Taking over from Pedro Harris, chief architect of the New South Wales Government’s GovDC data centre transformation and acclaimed OneGov project, Simon Geraghty has had a lot on his plate as Executive Director Government Technology Platforms at the Department of Finance, Services and Innovation (DFSI).
Speaking with Intermedium less than six months after assuming the new leadership role, the former Chief Technology Officer and Information Services Director at NSW Health outlined his vision for the state’s Whole-of-Government (WofG) information technology platforms and projects, and offered his take on some of the big trends in government IT.
What insights did you bring from your time at NSW Health to your role as Executive Director Government Technology Platforms at DFSI?
At NSW Health, I managed a diverse network of ICT stakeholders, each with their own distinct goals and requirements to provide critical services to a unique sub-section of the NSW community.
NSW Health was structured on a centralised ICT model, meaning eHealth was responsible for strategy, major program delivery and operation of shared ICT services, while each Local Health District controlled business unit specific applications. DFSI operates on similar principals servicing whole of NSW Government. DFSI’s ICT and Digital Government Division is responsible for government ICT policy, innovation, program assurance and operation of WofG technology platforms. This is then delivered to a diverse network of agencies.
The insight I bring to my new role at DFSI is knowing where and how a central body can bring value. You have to understand the unique requirements of each agency, uncover the commonalities and address those shared needs, while also having a broader view of everything from compliance, to security, to operational efficiency – it’s that macro/micro perspective that resonates with both roles.
NSW Health was one of the earliest departments to move into the GovDC data centres. What made the GovDC data centres attractive for NSW Health, and for government agencies in general?
Like a lot of the sector at the time, in 2011 NSW Health were operating out of data centres that were reaching the end of their economic and operational life. Specifically, Health was out of space and power in its three core data centres. We were faced with either building new data centres, moving into shared commercial facilities, or becoming an anchor tenant for the planned state of the art government data centres.
These government data centres are world class. The centres in Silverwater and Unanderra were specifically designed for government and are comprehensively certified. They are the only Australian data centres to hold a Tier III Operations certificate from the Uptime Institute, which means no outages for citizens to the services they need. They also hold a ISO/IEC:27001:2013 certificate in information security management, which means GovDC can ensure the best possible practice to safeguard the information held in the facilities. This is the data of NSW communities; it’s your hospital admittance details, your university grades and your car registration, so we take it very seriously. It made sense to support the government program and take advantage of the high-quality facilities that were being built. NSW Health is now a significant tenant of the world class data centres overseen by GovDC.
Are there any further developments planned for the GovDC data centres and the GovDC Marketplace?
The data centre reform project has been exceptionally successful. It is now in its fourth year and 96% of capacity is committed. We are now in the process of having two new data halls built to keep up with agency demand. I expect the additional capacity to be available to agencies by December 2017.
As for the GovDC Marketplace – the data centres are designed to accommodate industry providers who wish to provide on-premise ‘as-a-service’ cloud services. We currently have about a dozen vendors providing services from within the GovDC data centres’ private cloud. This hub of buyers and sellers is governed by a concentric security architecture delivered through the Managed Services Backbone. We call this ecosystem the GovDC Marketplace.
Last year, GovDC provided the opportunity for providers operating within the public cloud to connect to the Marketplace through a secure connection. By expanding the Marketplace to the public cloud, we hoped to assist agencies to transition to an as-a-service model by providing a truly hybrid IT environment.
In addition, GovDC built an e-commerce platform to deliver the services available on the Marketplace directly to stakeholders. In the coming year, we will see a lot more on offer in the Marketplace catalogue, with new vendors joining the platform weekly. We also hope to offer advanced functionality of the e-commerce platform to provide agency tools for forecasting and appraisal of ICT services.
What are the reoccurring challenges that arise when managing large-scale government technology projects?
One of the most common challenges we face is picking the right projects. However, there are some key criteria I would usually look for in order to ensure a streamlined, effective and successful project. The project should be well defined and have a clear set of problems it will solve. We also look to deliver ongoing value, with a long term effect and be able to scale into the future. Finally, the project should be delivering tangible benefits to citizens; it should demonstrate how it will elevate the service experience in the everyday lives of NSW residents.
In your experience managing large ICT projects, is there a trend towards agile development models, or do waterfall methodologies endure? How does this impact project delivery?
In my experience the methodology should fit the project rather than the other way around. So I would say both methods prevail, with some projects being more suited to a DevOps approach and some more suited to a traditional approach. However, we are seeing agile development methods more readily identified as the most suitable method for a growing number of projects.
What current trends are likely to have a transformative impact on your role?
Hybrid IT and open data are at the top of my list for trends I predict will strongly influence government ICT moving forward. Hybrid IT models suit the specificities of government, where we tend to have more emphasis on accountability and transparency and less of an appetite for risk. Hybrid IT models, such as what is on offer through GovDC, allow government to modernise its IT practice, while limiting its exposure to risk.
We will also see more of a demand for open data with NSW programs such as the Data Analytics Centre and Data NSW leading the way in how government data sets can be repurposed to deliver value back to citizens.
What’s next on the agenda for the Government Technology Platforms unit?
We have a few exciting projects coming up.
We are looking to create a ‘Trends NSW’ dashboard that will provide citizens with a single point to access meaningful and easy to understand performance graphs and trends for NSW Government.
Government Technology Platforms is also heading up the Enterprise Telecommunications Optimisation Program (ETOP), which promises to reduce costs and provide enhanced telecommunications services to agencies across Government. The benefits we expect to see as the program matures, is the connectivity necessary for digital government, savings reallocated to other government priorities and new technology enabling staff to work and deliver services to citizens anywhere, anytime.