Ministers can't find steady footing on cloud

 

Government in catch-up mode, says industry analyst.

The Australian Government has found itself needing to balance a cautious regard to cloud computing with the findings of a report which urges a more positive and proactive policy approach.

Commissioned by the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, the Information Technology Industry Innovation Council (ITIIC) report [pdf] argued that Australia's IT sector could be a global leader in cloud computing to drive innovation and national productivity gains.

The Council is comprised of representatives from Smartnet; IBM; Macquarie Telecom; Virtual Ark; the Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development & Innovation; CSIRO; NICTA; the Department of Broadband, Communications & the Digital Economy and the Australian Government Information Management Office.

Prepared some two months ago, the report was only released by the Minister for Innovation, Senator Kim Carr, last week.

Contrary to more cautious advice from both AGIMO and the Defence Signals Directorate, the report paints a bullish future for cloud computing and presses the Australian Government to both use cloud computing services and to establish an attractive environment for cloud computing providers.

“The ITIIC believe that taking positive steps to create new levels of consumer and business confidence in use of cloud computing solutions will have the additional benefit of helping position Australia as a national and regional cloud leader…and boosting jobs and productivity whilst attracting global investment,” the report noted. 

The authors urged the Australian Government to seek wherever possible to provide the “right kind of stimulus actions”  to encourage the development of “a vibrant local [cloud computing] ecosystem”.

However Kevin Noonan, public sector research director for Ovum said it reflected a long running conflict between the Government's industry departments and the central procurement and security agencies.

He said government policy was chasing industry reality.

"It's good that the Government is sending a more positive message about the cloud," he said.

"However the bus has already left. Industry is off and running."

He applauded the recommendations in the report but wondered how swiftly the Government might move on them given the range of perspectives amongst agencies.

Recommendations included that the Australian Government:

  • develop security and privacy guidelines for Cloud Service Providers guaranteeing unencumbered (trusted) operation (Security/Privacy/Trust).
  • establish a publically recognised set of "trust" marks, with Government and industry organisations which demonstrate levels of Security/Privacy/Trust, similar to the energy and water "Star-Ratings" for household goods
  • appoint the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and the Department of Finance and Deregulation assume a joint leadership role in encouraging Australian Governments, business and consumers to harness the cloud computing.
  • consider making the ICT Industry a key industry development priority area for the Australian Government
  • collaborate with industry, CSIRO and NICTA to develop and execute a “joint cloud computing research agenda”
  • consider a “faster adoption” of cloud services by government agencies, where appropriate, especially with non-sensitive public facing information and services being migrated to a public cloud environment. (Though it also  states agencies must “first undertake a risk assessment to ensure that the information or service is appropriate for placement in the cloud”.)

But in undertaking their leadership roles, the report recommended the Departments of Broadband and Finance review and adopt "where appropriate" proposals developed by other Australian Government agencies - this would include the more cautious guidance developed by DSD, for example.

The report also recommended the establishing of a cloud computing task force made up of relevant Government departments, regulators, industry and consumer representatives.

The task force would assess and communicate the results of cloud computing trials, commissioning research, undertake case studies and joint proof of concepts, and provide a thought leadership role to encourage the adoption of cloud computing solutions in Australia.

Response

Innovation and Science Minister Kim Carr released the report with some words of support.

"Australia has an opportunity here, to develop a strong local capability in cloud computing. We are a safe, secure destination for hosting cloud data applications, and offer political stability, and a stable and transparent regulatory environment," he said.

But he stopped short of supporting any specific recommendations. These would be discussed by the newly formed Global Access Partners (GAP) National Standing Committee on Cloud Computing - comprising of Federal and State government agencies, industry leaders, the research community and advocacy groups.

"I have also shared the report with my Ministerial colleagues with responsibility for the digital economy, whole of government ICT procurement and cyber-security issues," Senator Carr said.

A spokesperson for his Minister said the report will require a whole of Government response on the recommendations and he hoped to issue that "as soon as possible".

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