The World Bank’s eDevelopment Thematic Group recently organized a one day workshop on Cloud Computing for Government (the so-called “g-cloud”). I was quite impressed by the results that migration towards cloud environments have shown in private sector settings; how many governments in developed countries are already adopting cloud environments (notably, US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore, among others); and how little is really known about cloud architecture and its potential to increase efficiency and effectiveness in delivering government services.
The whole webcast is available online, along with all the presentations from the speakers and panelists. Hopefully we will be able to edit a video with highlights of the day. In any case, the main takeaways I got from the workshop are the following:
- It is not just a hype. (Or it is, but in a good way.) Like I mentioned above, many countries are beginning to adopt a cloud architecture, understanding the potential savings and increase in service delivery that such an approach can provide.
- The cost savings are real. Several of the speakers that came from the private sector and / or consult for different governments around the world mentioned that all migrations to cloud environments have cut operations costs in approximately 80%, on top of providing the possibility to rationalize investments in time. There are also positive externalities on carbon footprint that are worth mentioning.
- It is not about technology. According to all the panelists, in their experience both in private and public institutions, technology is not the biggest issue. Connectivity, enterprise architecture definitions, processes and applications, etc. can eventually be provided and figured out. However, just as with any new program that introduces radical changes in corporate culture, it is people and institutions the ones that are harder to adapt. Some panelists actually said that resistance from ranks could become a show-stopper, and that this is always underestimated. In the case of governments, there is an important share of IT-related functions that would need to be redefined, and coordination among government institutions is a must. Moreover, there are many misunderstandings on issues such as data security, information storage, public-private partnership models, among others, that need to be addressed.
- Start from something easy and climb your way up. Developing countries in many cases are not as problematic as developed countries, since in many cases there are no legacy arrangements to overcome. That being said, it is always better to start small and easy, showing some “quick-wins” that will help build momentum for more challenging implementations.
- Use enteprise architecture and a service-oriented architecture approach to map/understand the proceses and to give the flexibility that a cloud environment requires. It sounds easier than it is. Ok, maybe it sounds not that easy, but it is even harder, especially for governments. That being said, an enterprise architecture approach will allow the correct mapping and understanding of processes within and between entities based on interoperability standards across all the government, and will eventually allow service-oriented architecture (SOA) which in turn will give the flexibility that governments need given its size and will also promote small and medium enterprises in the domestic IT industry. An example of this exercise is given by the US Federal Enterprise Architecture.
- Private and Public, and the other way round. When it comes to government clouds, a “private cloud” is really a government owned cloud (could be managed by a third party - or not). A “public cloud”, on the other side, is more like a “Google Apps” approach, where data is stored all over the world in servers that could be shared with others. Now, the good news is that there are “hybrid” designs, where part of the information can be stored in a private cloud and part in public clouds. In fact, this seems to be the model that will be adopted the most entities, both public and private.
Cloud environments are here to stay, and the opportunity for governments is clear. So clear we can even quantify it with hard numbers and set targets for monitoring and evaluation. The challenge, however, is in the implementation: it is not only about the technical part, but also about institutional arrangements, vested interests from an existing work force, and good old resistance to change that have to be dealt with. We just need to be realistic and pragmatic, starting small and dealing with all the dimensions of the implementation.
Borrowing the closing words of Samia Melhem who led the organization of the workshop, “the future is cloudy”. And it is good news for governments.