The ambitious transformation of Australia’s government agencies has stepped up after a whole-of-government agreement giving them access to over 165 Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud services regardless of their size, location, or budget.

Individual agencies, departments, public universities and government-controlled agencies will no longer have to individually tender for cloud services, instead gaining access to pre-built AWS cloud services.

AWS offers a range of capabilities – including data storage and analytics; Internet of Things (IoT) management; image recognition, voice-to-text and other machine learning; Blockchain architectures; content delivery; security; and more – across 66 availability zones in 21 geographic regions, including 3 zones in Sydney.

Removing the obstacles to cloud

The contract follows a Deloitte Access Economics (DAE) report, Harnessing Public Cloud Opportunities in the Government Sector, that surveyed Australian government agencies about their experiences with public cloud services.

Agencies including the ATO, IP Australia, ABS and CSIRO spent nearly $1b on public-cloud services last year, DAE found, and 79 per cent reported being more agile after embracing public-cloud services.

Fully 71 per cent said they were more productive with cloud services, while 61 per cent reported better infrastructure and service/reliability/data security.

Some 54 per cent said public-cloud services had facilitated adoption of transformational technologies like AI and virtual reality, while 43 per cent reported reduced technology costs.

Calling public cloud “a platform for the future”, the report’s authors noted that 73 per cent of responding agencies reported structural issues – such as leaders’ lack of understanding about cloud’s benefits – were hindering public-cloud adoption.

Data privacy, data sovereignty and other policy issues were cited as obstacles by 79 per cent of respondents while skills (named by 61 per cent), financial issues (48 per cent) and procurement issues (33 per cent) were also putting the brakes on cloud migrations.

The new AWS contract addresses policy, financial, and procurement obstacles with a new access framework that “delighted” Dan Newman, lead partner for cloud, technology, strategy, and architecture with Deloitte.

“The announcement is welcome news,” he said, “as it offers government and industry service providers like Deloitte with broader access to the highly secure, scalable, reliable cloud technology services to drive digital transformation and accelerate government change programs.”

Continuing the cloud-first vision

The AWS deal comes five years after the government formalised a ‘cloud-first’ Cloud Computing Policy 3.0 that required non-corporate Commonwealth entities to use cloud services for new and updated services “whenever those cloud services are fit for purpose; offer the best value for money; and provide adequate management of risk to information and ICT assets.”

That policy was updated in 2017 by the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA), which released a Secure Cloud Strategy under which agencies would follow seven key principles as they developed cloud strategies to suit their own needs.

That strategy mandated a layered certification model, a common assessment framework, and a new contract model that “will make responsibilities and accountabilities of cloud providers clear”.

In November 2018, the government raised its public-cloud bar once more with an updated Digital Transformation Strategy, the launch of which minister Michael Keenan said would drive Australia “to remain in the top 3 digital governments in the world by 2025”.

That strategy laid out a series of objectives including a hosting strategy “to build confidence in the quality of infrastructure and cloud hosting service investment decisions”.

Many agencies have already built projects on AWS – Canalys figures gave the cloud operator double the market share of Microsoft’s second-place Azure at the end of 2018 – but the new agreement further strengthens links between AWS and the government’s transformation agenda.

It will also simplify access to government cloud projects by AWS Partner Network (APN) members like Bega, NSW-based software house 2pi Software – whose managing director Liam O’Duibhir said the deal would be a leg up for small and medium businesses (SMBs) wanting to access government work.

“The streamlined procurement for government to build on AWS makes it faster and easier for APN partners to provide software and consulting services to the Australian government,” O’Duibhir said while noting that the firm would be investing in “skill and capability development” on the back of the AWS deal.