This included information feeds to broadcasters, news services, social media and search engines.
“The more channels that our data can be exposed through in a controlled way the better, because that means we’re increasing the number of people that are participating in the election or what we would call extending the franchise, opening up election services to more and more people who are entitled to participate,” says David Lang, Chief Information Officer at the AEC.
It was also a pioneering cloud project for the Federal Government as the AEC was the first federal agency to create an Express Route connection to Microsoft Azure AU Central regions, which has been designed specifically to support critical national computing and has been rated to Protected status by the Australian Signals Directorate.
Mr. Lang adds that another important foundation element for the cloud-based API project was ensuring the AEC’s on-premise identity solutions could integrate with Microsoft Azure Active Directory. They could and did.
Beside developing the APIs, AEC leveraged Azure to manage access to them.
Mr. Lang explains; “As an organisation, one of the key fundamentals of publishing an API to the outside world is making sure that you can manage the way that API is being used, that you can secure it effectively, that you have a central point of control and reporting, and that you can also publish really high quality documentation for the developers that are going to be consuming that API. Azure API Management provided a turn-key solution for the AEC, in which the heavy lifting associated with API hosting infrastructure was managed by the Microsoft Azure platform, which allowed the AEC to focus on developing great APIs for our consumers.
“We delivered up a number of services that would allow people to, for example, check their enrolment through a mobile phone application. We delivered a service that published the list of polling places that were available during the election. We had a service that allowed you to get the geographic data that makes up an electoral boundary so media partners could easily call the service, grab that boundary data and render it on a map along with the locations of polling places.
“Then ultimately we also had an API that provided a lightweight feed of real-time election results,” which Mr. Lang explains was available in addition to AEC’s existing results feed available directly over the internet, and was intended as a consumable feed for people creating their own election related services.
And when it was all over –the AEC simply switched it off.
“We’re very different to most federal government departments in the fact that what we do is essentially a huge event management and logistics exercise, and unlike most event management companies, we actually don’t For example in the few short weeks of an election we produce and handle approximately 52 million ballot papers and transport them via more than 40,000 transport routes When you think about the AEC, normally we have very modest ICT requirements, however once an election is announced we rely on the professionalism, quality and agility of our staff, technology and partners to deliver a successful electoral event with transparency and integrity and cloud is a big part of that equation.” says Kerr.
The AEC operates in an environment that has zero tolerance for failure. As such the AEC mirrored its mission critical systems that run on election night in the Microsoft Azure cloud to ensure that the real-time feed of elections results to the public and broadcast media partners were not disrupted. Prior to election night the AEC to load tested the entire system to what Mr. Kerr described as “some ridiculously high levels” to demonstrate the resilience of the approach.
After working with Veritec during the 2016 and 2019 elections, the AEC partnered with the organisation again on the proof of concept cloud project, and also engaged support from Microsoft’s Canberra based cloud solution architecture team. “Veritec as always, were fantastic throughout this engagement. They really genuinely worked their guts out to get us a good outcome and facilitated numerous engagements with some of the more high-powered Microsoft teams locally and around the world.
“For us that was an absolute winner on this engagement,” says Kerr.
According to Keiran Mott, CEO, Veritec; “The AEC performs a hugely important role in Australia but few people understand the extraordinary complexity of that role. We have a deep understanding of their ICT because we have a long working relationship.