The New South Wales government signed a whole of government purchasing arrangement with Vault Cloud on Tuesday, the first such arrangement with a home-grown sovereign technology provider by any government in Australia. Ever.
This is the almost unbelievable fact of the Vault arrangement and capped an extraordinarily good day for the local tech sector.
In an era where such whole of government purchasing arrangements are so common as to be considered almost routine, this was a watershed moment.
Consider that the federal government’s Digital Transformation Agency has whole of government arrangements in place with AWS, IBM, Microsoft, Rimini Street, SAP and Concur.
Australian companies have been locked out of these cosy arrangements that have been – whether the DTA cares to admit it or not – promoted across government by successive ministers and the DTA itself as if they were co-marketing deals.
Finally – and it took a global pandemic to achieve this – a giant spotlight has been put on information supply-chains, on the security and efficacy of our critical information systems and on our ability to manufacture critical goods.
Tuesday was a very good day for the local tech industry. There was also Cabinet-level recognition at the federal level that the public cloud services offered by our US-based multinational friends was not suitable for all government data.
Government Services Minister Stuart Robert told the National Press Club – effectively – that certain data should be considered sovereign and stored in Australia, within Australian-owned and operated systems and facilities, by Australian credentialed and accredited workers.
With this observation and statement of intention, Mr Robert has restored at least some faith that a minister and a government can be persuaded to change their minds where a bad idea has taken root.
The catalyst was the public outcry about the awarding of a contract to host sensitive data from the COVIDSafe app with US cloud provider AWS, but the rationale sits with the plumbing behind these offshore cloud service providers.
For two years, Australian companies have argued that US cloud providers manage that infrastructure from offshore, by non-Australian citizens who do not hold Australian Government security credentials. The government has never explained what additional controls were in place to mitigate that extraordinary reality.
It was the COVIDSafe example that brought this seemingly self-evident national security anomaly to the mainstream.
For a tech issue, the public outcry has been loud, and Stuart Robert should be commended for taking action to correct it. Others in Canberra, particularly Labor’s Ed Husic but also and more recently the Centre Alliance’ Rex Patrick have vocal on this issue.
The devil will be in the detail about how the different data sets will be classified. But the policy change is important and, to say it again, Government Services Minister Stuart Robert should be commended.
Which brings us back to Vault Cloud. This historic-first whole of government contract with the NSW government was not the product of a hair-on-fire reaction to the global pandemic. The contract took a year to negotiate, highly contested but with good will on both sides.
It is no surprise whatever that it was the NSW government that negotiated this first important contract. The state was an early leader in digital government and maintains that lead.
The state has led government digital service delivery because it has had personal political buy-in from the highest level, from each Premier since Barry O’Farrell. Gladys Berejiklian co-chairs the powerful new Delivery and Performance Committee of Cabinet – which assesses all projects including the state’s information technology investments – and Treasurer Dominic Perrottet has been engaged from the start.
And then there is Victor Dominello as Customer Service Minister. Every government should have a Victor Dominello, utterly focused on data and whole-of-government processes and a pain in the side of every other minister across government to measure and improve everything.
To hear Mr Dominello telling the state’s public service yesterday in a speech to the AIIA that the state’s procurement processes must allow NSW small and medium businesses compete on a fair footing was refreshing.
“In every investment there must be a flow-on into local business” Mr Dominello said. This is not something you hear very often in relation to the local tech sector.
To hear it on a day when an important local tech provider signed a whole of government arrangement with the state – Vault Cloud – was brilliant.
Governments are the largest buyers of technology products and services in Australia, accounting for tens of billions of dollars in spending over any budget’s forward estimates.
These procurement dollars are an important lever for the development of sovereign capability in the critically important information technology sector.
These sovereign capability issues are as important to national security as they are to the nation’s future economic prosperity. They don’t always get the kind of mainstream attention they deserve.
But Stuart Robert’s policy prescription for sovereign data and the NSW government’s whole of government arrangement with Vault Cloud made Tuesday a remarkable day for our industry.