Cloud in the government's pigeon coop?

Cloud in the government's pigeon coop?

A major barrier to cloud adoption is outdated socialist ICT strategy thinking. Leadership is required to confront naysayers that seek to defend an increasingly unsustainable ICT status quo.

Momentum in the public cloud is accelerating, particularly in the consumer realm. Nowhere is this more obvious than in our own households. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been the family CIO for the past decade. My job description has comprised procuring and supporting a growing fleet of PCs, laptops, mobile phones, modems, routers and storage devices. In years gone by my role was essential to the family’s ability to function digitally. I had ‘the knowledge’ and the systems were so failure prone that I was often the hero – recovering that lost homework assignment from the backup hard drive, reinstalling Windows (again) or installing a new program and getting it to work. Thanks Dad! Nonetheless, there were occasional disasters … lost family photos and tears (mine). Over the past few years, however, the home computer fleet has become dominated by Apple devices – the ubiquitous preference of the teenagers and now also my wife – and a strange thing is happening … I’m becoming redundant. Partially this is because the teenagers now know more about how to use software than I do, and what they don’t know they find out easily via Google, YouTube and their peer networks. It is also because less and less of the software that makes our family run resides in our house. The ability of the iMac, iPads, iPods and iPhones to seamlessly, easily and reliably integrate and share content through iTunes and the iCloud has been nothing short of amazing. My work here as the family CIO is done.

Hmmm … well we know that this is not true, but my work has changed. My users no longer need me to provide dedicated technology solutions for their personal productivity. They use interchangeable devices and standardised configurable software provided from the cloud. Cloud storage integrates the devices and backs up the data. If a device fails, no problem. Replace it and reload the data. The device is no longer ‘the thing’. ‘The thing’ is the software, and the software is now in the cloud – provided as a shared multi-tenant service for tens of millions of families worldwide. My creative energies are now freed up to finally get around to cataloguing and editing those family videos.

This happy scenario is, of course, a simplistic view when we consider the complexities of government ICT but there is value in admiring it to ‘see the wood from the trees’ and remind ourselves of the bigger trends that are going on in the ICT industry. The combination of mobile devices and cloud computing, lubricated by social networking systems and their culture of collaboration and sharing, is genuinely transforming the ICT landscape and accelerating the innovative use of ICT.

Why can’t governments also embrace this public cloud computing model? The root of the issue is, of course, government’s predilection for boundaries and bureaucracy. National, jurisdictional and legislative boundaries are reinforced by bureaucratic organisational structures to ‘cut and dice’ the government world into pigeon holes. Each agency, and division within an agency, is a pigeon. The pigeon holes create order in the pigeon coop.

We can’t change this organisational reality, but it is wasteful for each pigeon (to torture the analogy) to have its own dedicated ICT infrastructure and applications. We have seen waves of ICT strategies over the past decade aimed at consolidating, rationalising and standardising ICT resources across agencies as shared services. This ‘forced march’ agenda is hard work and has had mixed success. One reason is a culture of agency autonomy (pigeons, as it were, prefer the comfort of their own pigeon hole) but the other is that the ICT resources were never designed from the outset to be shared. Where shared ICT infrastructure and services have failed it is usually because the services were not architected as efficient, secure, multi-tenant environments delivered on an arms-length basis. Shared services strategies promised better, faster, cheaper ICT services but seldom fully delivered these benefits. Most agencies were reluctant recipients of ‘Trabant grade’ services in a closed internal socialist economy.

The public cloud computing model potentially offers a better way forward because cloud solutions are delivered in an open capitalist economy and are designed to accommodate many customers within an efficient and secure multi-tenant infrastructure and applications environment. A service designed for hundreds or thousands of customers and delivered by a trusted enterprise-grade provider can efficiently accommodate multiple agencies. Services iteratively evolve to take advantage of the latest developments in mobility, social networking and analytics. The cloud liberates agencies to choose ICT services that actually are better, faster and cheaper.

Cloud computing can succeed where previous whole-of-government ICT strategies have failed. Why? Because “cloudy is as cloudy does”. Cloud services already exist as proven operational services. This is a very simple proposition compared to earlier whole-of-government ICT strategies … “trust us comrade, the Trabant that we will build you will be a great car”. The cloud decision for agencies is simply whether or not to consume a service which is already working … it’s a no brainer.

Cloud enables the pigeons to access the economies of scale of shared ICT resources without challenging their preference to remain autonomous in their own pigeon holes.

One of the main barriers to cloud adoption, however, is outdated socialist ICT strategy thinking. Leadership is required to confront naysayers that seek to defend an increasingly unsustainable ICT status quo. Issues such as security and regulatory compliance are requirements needing solutions … not showstoppers. What agencies need are policy and procurement solutions that make it easier and safer to plan, buy and implement a move to the capitalist cloud.

It is encouraging to see that the New Zealand government is making practical steps towards cloud enablement through the IaaS panel contracts and the pending development of a business case for the adoption of cloud computing services. Let’s hope this case is developed with a strategic perspective and doesn’t become bogged down in pigeon droppings.

Dr Steve Hodgkinson is Research Director IT for Ovum Asia Pacific.

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