A Cant Miss Opportunity

As global companies like Citigroup and Starbucks have known for some time, cloud technologies offer huge opportunities in terms of reduced computing costs, faster speed, and greater flexibility.

These same benefits exist for governments. And while the journey in getting there may be a rocky one due to the different environment governments live in, the final destination should be well worth the effort.

A Closer Look

Cloud computing can be defined as the dynamic provisioning of IT capabilities whether hardware, software, or services via the internet. In general, a cloud based model provides rapid acquisition, low to no capital investment, relatively low operation costs, and variable pricing tied directly to use.

Organizations add processing power by simply attaching more servers. Everything is virtualized so that software can be operated on any available server with excess capacity. With everything hosted on the cloud, users can run processes and build applications without loading every tool onto their computers.

Envisioned with cloud is a cross-government sharing system that allows citizens to access everything they need from a common portal. Data security is provided at the appropriate levels through a government cloud, with governments specifying the sensitivity of the data, and the cloud storing it according to defined rules.

The Benefits

Here is a closer look at the key benefits:

  • Cost – Significant savings are realized by eliminating the cost of servers, software licenses, maintenance fees, data center space, electricity, and IT labor, with the upfront capital expense replaced by the low pay-as-you-go operating expense. The governments can use it as a low cost way to provide IT services to non-government organizations, community organizations, or small start-up businesses.
  • Flexibility – Clouds grow when needed, and shrink or disappear once projects end. This makes it particularly applicable for seasonal or temporary needs or to supplement conventional systems whenever the needs arise.
  • Speed – Cloud computing makes governments agile and responsive. For those applications that require a significant amount of IT infrastructure (ie, servers and storage), cloud alleviates the traditional lead time previously needed to procure, deliver, and install the hardware.

Getting Started

Executives need to take an active role in the process, not leaving important decisions when it comes to exploring opportunities, developing strategies, and managing risk to the discretion of IT departments.

Strategies often involve integrating legacy IT with both public clouds (for multiple organizations for use of non-sensitive data applications and developments and test work) and private clouds (for dealing with sensitive data). Private clouds are restricted infrastructure that use cloud computing technologies, but are only shared by approved organizations. Used within single governments, or possibly shared by both local and central government departments, private clouds are likely to play a key role in the evolution of cloud computing by governments.

Globally, governments are quickly realizing the opportunity. The US federal government recently launched Apps.gov, an online storefront for national agencies to purchase cloud based IT services for productivity, collaboration, and efficiency. In addition to changing how its IT operates, the government believes it will eventually save taxpayer dollars.

The Japanese government plans to create the Kasumigaseki cloud, a nationwide cloud computing infrastructure that could eventually host all of that country’s government IT systems. Japan hopes to reduce electronic government-related development and operating costs while increasing the pace of processing by integrating shared functions, increasing collaboration among systems, and promising secure and advanced services.

In the UK, meanwhile, there are plans to create the G-cloud, a government-wide cloud computing network intended to permit higher levels of standardization and sharing of IT services across government departments. G-cloud would provide government with the core attributes of cloud – enhanced user experience, flexible and reduced pricing, elastic scaling, rapid provisioning – while maintaining appropriate levels of security, accountability, and control.

The Barriers

Governments, of course, must look at cloud computing through different lenses than the commercial sector. How do you reconcile cloud technologies with your past investments? How do you agree on standards for technologies that will be shared by other organizations and departments? How do you respond to having government data and processing performed outside the country? And how do you work within a procurement process which may reduce your flexibility to use cloud services?

Governments and businesses, justifiably so, worry over data being stolen or compromised by hackers, mixed with data from the cloud providers’ other users, or mistakenly released. After all, a nation’s security could be at risk.

Yet, governments are already working with public cloud providers to send, manage, and store highly sensitive information, using encryption with access and storage security measures. IT leaders, as they have done in the past, will need to establish a ‘risk baseline’ for their adoption of cloud computing.

The governments may struggle with the challenges of moving their IT systems to the cloud. It will mean making some tough decisions and ‘sacred cows’ may need to be sacrificed along the way. Yet, cloud computing is the future and the sooner an organization adopts it, the greater the benefits are likely to be.

The author is managing director, technology, Accenture India

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