In a globalised world, it is increasingly intangible assets like intellectual property which make up the majority of a given company's value. Protecting these assets at home and abroad is essential.
IP Australia administers Australia’s intellectual property rights system, including patents, trade marks, designs and plant breeder’s rights. It's vision is to "create a world leading IP system building prosperity for Australia".
Chief information officer Sanjay Kalra arrived at the agency in January, from the University of Newcastle where he was CIO and later chief digital officer.
Armed with a “mandate for change”, Kalra has ambitious plans for the agency. He has put in place a new strategy, restructured the technology team, and transformed the way staff work to make the agency more nimble, faster moving and ready for the future.
The ambition now is to move into the cloud “holus bolus” within three years, and roll-out an all-encompassing microservices architecture model, linked by APIs.
“Big, big changes are happening,” Kalra says. “It’s been an action packed year so far.”
Ripe for refresh
Arriving at the agency, Kalra found a slew of ageing systems numbering into the hundreds which were “increasingly expensive to run and really tightly coupled environments”, he says.
“It seemed to me that the whole environment was ripe for a refresh,” Kalra says.
Kalra, who reports to the agency’s Deputy Director General Deb Anton, has a three part strategy: Fix – “to address yesterday’s shortcomings”; Modernise – “to catch up with today’s technology” and; Transform the organisation with “tomorrow’s innovations”.
He has restructured the team into four groups: business engagement; business systems; data management and security; and technology operations and cloud services.
Business engagement includes the creation of what Kalra calls an “ICT front door” through which business units interact with his team.
“The business doesn't need to know who does what in IT. Whether they've got a problem or they've got a future plan of doing something new. They just need to access one person,” Kalra explains.
Adopting agile methodologies – which includes the creation of an agile guild – the team is better aligned and skilled to meet the agency needs.
“We’ve got to take our staff with us on the journey,” Kalra says. “They need to retool and they need to move forward to adopt new skills and kind of adopt new ways of working.”
Holus bolus cloud
At present, IP Australia’s infrastructure is “totally in house” save for a few SAS applications.
“The cloud is a big one. We’re getting out of our data centre and into the cloud holus bolus – not a hybrid cloud. Ideally we would like to have zero foot-print in our data centre,” Kalra explains, “It’s a complete change. We are getting out of the data centre and hardware business.”
That task is easier than ever, Kalra says, thanks to a fast-maturing cloud ecosystem in Canberra.
The nation’s capital is home to a growing number of government approved data centres from both major and niche providers. The Australian Signals Directorate's Certified Cloud Services List, has expanded rapidly over the last few years: most recently with the addition of Microsoft’s two new hyperscale cloud regions at Canberra Data Centres.
“It means as an individual government agency we don't have to go through the whole detailed analysis of each cloud provider, the security posture and capability. The government does it for us,” Kalra explains.
“We're not fighting an uphill battle. We are fighting a battle where there's a deal of tailwind behind us,” he adds.
The move will not be a “lift and shift” of hardware to a new data centre.
“We will go basically with a cloud based model which means no hardware to be bought, managed or owned by us at all. Basically as a clean as a service offering rather than as a hosted offering. We don't want a hosted cloud offering. We want an as a service cloud offering,” Kalra says.
Up the API ante
Alongside the move to public cloud, IP Australia is pursuing an API and micro-services driven architecture Kalra likens to Lego building blocks.
“We've now got it on a solid footing with a cloud based platform for APIs. And we've already started moving away from the older web services style of integration to the API style of integration,” he says.
“We are overhauling all our applications one by one to move toward a micro services architecture model and connecting everything through APIs. We've got really very tightly coupled systems which are large monolithic systems and very difficult to change fast.”
The Lego bricks approach will see the team build small elements of application functionality which can be combined in different ways to create apps “as you go along”, all connected via APIs.
“It just gives a lot of flexibility to upgrade, to update, to enhance. Because the days of the big large applications are over. The business wants the new functionality in a matter of weeks they can’t wait a year to have new functionality delivered and for that we needed to overhaul our core architectures of apps,” Kalra says.
As well as linking apps internally, APIs will also be used to safely expose agency data to external start-ups and entrepreneurs.
The agency has already dabbled in open APIs. In 2016 it made its ‘Intellectual Property Government Open Live Data (IPGOLD)’ data available (building on a less frequently updated previous API) which includes more than 100 years of patent, trade mark, designs and plant breeder data.
By upping the ante on external APIs the agency will be able to “give this connectivity to the external world seamlessly” Kalra says.
Fast into the future
After close to a year in the role, Kalra has set up IP Australia for the future. The agency – which has around 1200 staff – has long been a pioneer of innovations. It was one of the first government agencies to roll-out intelligent chatbots on its website. In February, it launched image searching within the agency’s trademark search tool working with Queensland image recognition start-up, TrademarkVision.
Last month it announced it was working to create a single, internationally linked trade mark database called TMlink, in collaboration with Swinburne University of Technology and the University of Melbourne.
Soon, Kalra says, there will be serious forays into machine learning and artificial intelligence enabled by the foundations that have been put in place.
“We have an advantageous position where we've done the groundwork. And being a medium-sized agency we are much more nimble and can act faster than some of the other agencies in town,” Kalra says.
“The business now has the expectation and appetite of moving fast into the future.”
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