Qld Govt rethinks IT; examines Windows, email

Queensland Government CIO Peter Grant has said that radical change might be on the cards for the state government's IT environment, as his office ploughs through an extensive audit.
Written by Suzanne Tindal, Contributor

The Queensland Government's ongoing IT audit could result in some serious changes for its IT environment — with CIO Peter Grant saying that not even Microsoft Windows is safe from his critical eye.

Queensland IT Minister Ros Bates said in May that the government would be reassessing its IT under a wide ranging audit. The audit is being conducted in-house for speed and because there weren't many consulting houses that didn't have a vested interest in an outcome, having provided advice on government strategy in the past, Grant said.

The scope of the audit is extensive, he explained, encompassing strategy, governance, all IT projects and all major procurements. Until it has been completed, the government will be in a short-term shutdown in terms of IT purchasing, according to Grant, stopping any tactical decisions that might hinder a strategic move forward.

So far, the audit has already found that there are major opportunities for savings, in the order of tens of millions of dollars. One early saving that the government has identified, announced last week, was in the area of printing. By making sure that printers printed black and white by default, the government could save millions, Grant said.

"I think I'd rather spend money with industry, than spend it on print toner," he said.

For other savings, however, radical change might be required.

"There are considerable numbers of IT systems that are way past their use by date," Grant said. "The replacement of those will be quite significant pieces of work."

For example, the government had tens of thousands of PCs running Microsoft XP, he said. In April 2014, support of the operating system is ending. When the security patches stop being developed, it would be "open season" for hackers wanting to steal information, he said.

To deal with the XP fleet would cost Queensland Government more than AU$100 million, according to Grant. But there was no guarantee that he would simply upgrade the systems to Windows 7.

"I've got to look at all the other options in place," he said, adding that it might not even be necessary to give everyone a PC. He didn't speculate on exactly what other options might be on the table, although the conversation also ranged around virtual desktops. He said it would be an amazing opportunity for industry to show the government what was possible.

As foreshadowed by the cancellation of the government's Identity, Directory and Email Services (IDES) program, the government is also considering cloud-based email.

Grant said that there were a number of questions to be answered about whether it was best to go with a Microsoft email/Office combination, supported by the Microsoft software stack, or take Google's idea that everything can be done through the browser view, adding that there wasn't really a lot of analysis out there as to the pros and cons of each model.

Many cloud products keep data offshore. Grant pointed to the fact that Microsoft allows you to locate your cloud locally over third-party infrastructure, and that universities and NSW government departments were using international clouds. He added that, with the finances as desperate as the Queensland Government's were, the government couldn't afford to dismiss cloud services out of hand due to such concerns, saying that he thought the whole data sovereignty issue was overhyped and full of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD).

It was important, he said, to guard against "letting your strategy be driven by the folklore".

"We need to have a good look at the security profile most governments run right now. If most jurisdictions were honest about their current performance, they'd probably find that these cloud services are better than them."

He said that he also wanted to stop agencies from clinging onto development, when it made more sense to buy software from a company. Every agency that wanted to develop something themselves would have to justify their need to do so.

"We don't want agencies building their own application software," he said. "The government isn't a software house."

Employees would be acting more like business analysts that could figure out what the business requires, in order to source products that exist and plug them in. He likened this change to the fact that people generally didn't have a tool set at home any more to tinker with their car and that most people probably only add water or oil to their engine now.

The completed audit will go to the IT Minister in October, Grant said, which will be considered by Cabinet in December. He wanted it to be finished as soon as possible to avoid a "nuclear winter" that would cause a mini global financial crisis for the IT industry.

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