The critical role that technology plays in government service delivery has been highlighted during the COVID-19 crisis, as agencies across Australia have responded rapidly by building new solutions and services to protect citizens, and their own employees.

Much of that support has been delivered through the extensive network of locally-owned cloud software and service vendors from the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Partner Network (APN). The APN is the global partner program for technology and consulting businesses that leverage AWS to build solutions and services for AWS customers. The APN helps companies build, market, and sell their AWS offerings by providing valuable business, technical, and marketing support.

Many Australian-owned small businesses within our APN are working closely with Australian public sector customers, including federal and state government agencies. They are designing and delivering cloud solutions that help to protect the health of citizens; creating safer working environments for employees; assisting communications, logistics, and planning efforts; and helping government agencies cope with increased demand and remote workforces.

Enabling clear communication

One of the most critical tasks during the COVID-19 crisis has been ensuring that people are kept informed with the latest information. For the past 20 years, Melbourne-based Whispir has provided easily-deployed communications solutions to Australian government agencies and private organisations, including many involved with emergency service delivery.

Whispir’s communications workflow platform facilitates the delivery of personalised communications across multiple delivery channels at scale, and according to Group Head of Solution Architecture, Guy Granger, it was well-positioned to manage the crisis.

“We identified the initial threat of COVID-19 back in February 2020, and quickly started to build tools and capabilities to support our customer base through the impending crisis,” Granger said.

One of its first COVID-related deployments was for the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), who used the platform to send secure, interactive two-way messages to COVID-19 sufferers and those in close contact with a confirmed case, as well as daily communication with those who met the criteria for self-isolation.

“Rather than needing an IT team to design and implement over several weeks or months, we launched this solution in a few days,” Granger said. “Our platform gave DHHS the scalability to respond quickly, enabling them to interact with thousands of people each day,” Granger said.

Whispir is also being used by the DHHS to communicate with patients on their current health, interact with hospitals, GPs, or testing facilities, as well as for auditing interactions with those in quarantine, and real-time geography-based communications to people in the vicinity of spot outbreaks.

Whispir is now being used by 22 government departments and agencies across Australia, including multiple emergency service agencies.

Granger said being built on AWS gave Whispir the flexibility it needed to retool its technology quickly, while also providing the scalability and security required by public sector clients.

“We are an Australian company and we host all of our data in Australia on AWS infrastructure,” Granger said. “Reliability is very important to us. We allow the customer to focus on their challenge, and we focus on the tools that enable them to meet it.”

Assisting the return to work

When Michael Priddis and Greg Miller began building their analytics platform, Faethm, they wanted to create a machine learning (ML) model that could predict the impact of technology trends on the workforce. That model has grown to encompass more than 5,000 job families, and includes 244 skills and abilities and 20,000 job tasks. This enables Faethm to forecast how new technologies will impact future workforce requirements. The Sydney-based company’s model is now used by more than 100 customers around the world, across 20 industries, to help them plan and train their workforces.

But as the COVID-19 crisis began to unfold, Miller said it was clear that the pandemic would have a hugely disruptive impact on the labour market. In February 2020, the data science team at Faethm began building a new model to predict COVID-19’s effect on workforce skills requirements, evaluating factors such as the degree to which a job could be completed from home and the levels of human interaction risk to determine the severity of the impact of COVID-19 on workers.

“By identifying high-human-interaction jobs, which cannot be done remotely, employers can focus their attention on ensuring all measures are in place to prevent the spread of infection,” Miller says.

By late March, it was ready and made available to customers free of charge. Miller said it had since been adopted by over 40 customers to assess their workforce requirements and how they should reskill and redeploy employees in response to COVID-19.

Two state governments have adopted Faethm to better understand the impact of COVID-19 across the entire state workforce.

“Our government customers have licenced Faethm to assess the entire workforce of their state so they can understand the impact of COVID-19 on different industries, and how that changes return to work policies,” Miller said. “They are looking at how they can transition people from industries that have been impacted, to those that will need skills.”

Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, Miller said the public sector represented the largest group in Faethm’s client base, which includes other Australian government agencies, such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The power of Faethm’s platform is being recognised globally, with uptake from the Government of the United Kingdom. More recently, the team was asked to join the World Economic Forum's Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, aligning themselves with a global network to co-design and pilot innovative new approaches to policy and governance. Faethm’s model has also been used by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as the basis for a report on COVID-19’s impact on the US workforce.

Miller said Faethm’s relationship with AWS had been essential in helping the business double in size every two years and proved critical in building its new model for COVID-19 quickly.

“AWS has enabled us to hit a global scale with a lean team, focusing on delivering functionality rather than building out and managing infrastructure,” Miller says.

With offices now established in London and San Francisco, Miller said Faethm has benefitted greatly from having on the ground support from AWS, as well as being able to host client data on local infrastructure. This has proven especially beneficial in Europe, as it allowed Faethm to remain compliant with local data residency requirements.

“Our ability to grow in Australia and around the world has been enabled by our decision to work with AWS and the scalability that it provides us,” he said.

A tighter public partnership

One of the lasting legacies of the COVID-19 crisis will be the strengthened relationships between public sector customers, and partners in the APN.

Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Melbourne-based professional software services firm Shine Solutions Group, Mark Johnson says, “Our company’s track record has been in enterprise commercial work, but as the rate of public sector innovation continues to accelerate, we are seeing more demand from Australian public sector organisations. We’re continuing to look for opportunities to build and develop new solutions to support them.”

Johnson said the combination of the company’s reputation and the fast response demanded by COVID-19 is driving some of that growth, including an engagement to work on the Australian Government’s COVIDSafe contract tracing application.

Today, he is looking forward to working on a series of data engineering projects for public sector customers and is developing a set of services that would appeal to government users, including using emerging technologies such as natural language processing to facilitate improved citizen and employee communication.

Johnson said Shine’s relationship with AWS would be critical to that work.

“There is a lot of opportunity for innovation in the public sector, and our goal is to work with those departments that want to accelerate digital transformation and trial emerging technologies that can support the interests of citizens,” Johnson said.