Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The UK Government Says It Wants to Move to the Cloud…Here’s Why It’s Not Happening Yet

by Alistair Smith, public sector lead at Contino

The UK Government Digital Service (GDS) and the digital teams within the central government departments have shown that a radically different way of delivering public sector services can be a success, helping the UK government to rank top in the world for digital innovation.

However, public sector delivery does still bear the scars of “big IT”: legacy and heritage systems, continually outsourced teams, and the ghosts of big bangs past. These are slowly making way for new behaviours, approaches and thinking, but it’s an evolving process.

The value of service exploration and innovation is potentially astronomical to citizens and delivery teams alike. The business of government (namely policy delivery) is, at its very core, dynamic and the services that underpin them should be too.

Iterative, DevOps-led value chains with rapid time-to-market and short feedback cycles would allow the public sector to increase its performance many times over, focusing limited technological budgets on what is required and efficiently delivering services to engage citizens.

A fundamental part of this is the use of scalable and reliable public cloud services, policy on which has recently been refreshed by the Cabinet Office in its ‘Cloud First’ guidance on the use of public cloud in public sector. This is a crucial enabler of digital innovation that allows departments to move much faster with potentially lower cost and reduced risk.

The Cloud First policy, originally published in 2013, mandates that during any procurement process public sector organisations should “consider and fully evaluate potential cloud solutions first – before they consider any other option”, whilst the guidance on use of the cloud seeks to reassure users that the public cloud is safe for sensitive data. A factor not yet fully embraced by departmental security teams.

But why does the government have to ‘refresh’ the emphasis on the public cloud? Because the message has not yet trickled down into actual widespread practice.

As James Stewart, Director of Technical Architecture and Head of Technology at GDS, commented: “we’ve still got lots of myths to bust and best practice to share”. Not least, how the security patterns and approaches (adopted in global financial services and retail for some time now) are different to those security measures and models currently employed.

Using public cloud services is the next logical step in driving public sector innovation forward, however, there’s a threat that the good work is being undone.

Said the Rt Hon Lord Francis Maude, the ministerial architect of the GDS: “just at the moment when the UK has just recently been ranked top in the world for digital government, we are beginning to unwind precisely the arrangements that had led to that … there is a sense these old structures in government, which are essentially about preserving the power of the mandarins, are being reasserted.”

The genie is, however, out of the bottle and the value of rapidly deployable, scalable services able to respond to business and user needs is now a common expectation across the private and public sector.

So, what’s stopping that next step? Click “Next Page” to read more.