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Friday, 10 July 2020 11:23

Rupert uses Vault to pry open whole-of-government cloud market Featured

A moment of pure joy: Rupert Taylor-Price. A moment of pure joy: Rupert Taylor-Price. Supplied

After what seems an eternity, an Australian company, born and bred right here, has landed what always seemed to be impossible: a whole-of-government cloud deal with an Australian Government entity.

As iTWire reported on Thursday, the proud achievement was made by Vault, a company run by Rupert Taylor-Price, a modest individual and never one to bignote himself. Indeed, one could argue it is that very modesty that has kept Taylor-Price — and many other Australians who take a similar attitude to him — from beating out aggressive, foreign vendors.

That attitude of "she'll be right, mate" and "no worries" does not really work when there are backdoor methods needed. Yeah, na, needs to be junked in favour of more overt and covert lobbying.

But there has also been remarkable resistance from Federal Government agencies to buy local even if the goods on sale are more than fit for purpose. There is always some mysterious — and often not-so-mysterious — reason why the contracts go to someone from outside the country.

The case of the Digital Transformation Agency is a classic example. The agency, which goes through personnel changes more often than a snake sheds its skin, now has whole-of-government arrangements in place with AWS, IBM, Microsoft, Rimini Street, SAP and Concur. Not an Aussie firm in sight.

Even when this vaunted agency had an agreement with a local company — with Vault for cloud hosting for the Govpass ID system — it was rudely shut out early in August 2018. And why? Well, the DTA suddenly decided that the Australian Taxation Office and the Department of Human Systems would, instead, assume responsibility for hosting the components of the digital identity system.

rupert taylor price2

Breaking the cloud barrier: Rupert Taylor-Price. Photo courtesy Vault

Taylor-Price was given the job in 2017 and was told that Vault would be more involved in "the automation, the cloud technology, the delivery of the actual infrastructure and environment that sits behind that".

Despite numerous inquiries as to who would take over Vault's role, the DTA never came up with a direct answer. But on 22 August 2018, there was a hint that the role would go to — you guessed it — Microsoft. when the DTA announced that it had adopted the company's Azure service as its cloud solution.

And that was only one case. When a Defence deal was awarded recently, the locals were again shown a big "NO" sign. The same happened with the hosting for the COVIDSafe app – AWS suddenly got lucky on that one.

But it looks like internally — read state governments — there has been some degree of seething anger about the deals only going one way. And NSW has finally cracked it, with a great deal of credit going to Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello.

There has also been a marked tilt towards the Americans in the Protected cloud certification process.

Of course, one must note that there is no preference for local firms mandated by the government rules for awarding contracts. The mythical level playing field has to apply.

This favouritism towards American firms started a long time back, during the 11 years of John Winston Howard's prime ministership. Only one Australian journalist has explored this recently: Mike Seccombe, formerly of the Sydney Morning Herald and now with The Saturday Paper. Another journalist who used to speak his mind on these issues was The Age's economics writer Kenneth Davidson.

Also on the ball were three academics: John A. Mathews, who holds the chair of strategic management at the Macquarie Graduate School of Management in Sydney, Linda Weiss, professor of government and international relations at the University of Sydney, and Elizabeth Thurbon, a lecturer in the school of politics and international relations at the University of NSW, who in 2005 wrote a book titled How to kill a country about the pending US-Australia free trade agreement.

The trio went one better in 2007 with National Insecurity: The Howard Government's betrayal of Australia, detailing how Howard had cleared the way for the US to control many aspects of Australian life: energy, rural industries, culture, defence and even blood supplies. A brilliant work, it has never received its due, but is still worth a read even after 13 years.

When Howard ran behind George W. Bush begging for an FTA, the Americans probably decided that Thanksgiving had arrived early. Howard proved to be an easy turkey to carve up; even a late plea from the so-called man of steel to his good mate Dubya, to allow Australia an increase in meat exports of just another 100,000 tonnes, was contemptuously dismissed.

Bush knew where his votes were coming from; American cattle farmers were a big slice of the Republican vote. Incidentally, Howard also played a big role in preventing Australia from getting a decent broadband network.

From that point onwards, Australia has been taking a knee for the Americans nearly every single year. The country has no foreign policy of its own, acts on instructions from Washington and waits for the returns, Recently, there seems to have been a realisation that this whole deal is a bit of a pup and some Australians have been talking about self-reliance.

Whatever led to the Vault deal, good, sensible level-headed negotiations went on from early 2019 to finally end in triumph for the understated Taylor-Price.

One has to hope that this will open the door for companies that pay their fair share of tax and offer sub-contracts to their local counterparts to step up to the plate more and more. Companies that have a stake in the local game, can manage sovereign risk and have Australian roots have much more incentive to do the right thing for this country. It's time that was realised by our overlords.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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