AWS touts government procurement deals allowed faster response to COVID-19

The cloud giant was awarded the hosting contract for Australia's contact tracing app, following a whole-of-government deal signed from a year prior.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has used its virtual Public Sector conference to share stories of how governments and non-profits have expanded their existing partnerships and leveraged agreements already in place to get pandemic response projects off the ground with ease.

"Government-wide procurement contracts enabled government to move faster," said Max Peterson, a VP with AWS's worldwide public sector business.

The cloud giant signed a whole-of-government deal with the Commonwealth of Australia in June 2019, allowing all federal, state, and territory agencies and departments, as well as public universities and government-controlled corporations, to access AWS cloud services.

"In days past, a ministry or a department that wanted to do something innovative not only had to deal with all of the ideas around budget and technology and skills, but they had to deal with this repetitive thing called procurement," Peterson told ZDNet. "The [whole-of-government arrangement] and the DTA have helped streamline all of that, speed it up, and at the same time, through the collective nature of that, they've helped increase the affordability of services because it's a single vehicle."

AWS was then awarded the contract to host the Australian government's digital contact tracing attempt, COVIDSafe.

With AWS headquartered in the United States, concerns over the security of the COVIDSafe data were raised, with fears it could be accessed by US law enforcement.

A spokesperson for Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert told ZDNet at the time that the minister had "the utmost confidence in how the information [was] being managed".

AWS Australia and New Zealand country director of public sector Iain Rouse said the whole-of-government arrangement has also seen health agencies and organisations like the Digital Transformation Agency "really collaborate".

With the COVIDSafe app powered by local firms GoSource and Shine Solutions -- as well as Atlassian and, of course, Boston Consulting Group -- Rouse told ZDNet the whole-of-government deal was not only good for AWS, but it has been "an effective vehicle for local partners".

"That effective mechanism allows local partners to contest for workloads and then to deliver to government in ways that they probably would find difficulty in before."

With contracts for contact tracing in other jurisdictions, Peterson was asked what he has seen as successful and how Australia could improve its efforts.

"The basic function of contact tracing has been used literally for hundred of years," he said. "It's a basic way to try and identify and backtrack to stop the spread of disease and it wasn't perfect when it was done manually. It will take a while to figure out what is the best way to do it by augmenting that contact tracing with technology -- that's fundamentally what we've seen a lot of customers trying to do and people have taken different approaches."

He did say, however, those he sees as successful have placed a heavy focus on security and been welcome to feedback.

"One of the things that was done well … was by being transparent, it is a way to help build trust and, ultimately, if we want the contact tracing systems to support better automation and be able to support better outcomes when you have these population-wide circumstances, you need the community to trust and then buy-in and use it," he said.

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