Technology

Head in the cloud

Leading researcher with DCU’s Irish Centre for Cloud Computing and Commerce Theo Lynn contests public sector trepidation and argues that now is the time to enhance e-government.

“When people talk about the public sector, the cloud and government, what they’re talking about really is typically this vision of e-government, transparency and accountability and then on some other side something about efficiency and effectiveness. From my perspective it’s relatively straightforward. What’s a government cloud? It’s an environment [which runs services complying] with government and EU legislation on security, privacy and resilience,” said Lynn.

Trust

Speaking from an infrastructural perspective on the challenges which face public sector cloud computing, Lynn identifies trust as the most significant barrier to government cloud computing. “The general citizen does not trust cloud computing. Small businesses don’t trust cloud computing. What we know about the public sector, and this is across Europe, is that people just do not trust cloud computing.” Lynn suggests that there are two key factors feeding into this trust deficit – the first being perceived risk and the second centring on a lack of knowledge or understanding.

As such, he maintains that communicating trust must be a priority. Such a challenge is sizeable and necessitates the simultaneous setting of standards and soothing of concerns surrounding security and accountability.

One solution, Lynn suggests, is the application of a real time “nutritional label” for cloud computing. These labels can indicate the top characteristics of a cloud service in a standardised format. For instance, they can provide basic information on performance, policy and preference, as well as a service level summary. This enables consumers to compare and contrast service provision, understand what happens if something goes wrong and hold the service provider to account. Such an enhanced degree of transparency is aimed at enriching customer understanding and trust. Looking beyond service-level agreements, Lynn states: “Part of what we’re doing right now is working with people to put in place frameworks that marry assurance and accountability.”

Challenges

Speaking on security concerns, Lynn states: “Everyone is worried about security in the cloud, but actually security in the cloud is the same security problem that you have in your own infrastructure.” Private cloud is very secure… just as secure as the public cloud. The only security threat that you have is your internal threats – your own people.” He adds: “The only difference about the cloud and your internal system is, when it’s in the cloud, it’s not just you as a provider that matters, it’s the regulators who are involved as well as the users. So we have a multi-stakeholder approach.”

Lynn highlights an additional concern inhibiting expansion of e-government. Currently, there are very few graduates emerging from third level education who are experts in cloud computing, particularly in the field of security. This leaves the sector with a substantial labour gap, a significant challenge when considering that security is a core issue for cloud computing.

Lynn is critical of the reality that, since 2012, when Ireland was rated among Europe’s top performers in public sector cloud adoption, there has been no significant advancement. “If we look at where we were in terms of planning and agenda compared to where we [are] in terms of realisation, you’ll see that Ireland is still in a certain area. We’re still really in the agenda setting side when it comes to public sector cloud. There are lots of good initiatives and all that kind of stuff, but that’s where we are. He adds: “You are not going to have loads of software and critical infrastructure in the cloud until you have connectivity. You are not going to have the really innovative stuff until you can guarantee that.” For Lynn and his colleagues, the challenge now, therefore, is to get back up into the action agenda around cloud.

Moving forward

Lynn wants to see faster adoption of the cloud. “In our world, government cloud clearly fits into [the] strategic line model we developed and use to work with companies and justify why they should move to the cloud. A big part of using cloud is decreasing cost. A secondary thing is reliability, we know that cloud is going to introduce reliability. But the other side, and there is a kind of commercial aspect to this, we want to develop and deliver new services faster.” However, this is not without its difficulties, “One of the challenges of the cloud computing sector is ‘how do you introduce lean and agile thinking in the context of the cloud into the public sector and into government because that’s a very difficult thing to do.”

Lynn contends: “If you’re going to go to the cloud, you need to lead from the front and say, ‘I’m going to the cloud, that’s the policy and off we go. I think that’s one of our big problems right now, because if you’re in government and you’re changing the ultimate decision makers, that can be very difficult over a long period of time.

“And I suppose what I don’t see in Ireland is the thinking – ‘where is our strategy in this?’ It’s kind of simple. Government strategy in the cloud is going to be hybrid. So that’s it. There’s no point in talking about anything else because it’s going to be hybrid cloud and because it’s going to be hybrid cloud you may as well just stand up and say, ‘right, we’re putting in place hybrid infrastructure. If you want to work with the Government, it’s going to be hybrid infrastructure and that’s it.”

Elsewhere

Lynn praises public sector cloud adoption across Europe and identifies three distinct categories for varying levels of implementation. First are ‘the cutters’ – states with high GDP and public debt, base digital infrastructure in place and a focus on reducing government expenditure. Lynn notes: “The UK has been very successfully there. They’ve got the government cloud framework and they’re introducing new companies which are generating economic value, but they’re hitting huge cost savings across the board.” Second are ‘builder’ states with low public debt and growing GDP, such as Hungary and Poland, which have started making significant moves into the cloud, primarily from putting in cloud brokerage functions and moving much of their services and infrastructure onto ISPAS. Finally, Lynn saves particular praise for ‘enhancers ’such as Austria, where there has been full advocacy for e-government and potential for digital capability enhancement.

Back in Ireland, Lynn insists: “What is going to make the public sector cloud remarkable is not going to be the fact that it’s really fast, because I expect it to be fast. What we have to do is use systems to be more responsive to the needs of our stakeholders and [the public sector] needs leadership.” Adding: “When we are supporting the development of EU strategy to foster the adoption of government, do I think that should be doing that? Absolutely. Why? Because service catalogues and procurement systems create a lot of economic value.” He concludes: “So make it happen. I am saying this as a citizen. I want more e-government.”

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