What’s awaiting government executives in the cloud?

9 Jun 2010

Both risks and opportunities face public sector leaders as they think about investing in cloud computing. Paul Duff is senior executive and head of Accenture Ireland’s health and public service unit.

Is cloud computing really for government?

Cloud computing is gaining momentum as one of the major trends that will reshape how governments use technology and manage IT challenges over the next five to 10 years. No leading government organisation can ignore it, but many are still near the beginning of serious efforts to understand its potential uses, costs and risks.

Certainly the capabilities and potential savings from clouds are too great to ignore. That is why the critical question has shifted from whether cloud computing will become a fundamental part of most IT operations – it will – to how successful will government players be in tapping cloud benefits and managing risks associated with this fast-growing element of the IT universe?

How can government executives come to a timely and focused evaluation of cloud computing?

Organisations need to look for ways to reduce costs and improve services that can be served by cloud computing and understand cloud limits.

For example, complex legacy IT systems are not good candidates for migration to a cloud. Based on experiences from the commercial world, one of the greatest benefits of a cloud for governments will be enabling new processes, applications and services that had been too difficult or expensive to previously offer.

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.

Government executives need to look at return-on investment business cases based on actual cloud usage, rather than basing decisions on estimates of anticipated savings. Hidden management, transition and usage costs are also likely and need to be uncovered and assessed early.

What about security and data-privacy concerns?

These are the primary concerns for cloud implementers in government and in the private sector. But the reality is that IT systems often consist of highly fragmented landscapes of security and data privacy.

Using a move to cloud computing to drive more consistency and automation in security and data privacy should be viewed as a potential catalyst for driving greater security and reduced costs of meeting security needs.

Governments should always include security and data privacy capabilities of cloud services as a major part of the selection process.

Cloud data security is not a new and untested area and potential providers should have advanced capabilities to ensure security, mitigate risk and map their approaches to any security mandates brought to them by potential cloud users in government.

Many government executives are beginning to grapple with cloud risks and opportunities and the costs of writing off current IT investments, while others have begun the transition to a hybrid of cloud and conventional computing.

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.

Photo: Paul Duff, senior executive and head of Accenture Ireland’s health and public service unit

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