Skip to main content

Why the Cloud can be a sensible choice for small parliaments

Innovation tracker | Issue 4 | 12 Feb 2020
Water damage, Tonga

Water damage to historic records of the Parliament of Tonga after cyclone Gita in February 2018. © Lona Doone

With 30 or less members and a similar sized administration, small parliaments face a challenge providing modern information services. Often, this stems from limited ICT resources and it is common to find a single or two-person ICT team.[1] Often, too, the small-scale ICT infrastructure is unable to cope with the modern demands of document management, collaboration and communication both at and away from parliament. While popular private email and online drives can easily fill the gap, they are often not suited for official business, nor compliant with parliament records and archiving policies. For small parliaments in regions such as the Pacific and Caribbean that face the additional challenge of natural disasters, the heightened risks to parliament ICT equipment exacerbates the challenge.

The Cloud can provide a sensible alternative. A parliamentary Cloud for around 30 users can be established at an annual cost of US$3,500-5,000. This gives parliament licensed office productivity tools, and up-to-date email and document management capabilities. These are accessible from multiple devices and developed to support mobile technologies. Much of the traditional ICT infrastructure, such as local servers, becomes obsolete in the cloud model. Reliable internet connectivity, however, becomes mission-critical, although modern cloud solutions also work in offline mode. In terms of ICT staffing, cloud solutions require a lesser technical profile with a clear "skills-shift" from managing ICT infrastructure to cloud administration, training and support of end users.

Adopting the Cloud requires a paradigm shift on the part of a parliament’s leaders and senior staff, including accepting that parliamentary documentation and records are kept in an external environment. There are also potential legal considerations too, in terms of where such documents can be stored. Parliamentary administrations may need to revisit their records and data policies to make them cloud-compliant and ensure that it is clear what goes into the cloud in terms of confidentiality and sensitivity of documents and data. Parliaments are also advised to consider their entry and exit strategies for cloud computing[2] to always safeguard data ownership.

Case study: Tonga

In February 2018 the Tongan Parliament was severely damaged by the category 4 Cyclone Gita. Its 100-year old plenary Chambers were completely destroyed and 80 per cent of the equipment and records of the administrative offices were damaged by water. When it resumed its work in a temporary location, the Parliament reviewed its ICT capabilities in light of future disasters and its relocation back to its original site. With the support of the New Zealand Parliament through UNDP Fiji, the Parliament developed a roadmap to adopt cloud-based information management, one that was demonstrably cheaper than its previous ICT model, more scalable (since it was user-subscription-based), and resilient, offering good disaster-recovery measures. The roadmap includes intensive Microsoft 365 and SharePoint training for its two-person IT team, and the roll out of a readily available cloud-based intranet for staff, MPs, committees and the plenary. A notable benefit for MPs is that they can access parliamentary information from anywhere, including their home districts, some located on Tonga’s remote outer islands.

Hurricane Gita damage, Tonga

Tonga’s Parliament House, more than 100 years old, flattened by Cyclone Gita. © Lona Doone

Case study: Bhutan

The National Council of Bhutan has deployed Google’s cloud solution, G Suite,[3] to serve its internal users, including 25 MPs and about 65 secretariat staff. An initiative of the Department of Information Technology & Telecom (DIIT), Ministry of Information and Communications, G Suite is made available throughout the Royal Government of Bhutan. The government acquired an approximately 9,000 user bundle subscription in a national effort to reduce paper consumption and promote better collaboration between agencies. Its deployment at the National Council is well underway and is managed by a two-person ICT team. Some early results include the creation of official email for all members and staff (based on Google Gmail technology and the @nationalcouncil.parl.bt domain), and mailing groups for convenient daily distribution of documents to plenary, committees and other bodies. Also each office or body has its own cloud file management space (based on Google Drive). While progress has been good, challenges remain: users are still not fully comfortable with cloud apps and it is taking time to build this into their regular working routine. To overcome this, DITT provides support and regular G Suite training. As the Council still operates some local shared drives, users require further guidance and support on where to store records (what goes to the Cloud and what is to be stored locally?), something the ICT team is seeking to resolve through a revised data policy.

Contact

Tonga Parliament: Gloria Pole’o, Clerk, Legislative Assembly, email: infor@parliament.gov.to

Bhutan Parliament: Sonam Tobgye, Sr. ICT Officer, National Council of Bhutan, email: sonamtobgye@nationalcouncil.parl.bt

 

[1] World e-Parliament Report 2018 – survey data.

[2] World e-Parliament Conference 2018 – Workshop: Planning for the Cloud.

[3] Google's cloud service offering file storage, document management, email and collaboration tools.