More than a third of public sector bodies have already entered the cloud – at least partially. But cloud computing still holds risks and fears for government and local government. What is the best way forward? In the latest in our series of masterclasses, Lawrence Jones , founder of hosting specialist UKFast, has the answers.
E-Government Bulletin: Which areas of cloud computing hold the most potential for public sector bodies over the next 5-10 years?
A: Research from the Cloud Industry Forum (CIF) shows that 38% of the public sector has already formally used cloud services. And 96% of the public sector organisations questioned that had used cloud services were satisfied with their experience to the extent that more than 80% expect to increase their use in the next 12 months. Of the 62% not yet using cloud services, only 3% believed they would never adopt cloud services. Some 85% of respondents said they now include the review of cloud solutions within their wider IT strategy.
I agree with the forum’s prediction that the government review of IT spending will make mass cloud adoption more likely rather than less likely over the next five years.
The type of cloud platform that public sector bodies will adopt depends on what they want to use it for – applications, web hosting or email – and what the usage of these systems is.
Large public sector bodies will benefit from dedicated private cloud solutions because of the performance and security they offer.
EGB: What type and scale of cost savings are made possible by greater use of cloud computing by public sector bodies?
A: With cloud technology, you pay for what you need for as long as you need it. That flexibility can lead to significant cost savings. A report published last year in the US found that federal agencies could typically save 25% to 50% of IT costs by moving to the cloud. It also cited real life examples of public sector bodies cutting their IT costs by as much as 75%.
EGB: What are the other potential benefits for public sector bodies of moving towards greater use of cloud-based computing?
A: Speed and uptime from outsourced IT. As set out in the CIF research, the benefits that interest most businesses are flexibility, cost containment and service availability. All of these are just as relevant to the public sector.
The public sector can achieve significant improvements in productivity and efficiency through adoption of cloud computing, open standards and agile development projects.
Public sector organisations are no doubt using legacy equipment at the moment. Moving to the cloud allows for old hardware to be refreshed and replaced with technology that is significantly more advanced.
In short, cloud offers the government agility and cost control. It has the ability to achieve its ambitions of reducing data centres, implementing an application store and driving down costs.
EGB: What are the barriers faced in realising these benefits?
A: The greatest drawback today is the commercial legacy of sourcing and managing IT where many contracts are outsourced over long terms and the lack of a unified plan and design makes integration of systems and de-duplication of data centres a sizeable task.
Also, public concerns over data security, privacy and sovereignty need to be acknowledged, clearly resolved and put to rest. The technology already exists to secure data and contain it within the UK jurisdiction. What is lacking is a clear strategy on how this will be achieved and maintained in a way that enables confident participation by all relevant parties from citizens to agencies to suppliers.
Public sector bodies should be aware of the different levels of cloud and the security and sovereignty aspects of each. With a private, dedicated cloud you can lock it down securely and be confident that your data is safe.
With anything else there are question marks around the definite security of data. In a public cloud or a hybrid cloud where more data is aggregated and there are multi-tenancy issues, there are different levels of risk.
EGB: Are public sector bodies ahead of or behind their private sector counterparts in the use of cloud-based systems?
A: Technically there are no differences to the proposition of cloud and the opportunities it presents to the public sector over the private sector. The beauty of cloud computing is it is relevant to everyone as it offers agile, scalable, resilient IT services on demand.
However, in our experience, with a client base of 4,000 made up of private firms and public sector clients including many areas of the NHS, the Environment Agency and the Association of Chief Police Officers, we can see that more of the private sector has already adopted cloud. The CIF research supports this idea: 53 per cent of private sector organisations have adopted cloud, compared with 38 per cent of public sector organisations.
Public sector organisations are the most concerned about the security and sovereignty of their data. They need to see governance in the sector to feel confident that patient details can be stored in the cloud safely and securely.
They won’t risk their private and confidential data being stored in the US for example where there are no data protection laws.
A code of practice for the industry would go some way to calming their fears.
EGB: Are there differences between local and central government when it comes to use of the cloud?
A: Local government, with more flexibility, is likely to adopt public cloud solutions while central government will adopt more of a private cloud approach as it gets to grips with the ability to overhaul its IT approach significantly.
One thing that remains important across every level of government is the protection of customer data which suggests public cloud is not entirely suitable for the public sector currently.
EGB: What is the best way forward for the average public sector body when it comes to cloud computing?
A: Like the private sector, those responsible for IT within public bodies need to research the market thoroughly. There are a lot of companies, old and new, that have a cloud offering. Work out who is best for you. Cloud is a heavily service-based offering so you need to work out which hosts or cloud vendors offer the right fit for a public sector business.
The public sector represents a significant part of the UK economy and as such its purchasing behaviour has a direct impact on the IT industry.
In outsourcing projects it’s important they recognise that they will have a significant partnership with the company they deal with so it’s important that they match with values and culture in terms of customer service and technical delivery.
NOTE: Article originally published in E-Government Bulletin issue 337.