Currently, the public sector IT community faces an environment where the only certainty is uncertainty. This predicament is down to the Brexit vote. It is becoming harder to entice stressed and distracted ministers to think about much else in the wake of government being reshaped to consult and deliver a new role for the UK in the world.

[easy-tweet tweet=”CTOs should take the opportunity to fix their underlying IT infrastructures.” hashtags=”cloud, tech”]

No-one knows which form Brexit will take, and there are many possibilities, so its impact on the wider public sector in the four nations of the UK is hard to pin down. That means government policy on everything from borders to farm payments could be up in the air for years – Brexit complicates life for government CTOs and CDOs. Digital and technology projects linked to policy will have to wait for a clearer picture.

However, there are also reasons to be cheerful. Rather than waiting for the go ahead on projects that may never materialise, CTOs should take the opportunity to fix their underlying IT infrastructures. With flexible, low cost infrastructure and skilled development teams in place, technologists can be agile when the time comes for them to implement new government policies and build new services. Now is the time for cloud.

Making healthy gains

Ex-Minister Francis Maude set the tone for Cloud when he announced the ‘Cloud First’ policy for central government in 2013, making it clear that Cloud is one of the few bright spots in a static public sector IT market. Cloud services, including SaaS, PaaS and IaaS, only accounted for around two per cent of overall public sector IT spend at that time, but has been growing at a very healthy 45 percent per year since.

‘Cloud First’ was characterised as a policy that would essentially drag the unwilling adopters of government IT into the 21st century. However, this was deemed to be unfair; public sector IT professionals have long since understood the potential benefits of cloud and ‘as-a-service’ delivery models.

[easy-tweet tweet=”‘Cloud First’ aims to drag the unwilling adopters of government IT into the 21st century.” hashtags=”cloud, tech”]

Kable’s 2016 survey told us  public sector IT professionals expected to gain:

  • Greater flexibility and scalability in computing resources (19%)
  • Improved IT efficiency and agility (17%)
  • Great cost effectiveness (17%)
  • Reduced capital expenditure (16%)
  • Mobile and ubiquitous access to applications and services (15%)
  • Greener IT (11%)
  • Other (5%)

A simple and quick route

Following the positive wave of optimism after GDS was founded, ‘Cloud First’, with its focus on commodity public cloud services, was greeted with enthusiasm. New digital teams, bringing agile working practices to government for the first time, often found public cloud services quicker and easier than their own IT departments to work with. The first generation of digital services were well suited: greenfield, handling little sensitive data, and with light backend integration requirements.

G-Cloud has been an excellent vehicle for those early cloud projects: not just commodity IaaS, but also SaaS tools supporting new collaborative ways of working. It offers buyers a simplified, quick route to access a wide range of suppliers, especially SMEs who are often shut out of the public sector market. On average, the public sector is now spending over £50m per month via G-Cloud (although some 80 per cent of that has been for professional services, rather than SaaS, PaaS and IaaS).

Where there’s hope, there’s hype

The next wave – call it public sector cloud 2.0 – is being driven by the transformation of existing services, rather than brand new projects. Opportunities will be opened up as legacy IT outsourcing contracts come to an end, and organisations look to shift workloads to the cloud.

Kable analysis of G-Cloud sales data – supported by anecdotal evidence from suppliers – suggests that sales growth has reached a plateau. Public sector cloud is still in its infancy and has huge growth potential, but much of the low-hanging fruit has gone.

As my colleague Gary Barnett has argued, people sometimes talk about cloud as if it had magical, unicorn-like properties. And herein lies the issue. The ins-and-outs of the reality of cloud migration is ignored and buyer enthusiasm is not always backed up by expertise. We see evidence of this in cloud-hosted government digital services apparently not architected for cloud potentially crashing under completely predictable demand spikes, for example, DVLA’s digital tax disc registration, and GDS’s Register to Vote service, for example.

Making a success of cloud is not about swapping out expensive infrastructure for cheap public infrastructure, and it’s not about G-Cloud. It’s about enterprise architecture; data quality projects; new deployment processes, governance models, security policies and service management. It’s about hybrid cloud and cloud orchestration. It’s anything but simple.

[easy-tweet tweet=”People sometimes talk about cloud as if it had magical, unicorn-like properties.” hashtags=”cloud, tech”]

Here comes Cloud 2.0

The competitive landscape is also changing. As requirements evolve, a number of UK-based SMEs have succeeded on the back of a public sector preference for UK data centres. Life will unfortunately become more challenging for them as public cloud giants Microsoft and AWS open UK data centres this year. Systems integrators, including IBM, CSC and others, can additionally provide hybrid cloud services on a large scale.

In the wake of Brexit, smaller players could end up relying on client fears about data sovereignty to keep them in business. However, it would be preferable for suppliers to offer a positive vision to the public sector, not just a negative one.

Tackling the barriers to cloud adoption should be the main priority, using services such as data governance frameworks, security audits and migration programme management. SMEs also need to start getting over the G-Cloud hype. Some suppliers have learnt the hard way that Digital Marketplace is no substitute for sales and marketing – this is becoming even more apparent as buyer needs become more complex and less suited to G-Cloud. Those suppliers that wish to remain in the commodity space will need partners that can bring them into clients’ hybrid environments.

Above all, suppliers should be helping clients to build their own expertise and knowledge, so that the UK government can become the well-informed customer for cloud services that it aspires to be. And, perhaps, to get its infrastructure into shape for the day when politicians and the public finally decide just what Brexit means for the future.

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Jessica Figueras is Chief Analyst at Kable where she leads a team of around 20 analysts, journalists and researchers. Jessica advises clients on the impact of UK government policy on the ICT industry, with focus areas including digital transformation, legacy renewal, sourcing policy, software development and analytics in government. During her 20 years in the tech sector, Jessica has been a regular advisor to C-level executives, commentator and speaker.  As an analyst she has published extensively on enterprise technology, specialising in vertical sectors (government and telecom), SMEs, digital and mobile. Previously Jessica has been a strategy consultant, director at a London-based digital start-up and Practice Leader at Ovum. She has an MA from the University of Cambridge and a Diploma in Computing from the Open University.