Open the door for cloud computing

The onset of the global financial crisis that began in 2007, the effects of which are still being experienced today, has given rise to a fundamental shift in thinking on how governments invest their annual budgets.  
Since the coalition between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties took the reigns of power in the UK in 2010 the reduction of the nation’s unsustainable budget deficit has been the core policy. This has cultivated an environment for intelligent dialogue on viable techniques that can be implemented to achieve this aim and has given new perspective and fresh impetus to the work of the Cabinet Office on what had been colloquially termed the G-Cloud.

As a result, we have seen the government’s recent ICT strategy taking a stance towards improving public services for less cost. The objective is to improve productivity and efficiency, reduce waste and the likelihood of project failure through reuse and sharing of our ICT assets.

By opening up public service delivery through online transactional services for citizens and businesses, and creating channels for collaboration and policy debate, we can expect to see a more flexible and scalable government ICT system that can be maintained efficiently and cost effectively.
Challenges
When it comes to ICT, there are a number of challenges confronting the government. One of the main challenges is coping with the ballooning labour, capital, energy and outsourcing costs associated with running government data centres that are often artificially silo’d by departmental specific services.

According to independent analyst house, IDC, IT budgets are increasingly strained by the rising cost of personnel required to maintain and manage the data centre. Administration costs for servers have spiked by 400 percent since 1996 and shockingly, now comprise the single largest cost within the data centre. Equally, by nature of their design, implementation and loading, legacy servers are expensive, capital intensive and severely inefficient and under-utilised.
Of course, driving the need for costly data centres is our on-demand society, which assumes nearly universal access to real-time data and analytics in a resilient, secure environment. These demands are being further driven by a proliferation of data sources, mobile devices, radio frequency identification systems, unified communications, web 2.0 services and technologies such as mashups. These rising expectations are also creating demands of data centres that IT administrators are challenged to satisfy.
And along came cloud computing
This is why cloud computing has now properly re-entered the debate on how government can improve its ICT system and cost effectively.

Cloud computing is at its heart a new delivery model for IT based upon shared infrastructure in which large pools of systems are linked together in private or public networks to provide IT services.

This means that government can benefit from having the flexibility of scaling up when additional ICT services are needed (e.g. the tax return deadline) and scaling down when possible to meet periods of demand while avoiding extended periods of under-utilised IT capacity.

With the click of a mouse, services can be quickly expanded or contracted without requiring overhauls to the core data centre. This ‘elastic’ model enables government to dramatically reduce costs currently being spent on maintaining multiple data centres which are not necessarily operating at capacity, and at the same time maintaining quality public services. In order to achieve this government must become adept at the principles of agile delivery and subscribe to open standards that providers can be held to account to both in the procurement and subsequent delivery of solutions.
Soaring costs
The increasing strain on government ICT spending is expected to soar. With the vast increase of portable devices and limited storage capacity, cloud computing is undoubtedly going to become central to government ICT, as traditional methods for storing data will simply not be feasible, especially cost wise. Access to clouds will enable government to transcend the limitations currently experienced with its data centres and provide a level of functionality, which would normally be associated with much larger and costly machines.

Cloud computing presents a pay-as-you-go payment model, known as an operational expenditure system. Unlike a traditional capital expenditure payment system, this payment model will enable government to dramatically lower its ICT costs and balance cash flow over the life of a contract. As a result, having predictable costs means that budgeting can be more effective and realistic. The issue of ballooning labouring costs is also eliminated as reduced IT management overheads allow costs to be kept to a minimum.

Overall, cloud computing can offer an extremely low cost of ownership, which is an essential prerequisite of the age of austerity, enabling government to more easily reinvest in its infrastructure and answer the question, “how do I do more with fewer resources?”
New projects
Government is continuously faced with having to implement new projects and services, and these often rely heavily on its ICT system which must be updated quickly in order to cope with the influx of new data and individual project demands.

Updating the government ICT system is usually a very timely, tedious and expensive process. Due to the government only dealing with a handful of contracted vendors, upgrades and new software implementations are automatically limited, meaning that the best solution for the project is not always selected – leading to timeframes which are in some cases twice as long as they should be.

Cloud computing fosters public sector innovation by enabling organisations to explore quickly and cost effectively the potential of new, IT-enabled business enhancements that can grow with unprecedented scale. Again though, to realise this and transition away from the departmental silos government must first establish clear guidelines on the practice of agile delivery and the use of open standards to change both buying and delivery behaviours.

To move forward, one must begin to look differently at how the delivery of cloud can help drive innovation. As the first step, government IT executives must reposition themselves as leaders who can bring their organisations to new levels of performance and efficiency through IT, while also focusing on improving service, reducing costs and managing growing risks in an ever-connected world.

With cloud computing, government can benefit from instant deployments as well as having higher reliability and greater fault tolerance with its ICT system. As a direct impact, the public can begin reaping the benefits of the cloud as new public services are delivered on time and greater flexibility of services is achieved, providing overall enhanced service levels. As cloud computing liberates organisations to deliver IT services as never before, government can achieve IT services previously thought impossible and to the real benefit of the nation, who will have access to a host of new services.
Improving service delivery
In adopting cloud based services, the government could potentially benefit from rapid service delivery results. This is due to having the ability to orchestrate tasks to create, configure, provision and add computing power in support of IT and business services much more quickly than would be possible with today’s public sector computing infrastructure and delivery models.

Arguably cloud computing also helps government to take control and positively reinforce efforts for customer and voter satisfaction by being able to provide a faster time to market, good information management and effective service management initiatives, which also support service delivery initiatives. Debates over poor government ICT could soon become a thing of the past, with cloud computing promoting IT optimisation and ensuring that IT resources are configured for maximum cost-benefit.

Not only does cloud computing deliver a lower cost base and greater return on IT spending, but it also promotes more efficient and effective use of technical staff. IT labour costs alone represent as much as 70 per cent of an IT operating budget. With its highly autonomic character, cloud computing eliminates much of the time traditionally required to requisition, provision and maintain IT infrastructure.
Further savings
Cloud computing also yields significant cost savings in the real estate required for the data centre as well as power and cooling costs.

Thanks to virtualisation and the cloud’s capability of tapping resources (either through a private cloud or tapping publicly available cloud resources), data centres can rein in the relentless pressure to expand their physical footprint. This space saving translates into reduced energy consumption, an important consideration in light of the fact that power and cooling costs for data centres have risen eight-fold over the past 12 years, and are now in the spotlight for the reduction in carbon through the CRC taxes.

Cloud services by nature can be delivered as a service and do not need to be implemented in the government’s current data centres, whilst still leaving full management, control and security assurances with the public sector IT executives.

Studies have documented that cloud computing can save 80 per cent on floor space and 60 per cent on power, while tripling asset utilisation. Taking this statistic into consideration, it is needless to argue the benefits of cloud computing and the desire for it to be adopted by government.

Putting cost aside for one moment, the flexibility and scalability that cloud computing offers alone, make it a real contender for substantially improving the government’s current ICT system and public services overall, as laid out in the new government ICT strategy.

As an independent observer, a target reduction in government IT spend on data centres of £2 billion per annum is a realistic target to achieve within five years and provides the priority for further investigation of the government procurement changes necessary to achieve this, thus protecting more investment in real front line services.

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