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Microsoft Azure

ACT Government harnesses cloud, transforms services and spurs efficiency

Almost 400,000 people live, work and study in the ACT. Home to the nation’s capital, Canberra, the ACT also attracts a rising number of domestic and international tourists.

The ACT Government’s transformation agenda places those individuals at the core of its digital strategy.

It wants to focus on their needs, understand their expectations and deliver high quality, responsive services efficiently and effectively. At the same time, it seeks to streamline operations for its 20,000 employees and keep a firm rein on costs while making Canberra a premier example of a smart city.

Al Blake, the chief technology officer of the ACT, explains that the Territory’s overarching ambition is to become recognised as a digital leader, carving out a strong reputation for digital excellence and innovation, while promoting inclusion for all residents and visitors.

It’s a bold ambition and prompted a technology rethink that placed cloud computing at the core. The ACT Government’s digital strategy, launched in 2016, makes clear that cloud is the preferred platform for the future.

This is about digital inclusion, about improving social outcomes by making things more accessible.

The strategy notes; “Cloud is a fine example of where massive scale and resource sharing has driven a radical price point shift. That point is an order of magnitude lower than that which could be achieved through on‑premise infrastructure within the ACT. In addition, the leverage of scarce skills in security and service management means that cloud is no longer “the risky option”.”

Instead cloud is a powerful and important ally says Blake, creating robust digital foundations to deliver more responsive government services rapidly, effectively and efficiently.

Microsoft Azure is delivering a sizeable chunk of those digital foundations, now the basis for a raft of emerging services with the promise of genuine and long-lasting impact.

Blake outlines one example; “When we examined the Health Directorate’s need for a data warehouse we identified that a Microsoft Azure implementation would be many hundreds of thousands of dollars a year less than our internal hosting model”.

The less money we spend on back end administration of IT the more money can be allocated to the front end of citizen services, for example on health and education.

While the project is still under development, Blake is confident of the impact a cloud based approach will have. “Directorates will be able to respond more quickly, at lower cost, implement more quickly, and ramp up and down with more flexibility.”

More importantly the efficiency liberated by the cloud approach offers the potential for genuine health impacts.

“Because we are a Territory – we get very close to the pointy end of service delivery. Every dollar not spent on a computer gets spent on a nurse or teacher’s assistant. When the Heath Directorate saves half a million on IT that has direct and immediate impact on its ability to deliver frontline services to citizens.”

Gary Davis, executive director of shared services Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) for the ACT Government, explains that there is a daily impact for front line workers and citizens.

“Using the Microsoft Azure cloud platform enables people to get on with the jobs they are paid to do – for teachers to spend less time on administration, more time teaching, if you’re a doctor less time administration, more time dealing with patients.”

The cost efficiencies of moving to cloud also have impact says Davis. “Azure enables us to reduce our IT infrastructure footprint – hopefully we can move 80 per cent into the cloud – that helps reduce costs, improve responsiveness and improve the services we deliver to citizens.”

While Blake and his colleague Jeremiah Fergus Cloud Project Manager acknowledge that there were cultural hurdles to overcome before cloud computing was broadly accepted, they say that fears about cloud’s suitability and risk profile have been allayed.

According to Fergus the ACT’s ICT team has been fiercely pragmatic about the rollout of cloud; “You have to start doing it. Getting runs on the board is more important than strategy. Get on with it and see what works.”

“With the secure and trusted cloud-based foundations for new classes of services in place across multiple portfolios, the demand for new services is soaring – the cloud based enterprise management system already has literally hundreds of projects underway,” says Fergus.

The transformation has also steered cultural reformation and enhanced the skills sets in the ACT Government’s ICT operations.

The Azure cloud platform is also accelerating digital transformation across the ACT’s schools where teachers will use a range of cloud services to support a teach anywhere initiative.

These are the sorts of transformation initiatives now possible thanks to the robust cloud foundations that have been built by the ACT Government’s IT team.

Davis says that the digital transformation supports the ACT Government’s commitment to deliver innovative technologies to support its citizens and to make Canberra a truly digital city by leveraging; “Innovative technologies to achieve outcomes, citizen services, education, health, transport and other services we deliver on a day to day basis” in a much more streamlined way than was possible in the past.

Moving to cloud foundations also boosts flexibility and agility. “Our digital strategy is very much a cloud first strategy – to allow us to draw upon the economies of scale from Microsoft to enable the flexibility and agility to deliver services in a more timely fashion,” says Davis.

It also supports the Government’s ambition to make Canberra a truly smart city.

“Technology is making it simpler for citizens to interact with Government. We are moving away from paper based forms to online interactions to get citizens in and out quickly and on with their lives,” says Davis.

“We can provision ICT services much quicker than before, a new system that once took several months can now be delivered in several hours. It’s a much more efficient and effective way to deliver services.”

By harnessing Azure Active Directory for monitoring, alerting, backup and recovery, data protection and security services, the foundations have been laid for ongoing cloud based innovation and transformation. More than a hundred workloads have been transitioned to the cloud and more are added each day, including exciting project that are currently under construction: a government-wide data lake leveraging cloud services using MapR and Linux, a new child youth protection system which will be hosted in Azure, and an online voting system used to manage enterprise agreements.

As Blake notes; “The cloud is not too scary – it’s ready for government, get on with it.”

Left to Right: Andrew Barr (Chief Minister), James Kavanagh (Microsoft), Kylie Roche (Microsoft), Hala Batainah (Microsoft), Gary Davis (ACT Government), Greg Boorer (Canberra Data Centres)