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Why IT in the public sector is moving to the ‘sovereign’ cloud

(Image credit: Image Credit: TZIDO SUN / Shutterstock)

Spending £100m an hour or £28,000/second is an immense responsibility for the public sector. How it chooses to distribute an approximately £817 billion annual budget impacts everyone living in the UK. Deciding how to squeeze out every bit of value is crucial, especially as the media and electorate will mercilessly scrutinise wrong decisions.

Up until recently, most decisions have been made without the use of new technology such as machine learning and AI, powered by the public cloud, which the commercial sector has been doing for a decade. This has been due to the legal limitations of using sensitive data in such clouds. This is changing, however, and the public sector now has access to the public cloud to process and store an increasing amount of its data. Providing a platform on which to better manage and use information will create a launchpad for innovation within the public sector. It’s an opportunity that will fundamentally improve the sector’s ability to provide services to UK citizens.

Overcoming barriers to the cloud

The one, big hurdle to get over is trust. Data-savvy citizens and the demand for more transparency have choked the public sector’s ability to capitalise upon the opportunities that public cloud can offer. A recent study from Ranking Digital Rights (RDR), Ranking Digital Rights 2018 Corporate Accountability Index, suggest that consumers’ demands for more transparency are justified. Not one of the 22 internet, mobile and telecommunications companies surveyed for the study earned a privacy score higher than 63 per cent, indicating that most organisations fail to disclose enough information about data privacy to customers. But when it comes to the public sector, we expect, even demand, that our data be handled with diligence and care. In fact, in a recent study assessing who should assume ultimate responsibility for data security, 15 per cent claim that the overarching accountability should lie with government institutions.

Sentiment aside, regulatory measures demonstrate that when it comes to data held on the cloud, data privacy and its management are more than just an ethical commitment, but a legal obligation. Case in point, current legislation in place is designed to ensure that data with a level of sensitivity is both properly protected and kept sovereign by virtue of it remaining within the UK and only accessible by British citizens. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), implemented within the past year, stipulates that mandatory breach reporting, requiring data controllers and processors, is needed in order to introduce appropriate technical and organisational measures protecting personal data.

What benefits does sovereign cloud offer to public sector organisations?

The introduction of new sovereign public cloud services that allow the public sector to store Sensitive and Official Sensitive data on the public cloud is removing that hurdle. Providing the public sector with the ability to capitalise upon a secure, legally compliant public cloud means it can innovate at the same pace as industry and drives better decision making. Put into practice, these things could have huge benefits across the public sector.

Organisations with access to broader, larger data sets can make better decisions and all of this can be handled much more affordably in the public cloud. Decision-making processes such as where to build roads, hospitals and schools, through to identifying where to increase policing levels, even military deployments, can rapidly take into account a huge variety of disparate data. This creates insights that simply cannot be derived in any other way in an acceptable timeframe or at an acceptable cost. Ultimately, this can make the UK safer, better educated and healthier.

Shifting data analysis up a gear

The information stored by the DVLA includes a considerable amount of confidential data about the UK’s population and on the nation’s vehicles. With 8,500 cameras recording approximately 35 million number plates every day the possibility exists of being able to identify the location of a stolen vehicle more quickly. However, using techniques similar to the way banks identify fraudulent transactions, combining known data about the vehicle’s owner, other insured drivers and the vehicle’s information and location, it may be possible to identify a possible theft having happened even before the owner realises it has taken place. Imagine how that could reduce car thefts and lower insurance premiums?

Beyond the world of insurance, the government’s recent declaration of intent to support the advent of driverless vehicles will undoubtedly be influenced by the adoption of sovereign cloud practices. This came in the form of government initiative, The Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), creating a new joint fund of £30 million to support connected and autonomous vehicle development in the UK.

When it comes to vehicles on the road, nearly every piece of information that they syphon has the potential to qualify as being personally identifiable information. Alongside requiring all future projects to establish a solid path towards commercial viability, in order to guarantee funding, they’ll need to convey a robust approach to data ethics. This includes outlining compliance with GDPR and the Data Protection Act – a role that sovereign cloud capabilities will undoubtedly play a major part in.

Transforming treatment in the health sector

The ability to look at diverse data sets, including sensitive patient data, could unleash a revolution in healthcare enabling advanced preventative medicine.

At the moment, it’s estimated that as much as 85 per cent of actionable health information is stored in a free-text narrative. These tend to be comprised of records containing key contextual information such as detailed symptom profiles and personalised treatment plans, as well as patients’ personal risk factors, ranging from relatively basic framing information to somewhat extensive narratives when it comes to mental health and social care records. However, the text in medical records is often entirely removed before records are made available for research purposes due to the privacy issues, leaving a potentially rich source of data entirely untapped.

Taking into account what the NHS already knows about its patients and adding it to other data such as that from the increasing adoption of wearable tech, we are approaching the point of being able to identify possible health scares for citizens with a considerable level of accuracy. The impact on the population and possible cost savings for the ever-strained NHS are considerable.

This potential impact was underlined during the launch of current health secretary, Matt Hancock’s policy paper, “The Future of Healthcare” assessing the technological transformation needed to rid the health service of its abundance of outdated legacy systems. The statement outlines plans to introduce a minimum technical standard for IT systems and digital infrastructure to meet. The initiation of these measures will, for the first time in the past decade, put security and ubiquity at the forefront of the health and social care system.

Speaking on its potential impact, Sarah Wilkinson, Chief Executive at NHS Digital asserts that the overall effect that this will have is the immediacy at which patients are treated. She adds, “greater standardisation of data, infrastructure, platforms and APIs will create a health and care system that is more joined-up, and as a result safer and more efficient. Connected systems ensure that clinicians have immediate access to all relevant and appropriate patient data from all care providers and settings and ensure that data is communicated between systems with absolute fidelity, eliminating misinformation and misunderstandings.”

The future of government technology

The introduction of the government’s cloud-centric procurement framework, G-Cloud designed to spur the adoption of digitisation of public sector services. With bidding applications open until the middle of May, the public sector is finally set to see the impact that compliant, cloud-first digital services can deliver. As the UK government seeks to continually battle the persisting skills gap present amongst technical professionals working to remedy the public sector’s lethargic grasp of cloud practices, clearing the regulatory highway will undoubtedly contribute towards a smoother transition onto these services. There is so much value to be gleaned from the vast amounts of data that the public sector holds that could have an incredibly positive societal impact. This is all just the tip of an enormous iceberg that is increasingly visible thanks to new sovereign public cloud technologies.

Chris Huggett, Senior Vice President, EMEA & India, Sungard AS (opens in new tab)

Chris has 20 years of leadership experience, having worked with leading technology firms including HP, Vodafone and Dell. He leads the European team covering UK, Ireland, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Poland.