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Microsoft Industry Blogs – Australia

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 each of 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 digital city.

Al Blake, the Chief Technology Officer for ACT Shared Services, 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 and equity for all residents and visitors.

“This is about digital inclusion, about improving social outcomes by making government services more intuitive and accessible,” Al Blake, the Chief Technology Officer for ACT Shared Services

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.

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 just 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.”

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 citizen end of service delivery. Whenever we can reduce the cost of IT services that’s funds that can be spent on a nurse or teacher’s assistant. When the Health Directorate saves money on IT that has a direct and immediate impact on its ability to deliver frontline services to citizens.”

Gary Davis, Executive Director of Shared Services ICT for the ACT Government, explains that there is a daily impact for front line workers and citizens.

“Using Microsoft cloud technology 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. “Microsoft cloud 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.

“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, education – more teachers, more doctors, more nurses.” Gary Davis, Executive Director of Shared Services ICT for the ACT Government

While Blake and his colleague Jeremiah Fergus, Cloud Program 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 more important than the best strategy in the world. Get on with it and see what works.”

The Azure cloud is also accelerating digital transformation across the ACT’s schools where teachers will use a range of cloud services and Office 365 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.

“The digital strategy is very much around cloud first – to allow us to draw upon the economies of scale in Microsoft that allows 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 jobs,” says Davis.

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

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

By harnessing Azure based Active Directory, 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.

Already this includes a government-wide data lake being developed leveraging cloud services using MapR and Linux; a new child youth protection system which will be hosted securely in Azure and leverage Dynamics Online; and, an online voting system used to manage enterprise agreements is under construction.

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