getting Government Cloud wrong when it could be so right

redtape_thinkstockThe Australian Department of Finance have just released a discussion document on creating a Cloud Procurement Panel. While it doesn’t seem to mandate the use of the service it does, in my opinion, represents yet more red tape, bureaucracy, and costs in the path of Government agencies adoption of Cloud Services. Again, we see ICT architecture by accountant slowing down the wholesale adoption of Cloud services.

Globally Government are still struggling with adoption Cloud services and central government, the regulator of government agencies, is not helping. The fact is that if you put finance people in charge of designing any ICT services, including Cloud, you’re just going to have a bad time. The latest Australian Cloud Procurement Panel is more of the same.

The material is wordy legalese that shows a preference for process over substance while still holding up some of those tired, old myths such as data sovereignty. It was a major step forward this year for the Australian’s to remove the need for an agency to get two minister’s signatures to offshore data. We all know that data sovereignty with the right tools and processes in place is a non-issue and has been for twenty-four months.

The Aussies are years away from getting this right, with this article noting that they can’t even agree on a Cloud First Policy:

“The Abbott government may be months away from concluding its first cloud computing trial and the slow adoption of a “cloud-first” policy will have several major negative impacts, industry figures say.” – Source

Guess who is holding that up?

“The Finance Department, which has carriage over much of the digital economy initiatives, declined to comment on the commission’s cloud first policy proposal. The government has ­refused to publicly state its position on a cloud-first policy ­although it is understood to be quietly working behind the scenes on executing the Coalition’s policy for e-government and the digital economy, unveiled in the lead-up to last year’s election.

Details are scant but Finance is conducting a secure government cloud trial of a new, internal management system scheduled to be completed in December.”

This is priceless. The Finance department is holding up the entire progression of Cloud in Australian government. The Accountants reign supreme. Just like Australia government became the last stronghold of Novell on the planet, it appears they are going the same way with infrastructure. In a few years we’ll need to be shipping them old tin to shore up their failing, in-house, legacy infrastructure.

New Zealand is taking a more pragmatic approach to Cloud these days as we know, though there is still a lot of red tape that could be cut. Some services that the government have provided to agencies are of high-value and some are simply not. The Cloud first policy has been in place for over two years and the Department of Internal Affairs is moving from a “you will” approach to one of guidance. There’s been quite a clean out and the new guard are looking good.

In my opinion they still need to get rid of the “mandate” on all services. The amount of money and time it takes for agencies to negotiate that word and its implications is extensive. Worse, in highly-politicised environments, entire business cases can be made on one basis. Keeping the GCIO happy. CIO’s would be well advised to as well given the rumours of a naughty and nice list being managed by that position showing who’s career prospects will flourish and … the others. Not a good way to build ICT capability at all.

Capabilities must stand on their own two feet. They must be relevant to agencies, cost-effective, well-managed, standardised, competitive, and have a very strong publicly published road-map of improvements. Otherwise, they are value less.

Generally, New Zealand agencies, being rather pragmatic and bull-headed, have chosen a hybrid approach where Common Capabilities complement other investment. This is the correct path. There is no single Common Capability that will achieve all ICT objectives and there never will be.

Governments must start to address the real reason that adoption is slow. Here they are:

  • Central agencies, usually the accountants and commercial legal teams, create a morass of red tape, confusion, and regulation around Cloud services that are all entirely unnecessary. Add a “mandate” to that and you have a recipe for progress slowing to the speed of treacle.
  • Security is still seen as an issue though it shouldn’t be. In New Zealand there is excellent guidance and checklists courtesy of the DIA that agencies can walk through to get a good outcome. Regardless, there are so many security tools now that you can get any level of security you require.
  • Return on investment. Still a bug bear, because agencies don’t actually know how much they spend today. Very few agencies have a good total cost of ownership model, most of the ones that do, have already moved to Cloud. Cloud is not always a less spend option. In fact, a like for like transition to Cloud is probably going to cost similar to what you do today.
  • Skills. Agencies don’t invest in training staff nor do they generally invest in procuring new skills sets. If they don’t, then trying to understand how Cloud works is like a blind man trying to find his way out of a maze. Possibly, prone to trial and error, slow, and immensely frustrating. A recent U.S. study showed that 88% of ICT staff in government required training in Cloud.
  • It’s complex. Good architects are very hard to find. Cloud implementation as a first step always involves a hybrid solution. Unless you have skilled staff in integration, you’re going to have a bad time.

What agencies don’t need is more red tape to confuse the issue and someone standing over them with a big stick threatening if they don’t. What they also don’t need is accountants and commercial lawyers telling them how to construct their ICT architecture. Any time you build a panel and don’t include ICT specialists, you guessed it, you’re going to have a bad time.

It’s the 21st century, let people sort out what they need and get on with it. This endless road of interference by non-ICT busy bodies is just holding everyone back. Especially in Australia.



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