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Governments are progressively moving from customized to standardized solutions for their operational functions. Recent developments in Australia highlight the potential benefits of standardization over customization – even for activities that seem to have a high degree of specialization.

Governments need to understand their true points of differentiation

The last decade has seen a steady move away from customized, unique solutions to those built from standardized components. The vast processing power available to Google, built from thousands of identical utility servers, and the massive uptake of cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions are but two well-known examples of the trend. The challenge for government is to establish in what circumstances a "special" government solution is truly justified.

The limitations of the communications systems used by the Australian emergency service organizations (ESOs) are well documented. Several inquiries have identified that a lack of capacity and interoperability has often hampered relief efforts, and the increasing need for ubiquitous mobile broadband has further highlighted the need for an improved solution.

Two alternative approaches have been proposed. The first would involve building dedicated infrastructure, with dedicated spectrum, independent of existing networks. The alternative contends that, with modern load prioritization capabilities, there is no need to build a separate network because infrastructure and bandwidth can be reallocated "on the fly" as a crisis eventuates. This is an extension of the virtualization philosophy we have seen encompass servers, storage, networks, and desktops over the last decade, and the governments of the UK, Belgium, and New Zealand have adopted a similar approach.

The long-running debate is reaching a conclusion; the Australian Productivity Commission recently recommended leveraging the commercial networks rather than developing an alternative. While it points to a significant estimated cost differential of AUS$4bn, it also highlights that using commercial networks would ensure that emergency services benefit from any improvements implemented for the wider customer base, and allow the ESOs to concentrate on their core functionality rather than on managing communications systems.

In a country as large and sparsely populated as Australia, remote area broadband coverage is both a technical challenge and a politically contentious issue. The Police Federation of Australia continues to raise its concerns that relying on commercial networks will lead to large geographical areas being without coverage. An alternative outcome is that the need to provide ESO coverage provides increased service for citizens in remote locations – a community benefit that could not be achieved with a dedicated network.

It will be interesting to see how the contractual arrangements between the government, ESOs, and telecommunications providers are designed to ensure that coverage, availability, and capacity are properly able to support critical personnel in times of emergency.


Further reading

2016 Trends to Watch: Government,IT0007-000847 (November 2015)

"Simplicity is a virtue we should all embrace," IT0007-000817 (May 2015)

"Pragmatic outcomes can be delivered with common government services," IT0007-000804 (March 2015)

Microsoft COTS Solution: Trumping Bespoke Development for a Complex Government IT Project, IT007-000739 (December 2013)


Al Blake, Principal Analyst, Public sector

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