NSW must be careful not to choke on its own cloud hype

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NSW must be careful not to choke on its own cloud hype

[Blog post] Don't let marketing obscure real achievements.

Through cinematic harbour shots and footage of dappled light falling on Macquarie Street through gently flickering leaves, the NSW government today announced it had signed a multi-agency licensing deal with Microsoft.

Innovation Minister Victor Dominello heralded the opportunity to “transform from a 20th century government to a 21st century government”.

According to Finance Minister Dominic Perrottet, who now shares the IT remit with Dominello, the deal will “result in better information available to different agencies, better data collection, and importantly better outcomes for our citizens and our public servants”.

The deal creates a new central procurement vehicle for a select group of NSW government agencies to buy Microsoft cloud products like Office 365, Skype for Business and Azure - assumedly at a discounted enterprise rate, like that which already exists for NSW agencies looking to buy Exchange and conventional Microsoft licences.

The health, justice, families, planning and finance clusters are on board right away. Other big agencies - like education and transport - will likely sign up to the scheme at a later date.

However, as we've previously seen in Queensland, none of these agencies actually have to buy cloud services through the scheme. In fact, it is still unclear whether the cohort has committed to buying anything at all.

Nothing stopped agencies from buying these services prior, either. In fact, NSW Fire and Rescue has been on Office 365 for a couple of years already.

The Queensland case demonstrates that governments talking up the apparent world-leading, paradigm-shifting potential of their Microsoft volume licensing arrangements is not new.

Last April, with the Microsoft PR engine in tow, the sunshine state touted the prospect of moving nearly 150,000 government workers onto cloud email - making it one of the largest rollouts in the country.

The caveat, however, was that the participating government agencies weren't automatically migrating - they now had the opportunity to buy Microsoft cloud services.

As far as iTnews is aware, the Department of Science, IT and the Arts and a couple of other smaller bodies - making up a few thousand seats at best - are the only ones to have taken up the offer some 18 months later.

And who could forget the trio of Canberra ministers climbing over each other to make this purely symbolic procurement announcement one year ago?

With cloud, start-ups and nebulous ‘digital’ rhetoric the current flavour of the month, NSW and its government peers need to be careful they don’t let a desire to be seen alongside the Silicon Valley big boys replace substance with fluff.

There is some genuinely good work going on in the NSW public sector at the moment.

Finance’s Data Analytics Centre holds great potential if it can get off the ground. The IT strategy team issued a thoroughly sensible update to the state’s cloud policy weeks ago to zero fanfare.

The open data module of a public sector ‘spending cube’ is due to be released to citizen auditors any day now. Service NSW is kicking goals all over the place.

So don't take us for a ride. Leave the cloud hype and the videographers at the door, and focus on the initiatives that are actually providing tangible benefits.

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Paris Cowan
Paris Cowan joined iTnews in July 2013 after a stint at Intermedium, a news and data analysis firm based exclusively on government IT procurement. At Intermedium, Paris reported on new IT projects underway in state and federal agencies, interviewed public sector CIOs and was subsequently promoted to Online Editor in June 2012. While public sector IT will remain her key focus at iTnews, she has been given a broader remit to cover technology programs across several industries.
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