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Hybrid IT and Cloud

At a recent ‘Hybrid IT and Cloud’ virtual event, we heard from ICT Public Sector experts in a panel discussion as they explored strategies for balancing processes, people, and technology for successful ICT transformation

Mike Charles
Senior Project Manager
Division of Information Technology

Charles Sturt University
Aron Hausler
Strategic Projects Manager
Department for Innovation and Skills (SA)
Sandeep Sekhar
Manager, IT, Consumer and Business Services
Attorney-General’s Department, SA

The Benefits of Cloud

Many large public institutions adopted the cloud some time ago and have been working successfully in the hybrid IT space. The cloud has been particularly beneficial for institutions with a relatively large footprint. Mike Charles, the Senior Project Manager in the Division of Information Technology at Charles Sturt University, which has campuses across much of the eastern seaboard, says that since they moved to the cloud before the start of the pandemic, “the cloud, and having services hosted in the cloud, allowed us to pivot really quickly. We were able to quickly scale up our systems to be able to support high numbers of users concurrently using the system.” The cloud and the nature of their improved IT system meant that “we were able to quickly adapt to changing requirements.” This may not have been possible using a traditional IT setup across multiple campuses.

Within a government department, Sandeep Sekhar, the Manager of Information Technology, Consumer and Business Services at the Attorney-General’s Department in South Australia, says that “it’s very important to not really focus on the technology, but to focus more on the services and outcomes that you’re trying to drive.” When the stakeholders, including the customers and end-users, “see the services that you’re offering and how you’re innovating in order to deliver them, then you’ll get buy-in from your customers and your top bosses.” The cloud, like most things, is a change of behaviour and therefore a change of culture, so “delivering small services and integrated them well in bite-sized chunks will showcase the value and will get you across the line.”

Aron Hausler, the Strategic Projects Manager at the Department for Innovation and Skills also in South Australia, agrees and says “ultimately, people transform things, not necessarily the technology.” In other words, when people “get their hands dirty” and see that things work, they will accept the new ways of doing things. So in the SA government, “we really put innovation at the centre of our business case when it came to adopting the cloud.” The cloud was shown to be innovative through a series of small steps and experiments. “Obviously in the public sector it’s difficult to run experiments in health or other such departments, but there are safe places where agencies can learn by doing, and I think the cloud enables and accelerates that.”

Cloud Integration and Collaboration

In hindsight, there are a number of lessons that have come about as a result of the journey to the cloud. Sandeep Sekhar says that even within one department, there are often “many little silos trying to deliver what they can,” but when it comes to the cloud, “we need to think across government collaboration capabilities and broaden the whole point of how we are innovating.” Much of that collaboration was missing when they first moved to the cloud, though the journey to the cloud has actually encouraged and enabled a lot more collaboration.

If you are not able to provide value to the end customer, and if your solution is not giving you the results that you are after, then there’s no point in adopting the cloud just for the sake of it.

Sandeep SekharManager, Information Technology, Consumer and Business Services, Attorney-General’s Department, SA

For Mike Charles, the journey to the cloud has not only been about collaboration but about the way contracts have been structured. “Initially we paid for the cloud in chunks, but if we were to do it again, we would probably structure our payments in such a way that when we get to a certain milestone, then we would release a portion of the agreed cost of service.” Aaron Hausler says that in a government department like theirs when they initially put in their cloud-first strategy, “it was contentious but supported strongly by industry. We were trying to accelerate innovation,” but it didn’t always work. For instance, some people took their traditional public services and “simply wrapped them in layers of technology and then just moved that to the cloud. That is not necessarily the way to create additional value or transform services, and it would be amazing if it did.”

What is necessary is to reimagine public services using digital technology, not just taking what was done in the past, but truly stepping back and starting with a human-centred design approach to really understand what people value and treasure, and then build that back in towards a public service and a value chain that delivers on that.

Aron HauslerStrategic Projects Manager, Department for Innovation and Skills (SA)

The truth is that if that is done properly then it will become clear “that there are some systems where it probably doesn’t make sense to shift into the cloud for security or perhaps financial or infrastructure reasons.” The important thing is to have a “crystal clear business case” and “a value proposition that takes into account the customer, whether they are internal or external.” Sandeep Sekhar says that the decision to move into the cloud is ultimately “about what services you are delivering and how you can build a model to deliver them better.” Mike Charles says that it’s about managing what can be managed.

Obviously we have a strong preference to move everything to the cloud, where it is practical. But it’s not always going to be practical, and there are legacy systems that are going to reside in our data centres for a long time. There are also systems where it really doesn’t make sense to move them into the cloud because we may need to keep an extra level of control over them.

Mike CharlesSenior Project Manager, Division of Information Technology, Charles Sturt University

Ultimately, Sandeep Sekhar says it is about data. “Citizens don’t want to interact with multiple arms of the government. They want their information to be centralised, but at the back end you can do whatever you want.” The point, therefore, is that whether the information is in the cloud, on-prem, or elsewhere, “it needs to work together seamlessly to deliver the critical end services. There will be organisations that continue to be on the hybrid journey, but the important part is the integration and the data.”