During a time of accelerated digital transformation and rapid adoption of digital tools, governments are adjusting to the new normal that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about. Internet-savvy, digitally connected citizens demand the same level of service from their government as they do from a company competing for their business with the latest digital tools. Governments are responding to change by updating their digital services, augmenting their data analytics capabilities, and putting in place digital economy development plans.
However, the adoption of cloud computing still faces barriers in the public sector. It remains a challenge for policy makers to establish security, data protection policies, and actual deployment that balance the need to protect data with the need to enable secure data flows.
Let’s go through the benefits the cloud offers the public sector, existing barriers, and ways to overcome them.
Cloud Computing Overview
Cloud computing is increasingly recognized as a core technological building block for digital innovation. Moving government systems into a cloud environment and integrating its full capabilities into new digital solutions can help future-proof public services. The move from on-premises solutions to cloud solutions (“cloud deployment”) can be a gradual process, and different options are available, including private cloud, hybrid cloud, and public cloud deployments.
Cloud computing is a model for the delivery of on-demand computing solutions including networks, servers, storage, applications, and services. These services are provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction, typically over the internet and on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Not all clouds are the same. There are different ways to deliver cloud services. How exactly do the different models ultimately differ?
Public clouds are cloud services rendered over a network open to the public and are the most common type of cloud. Public clouds include cloud resources like servers and storage delivered over the internet and shared with other organizations or cloud tenants. Public cloud infrastructure is owned and operated by a third-party cloud service provider that maintains and manages all the associated software, hardware, storage, and network devices.
Public clouds offer advantages like low cost, high reliability, and the flexibility to scale up or down as needed without a long-term commitment to a vendor or restraint by license capacity. Popular public cloud service providers include Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, IBM Cloud, and Microsoft Azure.
Private clouds are clouds owned and operated by a single organization, enabling it to share computing devices, information, data, and other resources on-demand. A private cloud may be managed by the organization or by a third party, hosted internally or externally. Private clouds require a commitment to operating and securing a virtualized business environment.
Private clouds offer advantages like flexibility to customize your cloud to accommodate current and changing business needs, the control that comes from ownership, and the scalability and efficiency of a public cloud. Up-front costs are significant but may be amortized to make sense for a long-term strategy. Some vendors in the private cloud arena are Amazon Web Services, Cisco, Dell, Google Cloud, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and VMware.
A hybrid cloud is a cloud-computing service composed of a combination of private and public cloud services. Hybrid clouds give organizations the flexibility to customize resource allocation with outside cloud services while retaining necessary control and security of internal resources and enabling workloads to move between private and public infrastructure as needs and costs change. In short, hybrid clouds allow an organization to leverage the advantages of public and private clouds. Vendors in the hybrid cloud space include Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, and Rackspace.
Benefits of Cloud Computing for Governments
Cloud computing reduces the cost of purchasing, setting up, and running and maintaining technology services. Cloud computing offers governments the opportunity to streamline technology operations and greatly improve efficiency, particularly reflected in the time it takes to process citizen-facing transactions.
Cloud computing also allows governments to respond in an agile manner to citizen requirements and allows public services to scale where required; for instance, in cases when services may face peak demand periods, such as filing online tax returns just before a deadline. Using cloud computing allows governments to handle demand spikes without service interruptions, as technology support is scaled as required.
Similarly, cloud computing improves government resilience and offers business continuity and
disaster recovery services when there might be outages caused by a natural disaster or other adverse event. Cloud computing increases government resilience to cybersecurity threats, as in many cases cloud deployments offer stronger cybersecurity and privacy capabilities and protections (such as security engineers, intelligence and threat monitoring systems), which they may otherwise find difficult to resource and keep updated.
Cloud computing also allows governments to achieve better technological and analytical capabilities. Otherwise, they may struggle to access, for example, artificial intelligence and machine learning, which offer supercomputing power for large-scale data processing and analytic capabilities.
Finally, a move to cloud computing helps facilitate human resource development paths in the public sector and also helps future-proof government infrastructure, as moving to the cloud requires all technology professionals to keep up to date with the latest equipment and software, rather than focus on maintaining aging technology platforms.
How Cloud Computing Can Improve Government Services
Cloud computing reduces costs. Instead of having to invest heavily in data centers and servers with limited advance knowledge of their eventual usage, cloud computing allows users to pay only for computing resources that are consumed. Users are able to swap capital expenses for variable operational expenses.
Cloud computing streamlines operations and improves efficiency. Using cloud-based tools allows governments to reduce processes and streamline operations. Cloud platforms give governments access to productivity tools that they can use to consolidate administrative and operational processes and remotely exchange information among multiple stakeholders.
Cloud computing improves agility and allows public services to scale. In a cloud computing environment, software solutions, data storage, and computational capacity can be deployed faster, making government agencies highly nimble in adjusting to citizen needs. In comparison to traditional infrastructure, the deployment of information and communications technology resources is reduced from weeks to just minutes.
