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August 3, 2016

Public sector: Open to the cloud or still stuck on-premise?

Analysis: The public sector is often seen as slow to move when it comes to technology - is this slow pace of change happening with cloud adoption?

By James Nunns

Cloud adoption has shifted from being a tool to dabble with, to one that is seen more as a necessity.

Conversations with executives at a wide range of businesses often leads to how they are using cloud to impact their business rather than reasons why they aren’t.

This is partly due to the successful sales pitch from cloud service providers as to why cloud is amazing and a necessity, partly it is due to the maturity of the industry where adoption breeds more adoption, after all, if all your competitors are doing it why aren’t you?!

Despite the seemingly ubiquitous nature of cloud amongst businesses, there are some questions as to how exactly the public sector is using cloud.

Recent Freedom of Information requests by Eduserv that were sent to the UK’s 100 largest local authorities revealed that 90% or more of their data is being stored on premises and two-thirds run their own data centres.

It was also found that 56% of councils have an IT policy for cloud and the rest don’t have any cloud adoption policy.

The mixed bag of results continues as 18% of councils say that they don’t use any form of cloud storage, however, recent Dropbox research suggest that nearly every council in the UK has used its services.

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Either this is a classic case of shadow IT or council IT departments aren’t fully aware of what services are being used.

What is clear is that the majority of data isn’t being held in the cloud.

Reasons for not putting data in the cloud could be because of regulatory and compliance fears, or fear of security issues.

John Schneider, vice president of product marketing at Jive Software told CBR that the company is seeing plenty of interest in the public cloud.

“We are seeing sizable interest in adopting cloud technology in the public sector because of two reasons: 1) macro-environmental and regulatory changes; and 2) achievement of compliance and security standards that have traditionally been only attainable with on-premise/private cloud networks,” said Schneider.

The benefits of the cloud are well documented, the proposed cost benefits, increased agility, and ability to deliver consumer like experiences in a public sector organisation, things that both the public and IT departments have been crying out for.

Schneider went on to say: “The public sector is taking more interest in cloud services and solutions as additional security standards are met. Enhanced encryption, strengthened web application firewalls and third party audit capabilities have been critical in reaching a comfort level for increased adoption.

“One major emerging benefit of public cloud is that IT never has to worry about having the latest security features, patches, etc. because cloud vendors are actively monitoring security threats and act immediately to close gaps.”

If security is not really an issue then storing data in the cloud should also not really be an issue. Public sector use of cloud may just be for SaaS and PaaS and less of IaaS.

Perhaps adoption then is looking more towards private clouds than public, Box for example has public sector organisations using its cloud such as Peterborough City Council and Jisc, an organization which offers digital solutions for UK education and research.

Jisc has made Box available to higher and further education institutions and researchers in the UK in order to make it easier for staff and students to work on projects.

Justin List, Head of Public Sector UK, Box, told CBR: “The public sector in the UK is increasingly being asked to do more with less as budgets are tightened. Smart business and IT leaders are turning to cloud technologies not only to drive efficiencies and increase collaboration, but also on a practical level, to save costs. We're seeing this right across the public sector in education, government and local authorities.”

These are all reasons as to why public sector has been moving to the cloud but those benefits may not outweigh fears as to why data perhaps should not sit in the cloud.

According to the Freedom of Information requests many councils found it difficult to say where their data was being held with 27% unable to say, did not know, or would not say.

An argument for keeping highly sensitive data on-premises can be made but this doesn’t appear to be the case for the public sector.

Like the financial services sector, the public sector has historically been slow in acting when it comes to IT decisions, weighed down by long term contracts for large systems that may have stopped being up to the job years ago.

Max Peterson, Head of Public Sector EMEA, Amazon Web Services, told CBR: “I would say biggest thing we are seeing form our public sector customers is the fact that they in some ways have a harder time because there is a lot of blockers they have to overcome.

“They have to overcome the procurement blockers and the policy blockers, but what’s amazing is the number of public sector customers that are delivering results now.”

Moves to the cloud are still happening and areas such as G-Cloud have actually seen only £57.6m spent on cloud computing out of £1.2bn total spend since its launch in 2012, this suggest that there truly is a long way to go for cloud adoption in the public sector.

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