Whole-of-government email waits on cloud panel

Establishing whole-of-government email and desktop services will allow Australian government agencies to focus on their core activities, CTO John Sheridan has said.

The Australian government will likely go to market for its whole-of-government email and desktop services in late 2015 or 2016 after the establishment of the cloud services panel, according to Chief Technology Officer John Sheridan.

In September, Sheridan announced that the Commonwealth government, through the Department of Finance, was conducting a feasibility study into whether the government could establish cloud-based email and desktop services that could be provided to government agencies, in a similar way to the establishment of the GovCMS, and would be known as GovMail and GovDesk.

Speaking at the CeBIT GovInnovate conference in Canberra on Tuesday, Sheridan said that moving to a whole-of-government service for both email and desktop services would allow Australian government agencies to focus more on their own core activities.

"We're closing at the moment a scoping study on what we're calling GovDesk and GovMail, which are similar infrastructure-level offerings for agencies to provide office automation services for a subscription price they can use and provide it centrally, and potentially the same thing for email," he said.

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"What we do is we help agencies by taking from them the common tasks that everybody does and allow them to concentrate instead on the aspects of their work that differentiate themselves from other agencies, because I think that specialisation is where we will start to get real value in the future."

Sheridan said that a second draft of the scoping study is "waiting in his inbox", and that the government is looking to potentially go to market for GovDesk and GovMail in 2015 or 2016, once the whole-of-government cloud services panel has been established.

"We would be thinking that would be something we would be putting to market in 2015 or 2016," he said.

"These are some of the services that are contemplated in the cloud services panel, and when we have that in place, this would be an obvious choice."

The Drupal-based GovCMS went live on Australia.gov.au earlier this month. From February, GovCMS will provide websites for Australian government agencies to host public data. The Australian Sporting Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) has already signed up for the service; however, Sheridan said that there is a "large queue of agencies" waiting to take up services, which would ultimately reduce the cost of hosting on Australia.gov.au for Finance through economies of scale.

"What's been interesting about this in moving to this as a way of taking these services out of where we're providing them ... we're saving on Australia.gov.au about 50 percent in terms of hosting. We can also see that these costs will reduce over time as we get more agencies taking this work up," he said.

"For a very small cost, we can provide agencies with a quick and useful service with which they can get things done."

As the Australian government has now mandated that agencies must use a cloud service where it is fit for purpose, provides value for money, and has the right level of security, the Department of Finance is leading the charge within the Australian government towards the use of cloud services.

Sheridan said there needs to be a "Turing test" to see whether the cloud services offered by vendors meets the guidelines for what the government has set out in its cloud computing policy.

"The services look very similar from this side of the monitor," he said.

The Department of Finance is currently evaluating the responses from vendors for the cloud services panel, with over 110 different companies responding to the request for tender.

"All of those companies had to describe their services in a way that would pass this Turing test that would say we're providing cloud services, but it is clearly going to be a challenge for us, I think in the future, to differentiate those things carefully."

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