Cloud computing improves resilience with better business continuity and disaster recovery. The benefits of the cloud in relation to business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) are not limited to capital expenditure savings. Using the cloud can improve resilience through customized BCDR mechanisms that can distribute and/or replicate data and workloads across multiple data centers in disparate geographic locations on a near-real-time basis. This helps governments mitigate against geographically concentrated risks, without the cost or complexities of operating multiple data centers themselves.
Cloud computing facilitates human resource development. Cloud computing not only enables in-house developers to be more productive by shifting development teams from legacy platforms to a state-of-the-art development platform where they have industry-leading tools and services at their disposal, but also improves talent acquisition and retention within a highly competitive sector.
Barriers and Solutions to Cloud Adoption by Governments
According to Gartner, 63% of government cloud-computing initiatives have succeeded. Failures occur in production rather than in the pilot phase, and the failure of government cloud deployments (24%) is nearly triple that of the all-industry average (9%).
The most common issues narrow down to the following:
Lack of processes for data protection or security
Poor understanding of cloud cost structures and the utility procurement model
Human resource legacy issues in skill development and acquisition
It remains a challenge for policy makers to establish security and data protection policies that balance the need to protect data with the need to enable secure data flow. Some governments have put in place restrictive regulations (e.g., data localization). Others have developed multiple technical and security policies that overlap with existing international standards, creating a complex mesh of conflicting policies.
Other barriers to cloud adoption are outdated cost structures and public procurement modalities. In many cases, government agencies may want to purchase cloud services, but the existing purchasing rules may not allow utility-based variable cost items, such as cloud services, to be purchased. Updating such policies may require legislative changes, which would take significant time to be proposed and passed officially.
There are also technical barriers for the adoption of cloud computing, as technical knowledge of the specific requirements in the public sector is required to begin the system design and cost-estimation processes. In some instances, personnel may not be available, and external resources may need to be brought in.
Apart from these barriers to adoption, governments need to manage the vendor concentration risk (i.e., relying on a single or a small number of vendors) that is typical for digital technology projects. Given that cloud computing relies on stable internet connectivity, it should be a key consideration for adoption and a determinant of the configuration that is eventually chosen.
This paper offers three recommendations for how governments should start to adjust their policies to enable greater cloud adoption.
First, governments should establish a conducive regulatory environment that supports the adoption of cloud computing in the public sector. This could include:
Limiting data localization policies that might be in place
Establishing cross-border data transfer mechanisms
Implementing a data classification framework that allows for different types of data to be managed differently
Creating an interoperable cloud system for the government, which may benefit from an iterative policy process where adjustments and harmonization can be negotiated in the case of conflicting policies
Second, governments should establish a clear and robust cloud strategy and adoption plan. This would include details on their intended migration and/or implementation approach, underpinned by an overarching government cloud policy.
Finally, governments should ensure that in-house support is provided to guide government institutions on their journey of adoption. This could be achieved through the designation or creation of a dedicated unit or center of excellence, as well as a cloud procurement marketplace that would allow fast and safe assessment and purchase of cloud services for public sector deployment.
When embarking on cloud adoption, governments should:
• Consider adopting a cloud-first or cloud-by-default approach as a whole-of-government
• Clearly define and manage the scope and timeline of projects.
• Retrain IT professionals and give them clear career paths, focusing on new skills.
• Ensure that procurement vehicles are suitable for cloud computing.
• Consider the creation of internal support teams that provide advisory services and support to
agencies, integrating or building new cloud services.
• Ensure that strategies and road maps for advanced technologies (such as artificial intelligence) acknowledge the foundational role of the cloud and consider linkages with the cloud strategy.
Governments around the world are digitally transforming the way they deliver citizen services through cloud computing. Rapid changes in technology have created opportunities for governments to take advantage of the benefits of cloud computing to reduce the costs of upgrading legacy technologies, develop new and agile mechanisms for e-government, allow human resource skill set upgrading, and improve public sector resilience and recovery capabilities in times of crisis.
However, there are still barriers to widespread public sector adoption of cloud computing, such as the need for government policy makers to better understand cloud-computing characteristics and the need for more training to implement data protection and security for government cloud operations.
Government-wide policy adjustments could also be made, such as reworked purchasing mechanisms to enable easier cloud computing selection and procurement, and the reform of human resource management to ensure that a steady stream of trained technology staff are hired to support the use of cloud technologies by the government.
Governments should therefore strive to create enabling regulatory conditions that support public sector use of cloud computing. It is best that these regulations are iterated on a regular basis by a central authority, to address a possible fragmentation of policy approaches. This includes coordinating regionally to achieve greater consistency of accountability requirements and the adoption of international technical standards governing information security, which would enable cross-border information sharing and promote interoperability.
Governments should also work to ensure a clear and robust cloud strategy, such as a cloud migration and/or implementation approach, underpinned with an overarching policy such as a cloud-first strategy.
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