Rapid adoption of cloud services during the pandemic has changed the roadmap for public sector organisations, according to Jonathan Maguire, Accenture’s Health and Public Services Cloud First Lead, with all signs pointing to more agile services and better citizen engagement.
The accelerated adoption of digital and cloud technologies during the pandemic, has demonstrated how fast paced change is possible. People’s willingness to embrace new ways of doing things saw levels of digital transformation occur in weeks that had previously taken years.
Back in October 2019, the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer had already called for a switch to cloud-first thinking, declaring that “the decision to be made now is what, how and when to move to cloud”. As it turned out, agencies had to make those decisions much sooner than expected when the first lockdown happened at the end of March 2020.
Over the next 18 months, public service agencies demonstrated a capacity to pivot in the face of an unprecedented crisis and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Citizens took to the cloud and the number of MyGovID accounts soared. The challenge now is to build on what has been achieved. There is a golden opportunity for public sector leaders to maintain the momentum and continue to transform, powered by the needs of their own organisations and the citizens they serve.
Rethink cloud journeys
The business case for cloud has always been built on the promise of resilience, agility, scale, speed and responsiveness. Covid-19 has made it hard to argue with the benefits, but more importantly, it has changed the conversation about the fundamentals of what the cloud can do for government.
Many public sector leaders still prioritise so-called sovereign clouds, where the starting point was always about securing data and regulatory responsibility, but reasons to migrate to public clouds are now too compelling to ignore. During lockdown they became enablers for citizens, partners, and employees to interact remotely. Cloud is now seen as a way to transform and modernise operating models, rather than a static repository for sharing information and data.
After a year of increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks, the cloud is also recognised as a safer place to host IT infrastructure and services. Organisations know they could never match the huge investments cloud-providers are making to keep their platforms secure, especially around building solutions natively on public clouds.
With security becoming part of the public cloud business case, governments can start to think about other cloud benefits and look more at nurturing innovation. We know from Accenture’s Cloud Continuum research that public service executives understand the opportunity. 57 per cent believe that accelerating cloud is business critical; 83 per cent agree or strongly agree that cloud is essential to fuel innovation and new business models. The next step is to identify service areas that will reap the biggest rewards.
Personalise at scale
One priority will be about serving citizens through their channels of choice at a time of their choosing. There have been huge technological developments in this area, such as virtual interactions and automated customer service, with more to come. Fuelled by AI and machine learning, these operations require the huge computer power and scale that cloud provides; ensuring that more citizens can be served more quickly without compromising their experience.
This is partly about personalisation, providing tailored services across previously siloed departments, where citizen information is shared by joined-up agencies, ‘raising all boats’ in the transition from physical to digital engagement. At the core is data, or the insights that can be derived from it. The challenge is extracting meaningful insights from an array of data sources in legacy applications, as well as new volume-intensive sources, such as body-worn cameras.
For example, the pandemic proved what’s possible with track and trace and the Covid Tracker app, where real-time data is shared across public and private sector organisations for societal good. New services were created in days rather than months by using the cloud to ingest, process and analyse data from multiple sources, and the time to actionable insights was dramatically shortened.
Scale is the other component. One of the long-standing cloud benefits has been the way services can be ‘flexed’ up and down to meet changing demand. This was highlighted during the pandemic when, for example, the Department of Social Protection utilised cloud-enabled systems to cope with the huge surge in benefit payments. It plays to another cloud strength that strikes a chord with public sector bodies facing significant budgetary restrictions: services can be configured to make sure they only pay for what they need and use.
Migrate and innovate
Responsive cloud components provide a blueprint for modernising public services. Not least is a flexible and accessible technology architecture that increases the potential for cross-agency and external partner information-sharing. Taking the decision to decouple from legacy and migrate to the cloud will break down silos and deliver true digital transformation, but there is a right and wrong way to do it.
Simply doing a ‘lift and shift’ of existing applications never makes the most of the cloud opportunity. At worst, you simply relocate less-than-perfect legacy solutions and end up paying more than before because of cloud consumption costs. A much smarter migration is the one that takes the opportunity to modernise applications, leveraging different platforms to rethink and optimise value and quality of service.
Cloud is now seen as key enabler for more green and sustainable public services. According to Accenture’s The Green Behind the Cloud report, migrating on-premise applications to a hyper-scale cloud platform can reduce carbon emissions by more than 84 per cent and cut energy usage by 65 per cent.
There is no doubt that cloud-based platforms can support governments to provide better services, cost-effectively, quickly and more sustainably, facilitating new types of citizen interaction. People from all walks of life have shown an appetite for change during the pandemic that the public sector must do its best to satisfy. Quite simply, it’s too big an opportunity to miss.
Five steps for successful cloud journeys