Cloud computing has the potential to benefit federal and state governments, but issues such as privacy need to be addressed first, according to federal communications minister, Stephen Conroy.
Speaking at the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) Summit in Canberra, Conroy told delegates that many Australians already prefer to engage with government agencies online. "According to our research, 47 per cent of Australians made their most recent contact with government agencies online," he said.
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Conroy acknowledged that the public have concerns about Cloud computing and government use, security and privacy in particular.
"Service level agreements [SLAs] and contract conditions from trail blazing vendors are challenging consumers," Conroy said. "What we know is that demand for Cloud products and services will grow rapidly. Rising to the challenge is something that we need to do right across government and partnering with the private sector is key."
In addressing these concerns, The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, for example, helped establish a national standing committee on Cloud computing in 2011.
The department is also working with Standards Australia on establishing Cloud standards that will help protect Australian consumers. "The government is developing an early response network of government agencies to monitor and respond to consumer Cloud issues," Conroy said. "This network includes my department, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission [ACCC] and the Australian Communications and Media Authority [ACMA]."
According to Conroy, a strong domestic Cloud business would be vital in the success of the digital economy. Citing a 'Cloud readiness' index released in 2011, he said the index rated Australia as fourth in terms of readiness out of 14 countries worldwide. "We came in behind Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea. Significantly, Australia received full marks for regulatory conditions with eight out of 10 for data protection policy, power grid quality, business efficiency and global risk," Conroy said.
However, it received a weak score in broadband quality which means the National Broadband Network (NBN) is vital in ensuring improved Cloud readiness.
Conroy said faster upload speeds would "revolutionise" access to the Cloud because super-fast transference of data could allow businesses to reconsider their costly computing requirements.
"In May last year, I launched the National Digital Economy Strategy which highlights the role of Cloud computing in government service delivery," Conroy said. "Our strategy includes a number of initiatives such as the Digital Local Government program to co-fund digital projects with local government."
Each program assists state government to deliver online services to homes and businesses. Conroy added that the idea behind the program is that other local governments across Australia can then adapt these innovations themselves.
Conroy also mentioned the data.gov.au website, a data catalogue of government information. "The site provides an easy way to find, access and reuse public data sets from the federal, state and territory governments. It is powered by Cloud and the myriad of applications sets the standard for access to government data."
Conroy said that while the government was pursing online services, some members of parliament needed a Cloud education. "If I were to talk with some of my colleagues and say, `Hey, let's talk about the Cloud', they would look outside to see if it was raining."
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