In 2013, the Government announced that it was adopting a ‘cloud first’ policy where public sector IT is concerned.  The policy is intended to allow central and local government organisations to exploit the potential cost savings and added flexibility of cloud services. The ultimate aim is to free up funds to be spent on improving front line services.
So, six years on, what has the effect of this policy been and how has public sector cloud usage changed?
A 2018 report by Eduserv  revealed that 62 per cent of local councils were storing data in the cloud. Whilst still some way below the level for commercial organisations, this is still an increase from the 52 per cent achieved in 2016.
According to the Cloud Industry Forum , barriers to cloud adoption in the public sector include budget constraints, skills shortages, and an overall reluctance to take risks. This means that public organisations have often chosen to target the low hanging fruit, moving already virtual services such as email to the cloud, while more substantial systems including databases, CRM systems and file servers have remained in-house.
Encouraging cloud use
So, what can be done to further encourage public sector bodies to make the move towards cloud-based systems? In 2017 a TechUK report  suggested that around half of civil servants were uncomfortable with the cloud, with many suggesting that security concerns were a major barrier.
In order to boost wider adoption, therefore, cloud providers need to ensure that services are easy to use and that the correct support is in place to deal with any issues that may arise. There also needs to be an effort to tackle a culture of inertia which often exists in the public sector. In order to do this, the Government needs to work with providers to highlight successful cloud projects and the benefits that they have delivered. This will help to establish a positive change culture.
In many cases, it’s also advantageous to move to a hybrid model. Rather than completely undertaking a shift to the cloud in one go, using a hybrid approach can help to allay any concerns as to where sensitive data is stored, while reducing the level of change needed for both IT teams and end users.
Of course, any shift to a new system in the cloud requires investment which may be hard to justify when budgets are tight. However, in many cases, legacy systems such as older versions of Windows which are reaching the end of their support life can provide an impetus for a move. Rather than spend money on extended support and keeping these older systems going, it’s likely to be more cost-effective to make the move to a cloud alternative.
Government organisations are often subject to changes in legislation that affect the way they operate. Here again, there is an opportunity to make a move towards cloud systems rather than try to cope with change using existing technology.
The private sector has seen exponential growth in the exploitation of big data in recent years. Information gathered from Internet of Things sensors can be used, in conjunction with machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies to improve service delivery. There’s no reason why the public sector shouldn’t exploit these technologies too, in order to provide better social care or more effective street cleaning. Once again, the cloud is essential to store and process this data effectively and allow councils and government departments to make the best use of it.
Adopting a cloud-first strategy is a step in the right direction, but the public sector still has some way to go to take full advantage of it.
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