Embracing The Cloud: A Public Sector’s Journey

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In our first two blogs of this series we explored the public sector and its views on technology, including the benefits and negatives of deploying modern technology. This blog will specifically explore the transition to the cloud by the public sector and the possible challenges it might encounter.

Adopting a “cloud-first” approach

Similar to the private sector, the public sector is under constant pressure to modernise, streamline and be at the forefront of their IT operations. However, unlike the private sector that do not necessarily have budget constraints, public sector are, as discussed previously, under strict budget cuts. Added to this is the constant pressure from the public to get things right and everything you do is under the microscope.

However, back in 2013 the UK government has introduced what they call a “cloud-first” policy when sourcing IT systems to update their own technology ecosystems. This move follows a similar move by the US government in 2010.

In a statement, the Cabinet Office said: “In future, when procuring new or existing new services, public sector organisations should consider and fully evaluate potential Cloud solutions first- before they consider any other option.”

While the statement implies that government departments “should” seek to buy Cloud options, there is the option for departments to seek other options, provided it is more cost efficient than the Cloud option. The central departments are mandated to have this policy while it is “strongly recommended” for other public sector offices.

However, by way of comparison, let’stake a look at how cost effective the US government were when adopting a “cloud-first policy”. The government adopted the strategy in 2010 and by 2012, the policy had shaved an average of seven per cent from department spending. With the spending at $78.9 billion (£60.6 billion) in 2013, the savings amounted to a substantial $5.5 billion (£4.2 billion).

Cost savings vs tech redundancies

One of the main reasons for public sector organisations being interested in moving technology to the cloud is primarily the cost factor. The adoption of the “cloud-first” policy, Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, said at the time, would drive future and wider growth of cloud computing as well as boosting business and furthering savings and efficiencies.

These changes have already had some impact on savings for the public sector. In a report carried out by the National Audit Office, IT reforms and spending cuts had saved the taxpayer approximately £316 million in the year 2011 to 2012. Part of this is down to moving to the cloud and moving departments away from relying on large suppliers that supply outdated technology.

Part of the success of this cost cutting is also getting rid of these technology redundancies. With the government also reviewing and updating its IT departments to create a more agile system that supports in delivering change quicker and cheaper.

With the cloud-first approach, Francis Maude said that it would reduce IT costs significantly. He said at the time: “One way we can reduce these costs is to accelerate the adoption of Cloud across the public sector to maximise its benefits. This Cloud First policy will embed the skills a modern civil service needs to meet the demands of 21st century digital government and help us to get ahead in the global race.“

Looking to the future

The “cloud-first” policy was adopted in 2012, over four years ago. So how successful was the move? What barriers did IT departments face when moving their infrastructure to the cloud? For the NHS Education for Scotland, moving to the cloud secured their department’s existence and in turn is the future for survival. Cloud transition manager Paul Donnelly said, speaking at a roundtable on the digital transformation in Scotland, commented on cloud’s future in public sector: “As far as we’re concerned, it is our future and it is the only way we’re going to survive in tough times.”

In terms of barriers encountered, at the same event, Heather Robb said that the biggest issue was convincing the IT team of the need to escape the “comfort blanket” that the old ecosystems offered. However, once moving to a cloud-first policy, the cost efficiency has been clear for all to see. For example, by moving work tickets so they are accessible on tablets and mobile phones, tradesmen employed by the council to fix properties no longer have to return to the office to log a new work ticket. “They’re going from doing five, six jobs a day to seven, eight or nine and there’s a huge difference in that”, said Robb.

Landing with a bump

While the above examples highlight where public sector has substantially warmed to the idea of transitioning to the cloud, there are some concerns that persist. The paramount one is security. With issues surrounding data security, the public sector are particularly wary of ensuring their IT is secure-proof and as safe as possible with members of the public details safe.

In a recent survey conducted by the CIO.com, they found that security was a significant concern for the cloud. The report states that: “When asked to identify all provided choices that apply, respondents cited security as their top concern with 62 per cent. This was followed by governance challenges (57 per cent), training at 37 percent and costs at 32 per cent.

So what can we do about that security issue? The key question is which cloud option to use. Do you go for public or private cloud options? With a public cloud, public sector organisations leaves the data potentially open for hackers to hack. This is a particular concern for IT departments when dealing with the large amounts of data they already carry out. Private cloud on the other hand is more secure, but does come with a cost.

Recent studies have shown that hybrid cloud might be the way forward, having been massively adopted by the private sector: “The potential for true hybrid in the public sector is massive. Think of citizen-focused applications that have wildly varying demands at different times of the year such as the tax self-assessment tool or the Passport Service. Both are only running at peak for very short periods of time, but need enormous scale of infrastructure to cope with their peak demands. These are perfect applications to be migrated in a hybrid cloud, where applications can be run in-house for most of the year and then moved out to a public cloud where they can be scaled enormously, in order to cope with - and keep things up and running during - that busy period.”[1] And with the private cloud element, security would be provided for sensitive applications as well as satisfy regulatory requirements for data handling and storage.

Lagging behind

Another concern is how outdated the public sector has been. In particular when considering user experience, the public sector is way behind the private sector. Responsive web applications are just beginning to emerge from the public sector. A further figure revealed by the CIO survey is that 70 per cent of IT workers working in the public sector stated that a consistent and positive user experience is an “unmet need.”

Cloud computing is driving the strategy of transforming outdated IT departments into agile, fast flowing departments. They enable businesses to make decisions and adapt rapidly. Through the cloud, the public sector can react fast and focus on delivering important services. More importantly, we as members of the public can trust and build a relationship with the public sector and embrace the digital transformation happening in the public sector right now.

hSo offers a number of cloud solutions, from world-leading VMWare virtualisation software to direct interconnects of your network to public Clouds such as Amazon AWS and Azure.


[1] http://www.computing.co.uk/ctg/analysis/2394740/why-hybrid-cloud-is-a-perfect-fit-for-the-public-sector

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