Transforming public services with cloud


22 September 2014
Andrew Goodwin of Datacom

Up until 2010, discussions around cloud computing were confined to the private sector with vendors building large data centres in the major economic zones of the world. Governments stood in the sidelines content with facilitating the setting up of data centre zones to attract foreign investments. Their own IT consumption remained unchanged – on-premise legacy systems.

These days, it is hard to find a major economy that doesn’t have grand cloud ambitions. Driving this change are issues such as leaner budgets and calls for ongoing service improvements in public service. Cloud-based services just happen to fit the bill.

In the US, a survey by the Center for Digital Government of 109 government IT professionals revealed 32 per cent are in the process of migrating to a cloud environment. Another 14 per cent indicated plans to shift to cloud hosting. About 25 per cent of respondents gave the cost of hardware and software, along with maintenance expenses, as their top reasons for moving to cloud hosting services.

According to Gartner, governments worldwide continue to pursue both public and private types of cloud services with an emphasis on allowing agencies to purchase commercially provided services. The main objectives have been cost reduction, speed of procurement and deployment, and responsiveness to regulations and needs for cost cutting.

Steve Hodgkinson, Director of Ovum’s Government practice in Australia and New Zealand — and a former deputy CIO of the Victorian Government himself — notes that the vast majority of organisations are using cloud computing services somewhere. These include basic IT services such as Infrastructure as a Service (computing and storage capacity), and applications such as customer relationship management, and case and talent management.

Organisations are realising that cloud hosting also reduces the risk of IT disruption as a result of natural disasters, introduces flexibility and agility into IT systems and delivery and lowers overall IT costs, particularly around the areas of maintenance and on-going support.

Those that have made the shift to cloud benefit from predictable and efficient IT operations driven by standards and processes that have evolved from more stringent private sector demands around performance, accountability and adherence to standards of services or SLAs.

The Australia Government’s Cloud First policy follows similar directives from governments across Asia, including Singapore and Hong Kong. The administration’s just-released Report of the National Commission of Audit May 2014 canvasses a digital cloud first approach to whole-of-government IT procurement. Among the recommendations, this report requires agencies to be proactive about digital and cloud-first operations. With a focus on cost-savings, and large-scale cut-backs in Canberra, the commission acknowledge the role of technology to deliver wide-spread savings, while reducing duplication, and streamlining services.

Government agencies are looking for platforms that are easy to setup, maintain and require minimal support or intervention. In our experience, many take a phased approached to adopting cloud solutions with email and calendar services typically being one of the first to be migrated over to the cloud. Once users become familiar with the technology and see the benefits of cloud-based systems, file-sharing, mobility services, instant messaging and collaboration services follow.

The Obama Presidential election campaign proved that having a web presence is an effective channel for reaching and engaging with your constituents. Today almost every government department has a website to engage with its constituents.

We are seeing government agencies embrace a common philosophy of adopting an enterprise vision, driving enterprise thinking and implementing enterprise solutions. This trend empowers them to be more agile and responsive to end-users which in turn mean systems and processes that are more aligned to the changing behaviour of citizens towards public service delivery.

Security, reliability, ease of use and automation are central tenets of cloud-based services. The underlying platform must be architected for web use. Many public sector agencies around the world have discovered the benefits of cloud computing. With cloud-based solutions, IT can focus on strategic areas like delivering new and innovative services while ensuring day-to-day services like email and collaborative systems remain unhampered.

There will come a time in the very near future when users will not even bother to think about the underlying technology or channel for the delivery of day-to-day services. For them, it’s all about the service and the experience.

  • Andrew Goodwin is a director with Datacom.