How the public sector can remove barriers to cloud

Written by James Butler on 29 June 2017 in Opinion

James Butler of software and IT services firm Trustmarque examines how to ‘bridge the gap’ between private and public sector adoption

At a high level, the drivers behind moving on-premises apps to the cloud are the same across the public and private sectors: efficiency; cost; agility; and security – to name but a few.  

However, specific challenges faced by the public sector mean that there are often barriers holding back the business case for cloud.  

And several barriers exist which may delay digital transformation. Firstly, the public sector has historically tended to be more risk averse than the private sector, placing a higher importance on avoiding public failure than on innovating. 

In addition, in some parts of the public sector, IT has been seen primarily as a cost and a set of risks to minimise. While historically this may also have been the case in many private sector organisations, it is now much rarer. 

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The public sector is behind in this respect and – without the simplicity of a private-sector profit motive – in respect of understanding what value-creation through IT innovation means. The risks around data sovereignty and control, combined with often out-of-date guidance, have played to this risk aversion, and created significant inertia. Also, in recent times the public sector has tended to struggle to retain and motivate IT staff skilled in the latest technologies. 

So, what can be done to bridge the gap? 

As many CIOs are already doing, they need to carefully manage expectations in what will be a complex transformation, build capability in their organisations in multiple areas over time and avoid quick fixes, and ensure they put in place the fundamental building blocks that allow the organisation to accelerate over time.  

This includes addressing areas such as operational and delivery governance – designed to operate ‘at cloud speed’ from a DevOps and security perspective; a focus on lean delivery techniques, and understanding when to ‘fail fast’ – and when not to – and embedding cultural changes that are needed to support transformation.

Additionally, CIOs need to focus on extending their infrastructure to the public cloud in a secure manner to create flexibility, while factoring different approaches to procurement that support innovation and new technology, but still ensuring compliance in important areas such as data protection.

In the local government sector, there is an exceptionally wide range of services and there is a need to act as a platform and a coordinator for the local public services economy. The business cases and strategies in the different sectors necessarily vary considerably.

Using shared services and collaborating better across organisational boundaries within a region are important ways to deal with cuts while improving IT services. And, while the talk of ‘local government as a platform’ has not coalesced significantly into concrete approaches yet, the need to open up processes, collaborate, automate and share data will only be easily possible in the future using modern, cloud-based platforms.
Done correctly, migrating applications to the cloud will remove issues affecting front-line service delivery – such as IT capacity issues – and enable those services to be more quickly evolved for the digital age. However, poorly planned cloud migrations can lead to new technical debt – architectural and operational bad practice that will need to be reworked, thus impeding change.  

It is essential in building a good cloud strategy to be focused on the needs of end users and front-line services, and to balance the risk and benefits of different levels of digital transformation. A clear and measurable business case, linked to these needs and drivers, will make it easier for CIOs to build and maintain support for the transformation to cloud.

James Butler is chief technology officer at Trustmarque, part of Capita plc

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