Features: August 21st, 2018

Cloud technology is becoming popular in the public sector, but there are downsides. Martin Lipka, Head of Connectivity Architecture at Pulsant, offers advice about taking a migration decision and offers suggestions for minimising the problems that can arise and for getting the full benefits.

The journey from IT stored in a head office to IT stored online, in the cloud, can be long.
There may be pockets of turbulence. But handled well, cloud technology can help public-sector organisations improve their digital services, innovate, cut costs and respond quicker to citizens’ needs.

Cloud technology (software or an IT service that’s delivered over the internet) has been around for more than a decade. The market (which ranges from Google’s email service, Gmail, to vast datacentres and entire back-office financial software systems) has grown steadily. It’s now standard in the private sector.

But the cloud’s benefits (being able to ramp up computing power at short notice; pay-per-use IT; the potential to save money) are not confined to business.
Cloud technology is increasingly popular in the public sector. Organisations in both sectors face similar challenges ? tight budgets, pressure to become digital-service providers.
“ … National governments typically see cloud as a long-term pathway to strategic IT modernization, whereas local and regional governments tend to pursue the immediate tactical benefits of innovation and cost savings,” says Neville Cannon, research director at Gartner, a research company.

Yet, as the private sector has found, the journey to the cloud can be tricky. Challenges include migrating legacy IT systems, which can be more than 40 years old, and training staff in new technology and business processes.

And as the cloud technology market grows, the amount of choice and jargon can be confusing.
How can public-sector organisations decide whether the cloud is right for their IT? And if they do move part of their IT to the cloud, how can they minimise any disruption and maximise the benefits?

Counting clouds

First, let’s be clear about some terminology. Not all clouds are the same.
Computing clouds can be private (used by one organisation), public (organisations sharing computing resources in vast online clouds run by tech giants such as Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Alibaba), or a mix of both public and private, and cloud and IT stored on a company’s premises (“hybrid”).

Computing clouds have different shapes. The main ones are: “Software as-a-Service” (software applications that are hosted and run by a supplier for customers; “Infrastructure as a Service” (hardware, storage, servers and data centre space or network components that customers use to run software applications on, e.g. enterprise resource planning, data analytics); and “Platform as a Service” (PaaS); software developers use it as a platform for running software programmes and apps.

Business case

IT should serve the business, not the other way around. Using cloud technology will require a change in an organisation’s mindset as well as its business processes and software and hardware.

Staff will need training. And spending on cloud will affect an organisation’s balance sheet. (Much cloud computing is charged for pay-per-use, rather than an annual fee for traditional software).

Before moving to cloud technology, public-sector IT heads and other executives should answer three questions.
• What’s the compelling business reason for cloud technology and digital transformation?
• What are the technology challenges that the organisation must comply with?
• And what technical solution can be put in place to solve it?

Moving to the cloud

Map your applications, workflows and IT infrastructure.
You’ll probably discover IT systems you didn’t realise you had. Where’s your most important data e.g. financial, personal data on citizens that may highly damaging if hacked or leaked. When are IT systems used? By how many employees? How do they share data?
Work out how much your IT costs to run and their efficiency, e.g. how often they’re unavailable each day.

These calculations can help you work out if the new cloud technology is performing better than your old IT. Migration in IT is notoriously tricky ? particularly for old, back-office systems that few of your staff may fully understand. Some of your IT may be old and complex, meaning that it’ll be hard to integrate it with new cloud technology. It may be easier to carry on running old IT yourself and not to bother trying to connect it to the cloud.

Working with a trusted partner, an IT supplier or consultancy, can make the move into the cloud less daunting and help you save time and money.

Your IT partner will help pick the right type of cloud (public, private, hybrid) and the layers of technology within it (e.g. Infrastructure as-a-Service, Platform-as-a-Service).
You can also get help picking the right supplier by using the UK government’s “G-Cloud framework” – an agreement between the government and supplier on the basic terms and conditions of cloud computing services. The government says that using the procurement framework is quicker and cheaper than doing individual deals with suppliers.

The human factor

A successful move to the cloud involves three things – technology, people and process.
Technology will include picking the right hardware and software, keeping data secure and creating a plan for moving different parts of your business to the cloud.

The people part of a cloud project will include training staff how to use the new technology and adapt their ways of working to the new technology.

The process part of a cloud project may include changing administrative procedures (e.g. payroll, HR forms) and checking that they’re compliant with regulations, such as Europe’s new data privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

What access to IT systems does each employee need? Where’s personal data stored. Does your supplier comply with data and financial regulations?

It’s a lot to consider. But as the benefits of cloud computing become clearer, delaying a move into it (even a gradual move) could leave your organisation playing digital catch-up with your peers.