Shared services org eyes cloud for production — eventually

The CIO of the organisation that delivers IT services to the federal departments of education and employment believes cloud has an important role to play in government

The Shared Services Centre, established to provide IT and corporate services to the federal departments of education and employment, is interested in eventually expanding its use of cloud services to cover production systems, according to Susan Monkley, its CIO and deputy CEO.

However, despite a successful pilot of infrastructure-as-a-service for dev and test environments, regulatory restrictions mean it's unlikely the use of public cloud for production is an option in the immediate future.

The SSC was created after the demerger of the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations in September.

The organisation already makes extensive use of public cloud services for dev and test environments, Monkley this week told Gartner's Application Architecture, Development and Integration Summit in Sydney.

The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations began a trial employing Amazon Web Services in March last year.

"We were one of the first adopters in terms of the Australian government to go more wholly into the cloud space, not just for hosting websites but actually for starting to move some of our development and test environments into the cloud," said Monkley, who is also CIO at the Department of Education.

It's a little hard to deny that going down the cloud path has been incredibly beneficial when it's reducing our costs by about 50 per cent at this point in time.

The CIO earlier this year told Computerworld Australia that the organisation considered the results pilot of the pilot to be positive.

"We knew well before we were finished it that this was something that was absolutely worth pursuing," the CIO told the Gartner conference.

"There are some exceptions for us because of the Australian government policies that exist — we're unable to put personal or sensitive data into the cloud and there are still a few technical issues around high performance, but at the moment we are putting all new dev and test environments into the cloud."

Monkley said that he organisation will look at migrating legacy dev and test environments. "And then we'll also look at production environments as well," she told the conference.

"Some of that is dependent on government policy direction," the CIO added. "But as my team know well, I have an absolute strong support for the scale and the performance capability that comes from the Amazon cloud environment that we're running at the moment – it is delivering great benefits to our business and the cost reductions have been substantial."

"It's a little hard to deny that going down the cloud path has been incredibly beneficial when it's reducing our costs by about 50 per cent at this point in time," Monkley said.

The CIO said that cost reductions from shifting to cloud can't always be realised straight away. "You actually need to do it in line with asset refresh cycles," she said.

Government policy imposes limitations on the use of public cloud services in some circumstances — involving private data, for example — the CIO said. "Also ... we didn't want to jump too far, too fast," she added.

"This is, in some ways, a significant enough cultural change within the organisation ... getting the dev and test environments into the cloud let alone then rolling it into the production environments.

"It's also partly because the environments we're running are the construct of years and years and years of mergers and demergers, so we've got a range of legacy systems that run on really old infrastructure that to be quite frank are not cloud ready at this point in time."

Hybrid cloud will be part of the SSC's future: "It is about the right combination of services that deliver the right outcomes for our business customers. We will move workloads to the cloud at appropriate trigger points, whether that be around the asset refresh cycle, whether it be a major upgrade to our platforms, or whether it be a new project. It will be in the form of private cloud but integrated with multiple cloud providers."

Monkley added that she doesn't envisage the organisation ever scrapping its on-premise systems completely.

Lessons learned

Monkley told the conference that there were five key lessons that her team had learned through the cloud pilot.

Start small

"Start small because you do need to build internal capability," the CIO said. "It is a new approach and if you try [to] bite off too much in one go, it actually becomes really complex and you start to lose people in the journey. Start small, build on that, build the case and it starts to become quite evident where the opportunities lie."

Architect correctly

"It's important to architect appropriately," Monkley said. "Importantly, the cloud provider is not responsible for your infrastructure architecture. Know your availability requirements. You may want to try to leave that up to them, but they're the things that are actually fundamental to your business so it's important that you actually really think through how that applies to your operation."

Invest in automation

"Some of the greatest benefits that we've realised actually come from automating and standardising service requests," the CIO said. "You're actually taking a large chunk of manual workload out by focusing on automation."

Cloud provider security accreditations

"Another thing that's really important for Australian government but also for many others is actually making sure that your cloud provider has the requisite security accreditations," the CIO said.

"It can be quite limiting in the Australian government context if they don't. It means it can delay things considerably while you actually go through those accreditation processes."

Think about change management for people, process and technology

Monkley said that a transition to the cloud is likely to encounter resistance within organisations. "It was very clear the importance of not underestimating the degree of resistance and the degree of change and transformation that you need to take people through," the CIO said. Even shifting dev and test to cloud involves a significant cultural shift.

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

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