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NSW Education Department “not ready” for the cloud

by Paris Cowan •
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The NSW Department of Education and Communities’ (DEC) Michael McMahon, has told a NSW Parliamentary inquiry into ICT procurement that the agency is not yet ready to make the transition to as-a-service models of IT provisioning, but that it aspires to get there in the future.

“It is absolutely something that we are looking to do going forward,” said McMahon, who is General Manager of the Department’s major Learning Management and Business Reform (LMBR) IT program. “Are we ready to do it right now? My opinion is no. There are changes in culture and thinking that need to happen first.”

But McMahon, who has experience across public and private sector ICT including at the UK’s Ministry of Defence and EDS, also warned the inquiry that some of the utopian claims of cloud advocates needed to be taken with a generous grain of salt.

“I think it will be another year or 18 months before I would feel comfortable to see cloud moving into departments like ours,” he forecast. “I know that companies will tell you that they’re ready and they can provide security in the cloud right now, but I come from that environment and sometimes there is a lot of talk”.

“What we have right now, in security terms, is within our control and it is behind our own firewalls. Are we liable to be hacked at some point? Every industry gets hacked, even Defence...We will never completely prevent it.

“But at least if you have got control over your own security and you’re not depending on some other company and their level of exposure, then your risk is less because it falls within your own organisation and your own infrastructure.”

McMahon’s caution contrasted with the cloud evangelism heard earlier the same morning from Department of Trade and Investment, Regional Infrastructure and Services (DTIRIS) CIO David Kennedy, who is leading a cluster-wide ERP consolidation based on a software-as-a-service model.

However Kennedy and DTIRIS Director-General Mark Paterson also acknowledged to the inquiry that the circumstances that the Department found itself in, with disparate agencies brought together by Machinery of Government changes in April 2011, made it particularly suitable for an immediate move to a cloud solution.

McMahon also took the opportunity to step the Committee through a busy 12-18 months ahead for the Education Department, as it finalises the deployment of the $386 million LMBR program.

“By December 2014 LMBR will be finished as a program,” he said. “This year we deliver the budgeting and planning solution to 229 schools. And then in June (2013) the fully integrated finance, HR, payroll solution will be rolled out to the same 229 schools. There will be a series of payroll roll-outs to TAFE between June and November. And the final roll-out to all TAFE facilities will take place in November next year.

“By the time we get to December next year, the only thing that will be remaining will be the roll out of the solution to the remaining 2,000 schools, and that is scheduled to take place in 2014,” he said.

He also put to rest reported LMBR budget overruns, explaining that a December 2011 Auditor-General’s report, which found project expenditure to have nearly doubled, was the result of miscommunication about the budget structure. In fact the recorded increase came about as a result of the merging of TAFE and Departmental funding pools to create a more holistic project overview.

“Overall the budget for this project is $386 million and this has not changed since 2009,” he said.

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  • NSW
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  • Education
  • Cloud Computing
  • David Kennedy
  • LMBR
  • Mark Paterson
  • Michael McMahon
  • NSW Department of Education and Communities
  • Software-as-a-Service