We caught up with Ben Dornier, Director of Corporate and Community Services, City of Palmerston, Australia, for a quickfire Q&A about the challenges of and opportunities presented by, deploying Cloud services in his public sector organisation. Ben will be hopping across the South China Sea in December 2014 to speak in the Enterprise Cloud stream at Cloud Asia, about ‘Getting Cloud Ready: Building Your Cloud Agenda’. The full brochure is available now, and Enterprises and Public Sector organisations can claim a complimentary pass for the event.

How has your organisation implemented cloud computing so far and what models have you chosen to deploy, and why?

Ben DornierWe are using office365 for email as well as office product licences. We also used specialised cloud apps for asset management and contract management, as well as Council (board) and committee agendas and minutes. This sounds small, but if we get it wrong it is a big problem! Elected officials in particular expect access to information anytime and anywhere. Our cloud road map includes moving all our virtual servers into a cloud datacentre within the next 18 months, allowing us to be fully in the cloud, fully mobile – and most important considering our weather conditions and disaster management problems – no longer tied to our physical infrastructure.

What cost and organisational benefits do you expect to see from implementation?

Cost has not been the primary concern. The Northern Territory of Australia experiences annual cyclones and extreme weather conditions (not to mention deadly crocodiles and jellyfish!), so the primary concern has been the ability to open Council services from just a few laptops and mobile devices in order to protect our community in extreme conditions.

This said, Council has experienced cost savings related to reduced capex spending and reduced overheads for specialised IT staff. We are happy with our managed services providers, and we are enjoying having SLAs rather than employment contracts.

Can you tell us more about how the public sector is embracing cloud services in Australia, the concerns you had before adopting ‘cloud’, and how they were eased?

This of course depends on a working definition of ‘cloud’! A large number – maybe 90 of the 580 – local governments in Australia are purely cloud-based. Staff there might not even know it! Every local government makes use of some cloud based solution to varying degrees. In an era where doing more with less becomes increasingly important, cloud solutions are allowing IT staff to become more strategic, agile and responsive to the needs of the organisation.

I have been publicly engaging in cloud discussions for 15 years or so, and conversations always turn to ‘security issues’ (some things will never change!). For certain sectors of government, this is a reasonable discussion, but for local government (with a few caveats!) most our data is regarding mowing schedules, road conditions, facility maintenance, sewage and water quality, etcetera. This stuff does no good being kept secret. In my opinion, the security constraints for local government are drastically less than other levels of government. With this comes issues of data sovereignty and data centre location. In many states there are rules around this, but the flexibility and affordability offered by cloud solutions is mature enough to provide great options for us in the local and international space.

Do you think the public sector is taking full advantage and seeing benefits from technologies such as cloud and data analytics and management?

Absolutely not – we have a long way to go before the insights afforded by big data solutions will mature in our sector. Like the old TV show said, “we have the technology” – we just aren’t terribly good at figuring out how to use it as a tool to improve services to our constituents. We are making inroads, however, and it often means considering our data from a citizen viewpoint – ‘what would a resident want to know about waste management?’ for example. These insights need to further drive the use of analytics, and not just better executive decision making dashboards.

What are your next IT objectives and how do you think your business processes can be made more efficient going forward?

We are a rapidly growing community, and are seeking to be agile. We will be totally cloud and scalable by 1 Jan 2016. Our IT staff will be totally focused on delivering value and solutions to staff without being hampered by infrastructure. They will be focused on data analysis and strategy, rather than administration. I believe the biggest benefit of cloud based services has been the commodification of server admin and network services, and we will make this a strength moving into the future.