The lack of a common definition of what constitutes a ‘Cloud’ service is one of the major reasons government agencies require a federal Cloud strategy, according to the Australian Government chief information officer, Anne Steward.
Speaking at CeBIT 2011 in Sydney, Steward argued that given the high number of vendors offering so-called Cloud services to government a formalised Cloud strategy was very much needed.
“There have been some questions: why bother having a cloud strategy – what is really different?” she said. “There are two valid reasons: one is to have some clarity around just what is Cloud… with no disrespect to any particular party there has been a lot of ‘do I have a Cloud service for you’…
“[And the other is whether] it is just another form of procurement? Yes, but it is about having a consistency of approach in what we do, similar processes which are repeatable, and making sure as we procure and utilise these services that we are clear and the partners are clear in terms of what [Cloud] is. It is not just a new outsourcing service with a new glossy name. It is an important one.”
Steward said the Federal Government was already making use of the Cloud in areas such as supporting the data.gov.au environment. The Australian Tax Office, Treasury and the Australian Bureau of Statistics are also known to be using Cloud. “We take a tactical and strategic approach to the Cloud and that is our informed policy decision,” she said.
Steward's Cloud caution follows similar comments from CeBIT participants. According to NICTA research leader, Anna Liu, said there were a number of risks not yet taken into account by Australian IT leaders.
“There are a number of risks I’m hearing about, things like vendor lock-in and security issues, that will take time,” she said at CeBIT 2011. “[CIOs] have to establish what the working relationship between the outsourcer, Cloud platform provider and your business is.”
Department of Finance and Regulation policy and planning division first assistant secretary, Glenn Archer, said the hacking of Sony's PlayStation Network made him “wary” of marketing claims from Cloud vendors.
“Research firm Longhaus published research this week which clearly suggested Cloud vendors have some way to go to live up to the claims in their marketing material,” Archer said. “We need to not only think safe but feel safe. I don’t feel safe and that level of security isn’t there yet.”
Steward also flagged location-based data as a major area of government activity and as a means for adding more value to the vast volume of existing government data.
“It is all well and good to have a whole heap of information out and available but it is more meaningful to see ‘where’ the data is,” she said.
“Government does have a vast amount of information but perhaps as a result of stove-piped programs in the past it is often stored in many formats, or across agencies, or as a result of machinery of government changes it is often hard to locate or without a geographic reference or the appropriate metadata attached.
“Linking information to location means it can better used, analysed, and displayed in a geographic context which enables the user to see not only ‘where’, but ‘why’ and ‘how’ and ‘when’.”
While location-based data could greatly assist in achieving productivity gains and in service delivery, Steward said for this to occur all data had to be “reliable, open, re-usable and of a robust nature”.
To achieve this, the government was moving to better coordinate agencies in their capture, collection and management of information to cut down on duplication of data and effort, Steward said.
Steward also flagged that a second draft consultation paper would be launched next week on the government’s open source strategy.
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