Cloud not ‘all or nothing’ gambit for Govt, Accenture says

19 May 2010

Moving Government IT systems to cloud computing doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing strategy, but if used right, the technology can help to introduce new applications and services for the public, Accenture has said.

No leading government organisation can afford to ignore the cloud computing trend but many are still only beginning to understand its potential uses, costs and risks, said John Ward, senior manager in Accenture Ireland’s cloud computing practice.

While there are many private sector cloud examples to learn from, there are some considerations unique to government agencies, such as the potential impact on citizen services and efficiency of operations; political sensitivities about public agency data management; security, privacy and reliability requirements; agency and workforce cultures; and limits on flexibility caused by procurement policies.

Cloud computing confusion

There is still some confusion in the market over the term ‘cloud computing’ and the assumption that it involves data being accessed over the public internet, with all of the data protection concerns that would bring.

Ward said the cloud concept can be used in a way that is more secure for a government’s needs. “Basic cloud technologies are well established and replicable to any organisation, making it possible for governments to build private clouds that restrict access to approved organisations, such as government departments or partner agencies,” he said.

“Cloud computing offers governments a range of potentially beneficial options, such as greater cross-governmental and citizen access to information, the ability to develop applications using pre-approved cloud-based platforms, standardisation of distinct data security controls and levels, a real-time competitive market for cloud services, and a greater ability to use data analytic techniques to detect errors and fraud,” Ward added.

The cloud is not a panacea and organisations need to understand its limitations. “For example, complex legacy IT systems are not good candidates for migration to a cloud,” Ward said. Based on experiences from the commercial world, the cloud might be better suited to enabling new processes, applications and services that had been too difficult or expensive to offer previously.

“The integration of public and private cloud capabilities with legacy IT systems as part of the overall IT strategy is appropriate for most government cloud users. Cloud computing is not an ‘all or nothing’ strategy,” he said.

Word of warning

The Accenture executive also warned against buying into the cloud concept purely on the basis of projected cost savings and warned of hidden charges in the model.

“Government executives need to look closely at return-on-investment business cases based on actual cloud usage, rather than basing decisions on estimates of anticipated savings. There will also likely be hidden management, transition and usage costs that need to be uncovered and assessed early and repeatedly in the decision-making process,” he said.

No discussion about the cloud fails to cover the security question, and Ward downplayed these concerns. “The reality is that IT systems often consist of highly fragmented landscapes of security and data privacy, carrying a high degree of risk and raising management cost,” he said. Moving to cloud computing should be seen as a potential catalyst for driving greater security and reduced costs of meeting security needs, Ward said.

Summing up, he said it was no longer a question of whether the cloud would become part of most IT operations. “The capabilities and potential savings from clouds are too great to ignore,” he concluded. 

By Gordon Smith

Photo: John Ward, senior manager in Accenture Ireland’s cloud computing practice

Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic