public sector wakes up to cloud computing

It has been a couple of years now since the launch of the UK’s ambitious G-Cloud Framework, while in the US, Washington has been promoting cloud technologies through a Federal Cloud Computing Strategy even longer. So how successful have these and other similar public sector initiatives around the world been, and are there any lessons we can learn at this early stage?

In a post-austerity world, cloud technologies fit the bill more than ever before – offering the opportunity to run IT at lower costs, whilst enabling greater agility and efficiency in providing public-facing services. There’s also the prospect of reducing costs further by pushing more public services online, and offering remote working to internal staff to boost productivity. Cloud technologies can also improve information sharing and collaboration between departments and agencies – breaking down those infamous siloes that exist in the public sector.

taking off in the UK

Concerns were raised earlier this year that the UK’s G-Cloud was failing to get buy-in from public sector bodies. Two-thirds of civil servants still don’t have any idea about the project, according to research from Six Degrees Group, although some have argued that this still shows good progress given the initiative is still in its early days. What’s more, G-Cloud sales rose from £217m to just under £250m in August with the SME sector landing the majority of wins.

The UK government’s Cloud First policy is likely to continue growth in this area going forward into the final quarter of 2014 and beyond. The Public Service Network, currently used by central government to collaborate securely, could also attract more agencies from local government in the future, providing a further opportunity for compliant service providers.

Middlesbrough Council is one of those local authorities leading the way with G-Cloud implementations, replacing its on-premise SAP set-up with ERP services provided by Unit4. Apart from the time, effort and money saved, the council also benefited from a much shorter procurement process.

Nigel Beighton, VP of Technology International at G-Cloud vendor Rackspace, argues that outsourcing contract lock-in is throttling the pace of adoption. “Sadly we are yet to see any of the large outsourcing companies embrace the cloud as much as the public sector would like, meaning that [public sector] flexibility to move onto the cloud is limited,” he tells Real Times.

“Security issues are also often over-played when talking about the public sector using the cloud, and like any other commercial organization it will have sensitive data that should never be on the public anything, and therefore not on the cloud. But, this is still marginal when it is compared with the rest of its applications and data.”

clouds over the US

In the US, Washington’s Cloud First policy has also built up quite a head of steam over the past few years. Citing IDC figures, a recent Accenture report claimed spending on cloud projects will rise 60% from $2.2bn this year to $9.1bn in 2017, although it will be dominated by private cloud and IaaS investments.

Successful implementations are growing in number, helped by the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP), which aims to reduce risk by providing a standardized approach for the “security assessment, authorization, and continuous monitoring” of cloud services.

Successes include the Department of Energy, which has built its Magellan private cloud to support technical workloads, and public sector newspaper The Federal Register, which chose Amazon Web Services to power its infrastructure.

When it comes to APAC, China is leading the way, with the government throwing RMB 1.5bn ($244m) at five major city-wide projects in 2011, according to Frost & Sullivan analyst Danni Xu. She says that, like elsewhere, providers have responded to government return-on-investment (ROI) and security concerns by “creating special federal clouds.”

Although private cloud implementations are still favored by the large state-owned enterprises, Forrester is predicting the Chinese public cloud market will grow from $297 million in 2011 to a staggering $3.8bn by 2020, according to analyst Charlie Dai.

lessons learned

Another Accenture report from earlier this year claimed that 69% of federal executives believe a lack of necessary staffing is preventing cloud adoption, with lengthy procurement processes (31%) also to blame.

In the UK, meanwhile, a freedom of information (FoI) request of 27 county councils by IT services company Bull Information Systems found that ignorance and cultural issues have proved tough to overcome. Of the £440m spent on IT in 2012-13 just £385,000 came through the G-Cloud. However, a new strategy in effect from April 2014 will make it compulsory for all new or redesigned services to be “digital by default,” which should spur growth.

According to a Gartner report from April, government CIOs need to assemble staff who are able to support a “long and complex deployment” if they are to be successful. They also need to develop strong vendor management skills and to establish robust relationships with business clients, to get them to implement “appropriate change management programs.” Frost & Sullivan’s Xu adds that “it is essential to look beyond the cost savings of moving into the cloud to factors such as data center location, security features, data handling policies and others.”

Find out more about cloud computing at Orange Business and our work with the public sector.