Optimise Cloud For Public Sector Latest News
The report also revealed that some of the UK’s most critical services are dependent on technologies that predate the internet.
- Reduction in the flexibility available to improve public services;
- Added difficulty (and cost) in protecting against evolving cyber threats;
- Increased government reliance on long-term contracts with large ICT companies, blocking the way for innovative SMEs to rightfully win public sector contracts;
- Increased cost of operating public services by blocking higher levels of automation;
- Hindering data sharing intended to stimulate innovation and to prevent fraud and error.
Paradoxically, while Cloud-based ICT services offer solutions to many of the challenges posed by ageing legacy system, many public sector CIO’s continue to believe that the complexity of their legacy systems represents the single biggest barrier to full Cloud adoption.
Public sector organisations are often in the firing-line over their perceived inability to improve services, however, in some cases, they are seriously hamstrung by their legacy systems and the inflexible long-term contracts that accompany them. In a few cases, the legacy systems have led to supplier lock-in and can now only be serviced by the company that originally installed them.”
Partly in response to this sort of issue, the UK government’s G-Cloud programme was launched to provide a framework through which public sector bodies can buy Cloud services from an increased range of pre-approved vendors. The programme provides a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable ICT resources (e.g. networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or cloud provider interaction.
Guy Hodges says: “If the history of public sector IT procurement has taught us anything, it’s that the traditional, siloed approach to public ICT has proved over complex, expensive and ultimately unsuccessful. There’s a growing appreciation that G-Cloud presents the opportunity to share costs and engage services on a Pay-as-you-Go basis, offering not only a significant opportunity to save substantial sums of money, but also to enable a renewed focus on improving the delivery of front line services.
“Legacy systems may be a fact of life for most significant ICT users but they shouldn’t deter public sector organisations from exploring and embracing the cost efficiencies and service enhancements that Cloud-based solutions can deliver.”
Yet despite a very strong start we still have some way to go before its true value is revealed – enabling the delivery of a new generation of truly innovative software and solutions dedicated to improving frontline public services.
While G-Cloud’s development has been overwhelmingly successful, we believe there is still some way to go before we can unlock its real promise. Before that happens, with a number of issues requiring to be solved, we require the development of new standards to help the industry both overcome extant technical factors and fully exploit Cloud’s potential for government.
The issue rests on a single premise: that the ‘walled garden’ approach to government ICT has resulted in a situation where frequently conflicting implementations of core technologies leave departments with inflexible and expensive bespoke systems that cannot interoperate. This makes adoption by other public services extremely challenging, resulting in a situation where the state has paid to build a multitude of distinct systems designed to do essentially the same job.
The adoption of universal technical standards would reverse this situation, establishing a clear set of rules that would not only make it simpler for government to develop and deploy solutions across multiple departments, but would also enable a new generation of innovative, cutting edge SMEs to enter the market – boosting competition and driving down costs.
When it comes to Cloud computing, the most commonly quoted issue is security, with both good and bad news in this area.
Neil MacDonald, Gartner vice president and fellow predicted in 2010:
Yet despite this confidence a consensus is emerging that the security demands on cloud services often go beyond anything small and medium-sized businesses can afford to build and manage themselves. Part of the problem is that the public cloud is lacking in security standards, with the existing ISO 270001 representing a good start but essentially remaining a generic underpinning framework for secure businesses operations.
Once the security question has been removed, there is one other major factor acting as a barrier to innovation – our legacy systems. Many government ICT infrastructures today were built from the ground up using proprietary technologies to create applications that, while functional, are based on closed systems and outdated licensing policies that no longer fulfill the public sector’s needs.
The promised cost savings offered by cloud computing rely on pooling resources across many tenants, and cannot be realised if too many organisational and technical borders, many historically created, are allowed to persist. The IT industry has therefore learned that a standardisation of data formats, applications, and processes are an essential component of well-organised cloud adoption strategies.
Software vendors can contribute to this process by opening up their software and describing the data formats and structures. It is in their interest to do so, as allowing other providers to access data enables new systems to be built that keep legacy systems current while also offering the customer fresh innovation.
Setting standards for widely stored sets of data is the next step required to unleash Cloud’s potential. Currently over 400 councils deliver 100+ services to citizens and store data about their delivery, but there are over 50 different ways in which the data is stored meaning that it is almost impossible to get any sort of unified or comparative view.
Whilst technical standards lay the necessary foundation of technical interoperability, much more is required to create an element of trust between a cloud service provider and a cloud service consumer. A joint understanding of usage models is e.g. being formulated by the Open Data Center Alliance (ODCA) and may be used to judge cloud service provider offerings in the future.
Despite this, it may still be a challenge for smaller entities to understand the multitude of facets that cloud offerings can have. A further suggestion, therefore, would be in the creation of sector specific purchasing guides written jointly by IT industry stakeholders and customer representatives. Germany’s BITKOM – the Federal Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media – has issued a guide to the German industry’s SMB sector for the selection of secure cloud service providers with great success, providing a potential route forward for UK PLC.
For organisations and their CTOs, ICT today is no longer a question of boxes, networks and wires. It’s a state of mind.
In a white paper we publish today – Architecting Choice: How CIO’s can derive business benefits from the IT Cultural Revolution – our Corporate CTO Ian Sherratt argues that while IT departments have failed to respond quickly enough to changing ‘prosumer’ needs, the market disruption brought about by cloud services and the consumerisation of IT presents an opportunity to revolutionise their relationship with end users and the business.
As Ian states in our official press release:
Business demand is running multiple times faster than IT can deliver the necessary change and additional services, and this isn’t set to slow down anytime soon. Millions of workers, consumers and organisations – accustomed to an era where everything is available and everything is free – are now demanding that the benefits offered by the social and mobile revolution be applied across the corporate landscape. Therein lies our challenge as IT professionals.”
The market disruption that we have seen in recent times, brought about by cloud services and the consumerisation of IT have now become the norm rather than the exception – whether IT and the business support and allow it or not.