Turnbull pushes government cloud, IT services in digital economy policy

The Coalition has launched its digital economy, aiming to shift the focus away from the NBN 'hogging the limelight' and toward government adoption of online services and cloud.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

A Coalition government would look to move more Australian government services into the cloud, and would hand responsibility for IT back to some of the larger agencies in return for better reporting, according to a policy released by Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull today.

Turnbull said that the current Labor government has become so caught up in "the very technical issue" of the differences between a fibre-to-the-node and a fibre-to-the-premises National Broadband Network (NBN) that it has been neglecting the overall issue of the digital economy.

He said that the Coalition supports much of the National Digital Economy Strategy released in June, whereas Labor's policy has focused on "justifying Labor's mismanaged, costly, delayed NBN by framing it as a prerequisite for global digital greatness". A Coalition government would revise this document during its first term in government, according to Turnbull, with an increased focus on bringing together the states, territories, and other government agencies on how they can all improve IT services.

In the policy (PDF) announcement today in Melbourne at the York Butter Factory, Turnbull said that improving digital engagement between the government and the public has been a passion of his "for a very long time", and that under the Coalition, by 2017, the government will communicate with the public online as the default "other than in defined exemptions".

Part of this would be the introduction of a digital pigeonhole, as Turnbull has previously suggested, which would be made available to all citizens and businesses to receive communication from government agencies. This, in turn, would save the government money in reducing the amount of post required. The policy document suggested that Australia Post's Digital Mailbox "or some other destination application" may be used for this service. Funding for this proposal would be delivered within existing IT resources, according to the policy.

Following an audit of IT spending by government agencies over the last three years, the Coalition would take a leaf out of Queensland Premier Campbell Newman's book, and establish an online dashboard to keep the public in the loop on the progress of major IT projects.

Large government IT users like the Department of Defence and the Department of Human Services would retain autonomy and control over their IT operations, but would need to increase the accountability and transparency of their major projects and supply three-year investment plans to the Department of Finance and Deregulation, with external reviews conducted into the major projects every six months until implemented.

Smaller government agencies would be required to use shared or cloud services where "minimum efficient scale hurdles are not met".

There would also be a trial of relocating critical data to a secure government cloud using automated tools from 2014.

"New tools and techniques are needed to help agencies migrate essential services across from older infrastructure, with low risk and low cost."

Turnbull said today that his aim is to move the federal government away from being risk-averse when it comes to innovation and cloud investment.

"It is critical to challenge the box huggers and move, if we can, services into the cloud," he said.

Last week, Minister Assisting on the Digital Economy Kate Lundy told ZDNet that an aggressive cloud-first policy, as the Coalition has proposed, would not be as effective as the considered cloud approach adopted by the government, which states that agencies should consider cloud services provided that they meet security requirements.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade CIO Tuan Dao told ZDNet last week that he doesn't buy into the "cloud hype", and that although much of what his department does could be considered as a private government cloud, he would not consider moving any of it into the public cloud, where the most value for money can be had.

Big data would also become a major focus for the government, with the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) to consult with industry on what public data sets could be added to data.gov.au, with the government to finalise its position on the Draft Big Data Strategy by the end of 2014.

AGIMO would also become less of a decision-making body for government IT, and oversight for procurement panels, contracts, purchasing, gateway and project reviews, and auditing would be conducted by the Department of Finance, separate to AGIMO.

"Authority for effective whole-of-government ICT decisions and reforms ultimately must derive from the decisions and priorities of the Prime Minister and Cabinet," the policy document states.

AGIMO would be more of an adviser to the Cabinet, and would be a change agent and support agency to a new Australian Government ICT Advisory Board. This board would be made up of IT private sector leaders and experts to advise the government on improving productivity using IT, according to the policy document.

In Labor's first term, there were a number of major IT reforms proposed for the AU$6 billion that the government spends each year on IT. Chief amongst these was Sir Peter Gershon's review of IT, for which AU$1.4 billion in costs were expected to be made over five years as a result of an increased focus on shared services and a reduction in the use of government contractors.

The Coalition's policy document states that after 2010, Labor stopped paying attention to government IT, with the then-Gillard government announcing during the election campaign in 2010 that around AU$477 million in savings already accrued would not be returned to IT departments as initially promised, but instead pooled for wider government use.

"This damaged the service-wide credibility of the reform agenda," the policy states.

Splitting AGIMO now between the strategy arm, under CIO Glenn Archer, and procurement, under CTO John Sherdian, has meant that accountability and compliance for whole-of-government objectives is unclear, the Coalition states in the policy document.

"The result has been continued duplication and fragmentation of vendors, strategies, and priorities."

There would also be a trial of "next-generation telepresence systems" in 2014.

According to the policy document, all of the policy announcements would be funded through existing funding that has been provided across the forward estimates.

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