Demystifying the G-Cloud

Does every cloud really have a silver lining? The answer, at least for many government departments, seems to be fairly inconclusive – with many clearly conflicted when it comes to the subject of how cloud computing can add value. So what are the benefits it can provide? Is the cloud still the future for the government?
When John Suffolk, the former government CIO first announced the G-Cloud, the aim was to help realise the Treasury’s Operational Efficiency Programme target of cutting £3.2bn from the public sector’s annual £16bn IT spend. However, this was met with a great deal of scepticism, with some arguing that it would require an unworkable change in the way government departments operated. Since then, we’ve seen the project take on a number of different guises, with some speculating that the government was ready to can the idea completely after the minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, neglected to mention the G-Cloud in his Government IT strategy outlined in March.
On the Government agenda
Nevertheless, it’s clear from the ICT Strategy’s insistence that the government should publish a cloud strategy by September 2011, that the adoption of cloud technology by the government is still very much on the agenda. This is something government departments would be well advised to pay close attention to.
With this in mind, HCL recently conducted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request into the views of government departments towards the technology. It revealed that the prevailing attitude to the cloud is one of confusion, and suggests that many within government question its effectiveness. Indeed, the FOI request found that only the Home Office and the Department for Work and Pensions have adopted any kind of cloud computing to date. Instead, many departments admitted that they either had no plans to adopt cloud computing over the next few years, or stated they will instead adhere to government ICT strategy and guidelines, reviewing use of the technology on a case-by-case basis.

Either way, it’s clear that we need to see widespread demystification of the cloud taking place if this reluctance and confusion is to be addressed. Indeed, if this country’s government is to avoid losing out on the opportunity to become a world leader in public sector IT, there has never been a greater need for education as to the benefits cloud computing can provide.
Separating hype and reality
While certainly not a panacea for all of the government’s IT challenges, cloud computing should continue to be seen as an integral part of the public sector’s strategy. There needs to be an accurate evaluation of the benefits these systems can bring to them and the UK population, before it can simply be dismissed as a ’risky’ solution. Perhaps it would benefit IT decision makers in the public sector if there was a clear separation of the hype from reality, so that they can understand the benefits cloud computing can deliver?
Another potential solution is to provide government departments with a simple dashboard for building, managing and integrating cloud systems, applications, and services from a variety of providers in order to lessen confusion and alleviate the IT burden.
Of course, that’s not to say that concerns attributed to the cloud – such as security, reliability, governance and compliance, are not valid. It’s clear that, if implemented correctly and effectively, benefits such as significant economic savings, greater departmental integration and fewer technical burdens, will well outweigh the negatives and justify the move during this difficult economic time.
Defining the cloud
It is also fair to say that a unified definition of cloud computing would go a long way to helping the UK government demystify this trend and encourage wide spread adoption. Until this is agreed, it will be a big ask for government departments to fully accept such a fundamental shift in the nature of computing. Furthermore, any conscious decision not to plan or test the cloud in the short term, could significantly affect public sector performance in a decade’s time.
Moving forwards
In summary, we need to see the government adopting a cloud-first policy in order to justify and encourage the shift to cloud computing that will inevitably improve government IT resources, creating impressive economic savings as a result. What needs to happen now is for the central UK government to lead the way in placing the cloud at the centre of IT strategy. Only then will adoption of cloud-based services filter down across the regions and various different departments.
This transformation could take years, as education of IT departments needs to become a stronger Government priority. Again, this is another key barrier to realising the benefits of the G-Cloud initiative. It goes without saying that if people are ignorant of the scale of the advantages, they will not push for cloud adoption.
Clarity, a unified definition, policies and increased education are also required if we are to see a large-scale adoption of cloud in government departments over the next few years. This of course requires central government guidelines on best practices and advisories on the adoption and maintenance of cloud computing systems.
Clearly, cloud computing is one of the most powerful emerging trends that will change the way entire countries are run today and into the years ahead. The question is whether or not the government will take the time to see the silver lining it could provide.

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