The cloud v the State

23 Mar 2011

Cloud computing is an opportunity for the Irish State to revolutionise services to citizens and businesses and, most importantly, cut costs and become leaner and more efficient.

The author of a recent economic report on the cloud computing opportunity for Ireland said he believes the public sector would be the ideal beneficiary of cloud computing. John Finnegan of Goodbody Economic Consultants, author of a cloud impact study commissioned by Microsoft, said the public sector would be an ideal beneficiary of cloud computing.

“Revenue sources have been reduced for government. The cloud provides centralised control, bringing services closer to citizens.” He said the Local Government Computer Services Board already proved how it was possible to create a database of cross-county planning applications for a negligible cost. Tim Willoughby, assistant director, Local Government Computer Services Board, was responsible for what is probably the first iteration of cloud computing in Irish Government.

Willoughby and his team developed a cloud app linking together all local planning approvals on a single online map. The app pulls together all the data – until now only available county by county – onto a single map, by pulling all the XML data into one place. He explained that a controversial letter sent by the chief state solicitor warning government IT bosses to be wary of buying cloud computing solutions had done a lot of good in ensuring that managers were able to assemble a checklist of things to look out for and ensure high

“It got rid of some of the snake oil salesmen and meant businesses that were approaching us had done their homework and were willing to meet high standards.”

Willoughby said cloud adoption in Irish state institutions is inevitable but what needs to be conquered is a fear of the unknown.

“The key is finding out exactly what the cloud offers and putting together value propositions. The cloud does not mean we’ll be ripping out ERP systems or making changes to core data, what it should mean instead is high availability of services. By moving infrastructure to the cloud, engineers don’t need to spend time in server rooms, they just need laptops.”

Minister for Technology

The next Government should set a 100-day target to grasp Ireland’s cloud computing opportunity and spearhead this by appointing a Minister for Technology.

This was the view of Kevin O’Loughlin, managing director of Nostra Systems, who highlighted the need at cabinet level to set an ambitious early target to grasp the potential of cloud computing to deliver jobs, public service cost savings and attract foreign investment.

“Speed is of the essence,” said O’Loughlin. “Cloud computing is still in its infancy, but it is growing up fast. Other countries are eyeing up these opportunities too. Ireland must move quickly and decisively to make itself a global cloud computing centre of excellence.

“There is broad agreement that our public services need major reform and cost reductions. Cloud computing offers productivity solutions that will deliver enhanced public services and demonstrate Ireland’s commitment to its use.

“Cloud technology offers big benefits to the public sector as it can deliver major productivity gains and lower the costs of delivery as well as improving the quality of services for people. The cloud provides centralised control and brings services closer to citizens at lower cost. Pilot projects such as the database of Irish cross-county planning applications already show what can be done.

“The new Government should implement a high-profile cloud project to showcase Ireland’s expertise to a global audience. The strong presence in Ireland of global technology and communications companies such as Microsoft, Google, Intel and so many others will ensure an attentive worldwide audience for what Ireland does,” O’Loughlin said.

He added that IDA Ireland has an opportunity to create a cluster of world leaders in cloud computing if it can convince them that the new Irish Government understands and embraces the potential of cloud. Not only that, but Irish SMEs can reach global markets with fewer barriers to entry.

“If the Irish Government grabs the opportunity to support small to medium-sized enterprises, the cloud can generate additional economic growth and turn our economy around. Ireland can continue to assert its role as a site for technology leadership.

“Cloud computing is the coming force in technology. In time, it will be seen to have the same socioeconomic impact on manufacturing and all categories of work as piped water and electricity did in the past.

“Our next Government, including a Minister for Technology, needs to listen to, and work closely with, national leaders in companies like Microsoft to map out how to attract cloud computing organisations to Ireland. We have a unique shortterm opportunity. We must take it,” O’Loughlin recommended.

Kevin Hickey, project manager and lead developer at Digiweb, isn’t convinced the Irish Government is going to make a dramatic and sudden move to the cloud.

“If the Government moved to the cloud tomorrow it would incur more cost to the taxpayer than would be saved. What is happening is they are getting recommendations from Europe who advise government advisers, they have said in their documents that governments should move core systems onto the cloud and should only do so with a defined exit strategy.

“The Government will be staying away from cloud for the short-term. As more confidence is gained in the cloud model, then I believe the Government will start to move their services onto the cloud, because it will mean less servers, more streamlined management and, ultimately, will reduce cost to the taxpayer.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years