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Public sector cloud adoption: What can latecomers learn from the leaders?

(Image credit: Image Credit: Everything Possible / Shutterstock)

According to new research, there is a big gap when it comes to cloud adoption in the different areas in the public sector. Despite cloud-first policies being adopted in theory, the reality is different for some organisations.

As the Public Sector Cloud Adoption Report by Eduserv and SOCITM shows, universities and public bodies are further ahead in their cloud adoption journey, with the former storing 36 per cent of their data in the cloud and the latter storing 29 per cent. Meanwhile, local authorities and emergency services have some catching up to do, with 21 per cent and 13 per cent of cloud usage, respectively.

With predictions that cloud computing will virtually replace traditional data centres within three years, this new study raises concerns that the public sector is lagging behind private sector counterparts and struggling to keep pace with the UK Government’s Cloud First strategy.

Taking into account the growth in usage of Internet of Things (IoT) applications in the last few years, and the latest developments in smart technologies (such as smart cars and smart cities), we can certainly say that IT requirements will only expand – and the public sector needs to keep up.

Role models of modernisation in the public sector

It is obvious that the conditions in which the public and private sectors operate are very different from each other and, realistically, the two will probably never be at the same level in terms of modernisation. Yet, we can learn from public sector organisations who are making it work.

Comparing universities and emergency services, the first and last in the ranking, it makes you wonder what is causing that big of a difference. The answer, of course, is not simple. In reality, a great variety of factors contribute to these results, which is why we must be careful in our assessment.

One thing that can be observed is the correlation between the cloud adoption stats and the public sector organisations who have adopted a cloud infrastructure policy guidance or strategy: universities (55 per cent) and public bodies (79 per cent) are again on the top of the ranking, while emergency services (51 per cent) and local government (44 per cent) take the last spots. Having a strategy or policy for cloud can be helpful for an organisation to have a more structured approach to ‘cloud first’, as well as defining KPIs and general goals so that cloud usage gets more internal traction.

It is very important to remember that a ‘one-size fits all’ approach won’t work, and the best thing to do is to first assess the organisation’s current IT infrastructure and then discuss which of the 5R migration strategies should be followed: revise, rehost, refactor, replace or rebuild.

Result-driven drivers

Curiously, participants from universities and public bodies said their main motivator to use cloud was “scalability”, while emergency services are driven mostly by “cost-saving”.  It is no wonder blue light is looking to procure a more cost-effective solution, given the extended criticism the force’s bespoke systems got from their own staff in the most recent Police ICT survey.

Being driven mainly by saving costs, however, might not be the healthiest approach. There needs to be an initial investment before migration (which varies according to the organisation’s size) and key stakeholders need to be able to see the bigger picture and how cloud can actually work for their benefit – and budget – long term, keeping in mind they won’t start saving money right away.

Making the shift

The report results may be telling us that a hybrid approach is likely to be prevailing for quite a while. Public sector organisations have slowed down their cloud adoption also partially thanks to the cuts made to PSOs’ budgets as result of the austerity measures, forcing most organisations to keep their on-premise datacentres.

Another blocker that is preventing organisations from fully moving to the cloud is culture, especially when it comes in the form of resistance to change from the leadership team. It makes things easier when leaders from departments other than IT are on board before, during and after the migration; particularly where they are able to encourage their staff to use the new tools for more agile working. The staff themselves also need to be motivated in order to act proactively in learning the new systems while also exploring new ways of working, ideally with a collaborative mindset.

Nevertheless, this will not be as effective if the IT department acts as an island (as it is the case in many PSOs), trying to ‘impose’ cloud implementation from the outside. The effort should aim to integrate the IT department across every sector of the organisation, so the shift occurs as smoothly as possible – with still many bumps on the road as it is with every cloud migration project – and true modernisation can come into fruition across the institution.

Looking at the study’s results, and considering that many public sector organisations have not yet reached the level of maturity in their IT management and information governance, we can see that a hybrid phase will go on for a substantial period of time.

Seizing the potential

Granted, one of the best things about starting to use cloud, especially hyperscale public cloud, is how the tools are standardised. These standardised tools make staff training so much easier, security features so much better and support hours so much longer – not to mention that they may also be more cost-effective than bespoke systems.

Practical as they are, standard tools don’t show the bigger picture. As cities become smarter, the demand for AI, machine learning, IoT and newer technologies becomes greater, and even greater are the technical capabilities needed to run these technologies.

If you are still not sure if cloud is really for you, ask yourself, “In 5, 10, 15 years’ time, will I be able to run the latest technologies effectively on my own datacentre? Will the service delivery level be good enough for future citizen demands in technological terms?”. The answer will probably be “no” – and that’s where cloud comes in.

Andy Powell, CTO, Eduserv
Image Credit: Everything Possible / Shutterstock

Andy Powell is CTO at Eduserv, now part of Jisc, and has over 30 years’ IT experience in a wide range of roles including IT strategy, solutions architecture and networking.