​WA's grand plan to rid government of IT ownership

With money tight thanks to the end of the mining boom, the end-goal of the government of Western Australia's GovNext-ICT initiative is to rid the state of any IT infrastructure ownership.

Andrew Cann, CTO at the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (GCIO) in Western Australia, is shaking up the way the state government has operated for years, shifting the model for IT infrastructure to be purely consumption-based.

"We don't want to own any IT infrastructure at all, that's our goal," Cann told CeBit Australia in Sydney on Wednesday.

"We want to decommission our datacentres and server rooms. We've got 50 datacentres and 200 server rooms within government organisations right now. The rest of the world got rid of that years ago."

The behemoth IT project, worth AU$3 billion over the next 10 years, is known as GovNext-ICT and is aimed at allowing the state to concentrate on delivering government services, by handing the IT heavy-lifting elsewhere.

It is expected to save the state AU$60-80 million in IT infrastructure expenditure annually.

In devising GovNext, the WA government looked to models such as the one used in California and one in New Zealand, which Cann complimented by saying they are "years ahead" of everyone with what they are doing.

"We don't want to transition government to do this, we want to transform government. We want to leapfrog what everyone else has done," he added. "We want to transform agencies and get rid of all of the garbage."

Pointing to the likes of Canberra Data Centres, Cann said it is difficult in WA because there is not the experience found on the eastern seaboard. He instead opted to find vendors that have the experience to take the government on the journey.

The scope the government took to market was quite large; it asked for datacentres not server rooms; public cloud and private cloud connectivity; connectivity networks; collaboration technologies; mobile; and secure gateway.

Cann said despite the documentation asking for consumption-based models only, 54 out of 57 respondents took the liberty of pitching models outside of what the government asked for.

As a result, it signed NEC, Datacom, and Atos to provide IT infrastructure for five years under the GovNext-ICT initiative.

"We told them we don't want them to be passive in this, we want them to be actively going into government and dragging them forward and tell us when they're not being compliant," Cann said.

"It's going really well at the moment and it's changing the market in Western Australia already.

"We go through those vendors and they find the right deal for us. We don't care how it gets to us, as long as it gets to us and it's unified."

For collocation, WA uses NextDC, Pier DC, and Metronode; it employs core network services from Atos, Kinetic IT, and Empired; and it also uses Vocus Communications, TPG, Telstra, and Optus for its communication services.

This consumption-based model has rattled the cages of the telco providers, Cann said, with many previously approaching government agencies to secure contracts.

While Cann appears pleased with the response he is getting from agencies "finally listening" to him, one thing that stands in Cann and the GCIO's way is the budget situation WA found itself facing -- the state had a net debt of AU$20.6 billion, off the back of an expected AU$3.9 billion deficit for 2016-17.

"We have no money; we're in big trouble because the mining boom is over," Cann explained. "Treasury has no capital to give to organisations at the moment who are heavily dependent on infrastructure."

The change in government that happened in March is yet to affect the GovNext project, but Cann told ZDNet there is a service delivery review being performed on the government, which includes reducing the amount of agencies and departments.

Currently, there are 41 government departments and another 150 smaller organisations. In comparison, New South Wales has 18 and Victoria has less than 10.

"We're actually also going to be getting more of a mandate," Cann said. "We have no mandate at the moment; we just use our charm and grace to achieve results. Hopefully we'll get that mandate and crack the hammer on a few heads."

Giles Nunis was officially appointed as the first GCIO for WA in October 2015, with the Office of the GCIO only established three months prior under the Department of Finance umbrella.

At the time, former Premier Colin Barnett said Nunis had an important role to play in helping to stabilise the government's IT costs, develop a whole-of-government IT strategy, and build the capacity of WA's growing IT sector.

"The government spends AU$1 billion to AU$2 billion on IT and this needs to be strongly managed to ensure we deliver the best value to West Australians," Barnett said at the time.

In September, the West Australian Education and Health Standing Committee said it was hopeful that the establishment of the GCIO would put an end to the poor management of IT procurement and project management previously plaguing the state, noting that IT contracts in the state have the potential to "spiral out of control" if history is anything to go by.