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Despite some concrete steps towards adoption of cloud computing at various levels of government, many within Canberra’s political circles still have very little understanding of what the model is and how it applies to government, the head of an industry lobby group has warned.
Speaking at this week’s CommsDay Melbourne Congress, OzHub chairman Matt Healy said the group had been undertaking “significant engagement in Canberra” such as a recent 45-minute educational session run for 32 Coalition members of Parliament.
“It was very heartening that you could get 32 members of Parliament, during a sitting day, to take time out to sit in on a 45 minute talk on cloud issues,” Healy said. “That shows the degree to which it is a hot-button issue in Canberra at the moment.”
The session revealed a broad range of familiarity with cloud concepts and the issues they raise in terms of governance, citizen protection and more. Healy named known technophiles such as Paul Fletcher, Simon Birmingham and Jamie Briggs as being “good forward thinkers” while former attorney-general Philip Ruddock was keen to delineate a clear legislative framework and “was very exercised in his mind as to what the policy responses should be” for privacy breaches.
Even Bronwyn Bishop, a former minister for aged care and minister for defence industry, science and personnel, proved to be well apprised about cloud computing: she “seemed to have quite a good idea of what infrastructure as a service was,” Healy said.
Yet many other members were still well behind the curve, with “very different” ideas of what cloud computing might be. These politicians could not afford ignorance about the cloud model any longer: “We had to educate Canberra because of something of a perfect storm approaching between consumers, providers, businesses and government,” Healy warned.
“One of the more pressing things we’ve discovered, and a real gap in the market, is in Canberra. That gap is about an understanding of what cloud services are, how they’re being used, and what interventions will be needed.”
The need for intervention was, Healy said, reinforced by consumer-focused research that found citizens both want to use cloud-based services, and expect government bodies to deliver them – and do it securely.
“Consumers see a safety net being there for use of these services, and want the government to do it,” he said, noting that many consumers wanted the government to impose harsh penalties when data in government cloud environments was not adequately protected.
OzHub was founded a year ago as a consortium between Macquarie Telecommunications, VMware, Infoplex and Fujitsu, and has recently welcomed Alcatel-Lucent and F5 Networks to the fold.
In the intervening year, the group has undertaken a number of activities including a market sizing exercise and further research into Australian attitudes towards cloud computing (which found that over 70 percent of respondents would prefer their personal data were stored within Australia).
But it is the groups’ advocacy work in Canberra that has highlighted just how far the government still has to go in closing the gap between cloud rhetoric and cloud action. “We’re in a position we didn’t necessarily think we would be in a year ago,” Healy said.
“We’re having to go to Canberra and educate policymakers on all sides as to what cloud computing is. Then we must work from that up to what may be the right policy reactions, instruments or levers that policymakers have at their disposal, and what levers need to be pulled or left alone – to see what emerges so we can behave rationally for the benefit of consumers.”
Better familiarity with cloud computing is about more than policy objectives; with other regional markets investing heavily in cloud computing and backing it with enabling legislation, Healy warned that Australia could quickly fall behind unless it proves willing to proactively embrace new cloud models.
“The stakes are high because as the cloud sector starts to grow, if Australia does not build on those opportunities, they’re going to go to other markets where either intervention by government isn’t taking place and markets are able to grow more effectively,” he explained.
“There are very interventionist markets where there are lots of signals given to operators to locate cloud based services in other markets. We’ve got a lot to lose here and need to get it right.” – David Braue