On 22 January 2018 I was interviewed by Russell Poole (RP), Managing Director of Equinix UK, about the role cloud computing may play in government innovation. The interview first appeared on the Equinix Blog.
RP: What has been the challenge for public sector organisations when it comes to cloud adoption?
EC: The era of austerity has put extraordinary pressure on public services. The English local government sector alone faces a funding gap of £5.8bn by 2020. Government and public sector organisations are therefore keen to embrace better, more cost-effective ways of working, but they are often held back by legacy systems, which were never designed to talk to each other or cope with the demand they’re experiencing today.
Digital government is offered as one solution for addressing this. Yet many initiatives tend to be quite superficial, looking only at the front face of digital transactions. Given the scale of the financial challenge facing local and central government, reform is needed behind the scenes. Only by looking at the end-to-end processes that deliver the services we use and rely on every day will it be possible to identify and enable efficiencies across the public sector. In this regard, cloud computing is likely to be a key enabler of smarter ways of working.
RP: Where could the application of cloud computing have the greatest impact?
EC: I’ve worked with public sector services for a number of years and a clear opportunity I see centres around making smarter use of data.
For example, to expand the use of shared services, local authorities need data to identify other local authorities with similar problems, with whom they can share solutions, resources and staff. If they want to predict and intervene early in problems before they become large and expensive to resolve, they need shared data. If they want to efficiently coordinate the actions of different teams, they need shared data. The unlimited computing power represented by the cloud holds part of the key to unlocking the potential of this data.
RP: What can we expect to see through the adoption of cloud computing in the public sector?
EC: Public sector organisations stand to gain the same advantages that their private sector cousins do from wide-scale cloud adoption. One of those advantages is not having to pay for computing capacity when it is not needed. A number of government transactional services see spikes in demand at certain times of year. Take tax returns for example. HMRC sees a huge peak in the submission of online self-assessment forms in March and April each year. Similarly, Student Loan applications experience spikes in May. In these instances, it simply doesn’t make sense to have huge amounts of expensive, in-house computing power sitting idle for much of the year. The ability to quickly ramp up and then ramp down capacity could, and should, have a major impact on the way the government does business.
And then there’s what’s built on top of the cloud. Software-as-a-Service (SAAS) at a local government level has huge potential. If frontline staff such as social workers or building inspectors are able to access live data in the field, the potential savings and improvements in their work could be significant. Currently, hundreds of public sector hours are wasted on trips back to central offices where data is entered and replicated. This simply doesn’t need to happen. The cloud, and all that it enables, has the power to be genuinely transformative to day-to-day public sector life.
Here in the UK, our national government has rightly developed an outstanding global reputation for its use of digital but more needs to be done. We’re convinced and excited by the potential of data analytics, data science and machine learning to improve local services. We see the cloud as a significant enabler of that.
But to achieve this, government and public sector bodies need to work with the IT industry to help collaboration and realise the difference that the cloud, and the technologies it enables, can make.