Is cloud the silver lining for government?

In a recent podcast, Matthew Cornelius, Executive Director of the Alliance for Digital Innovation (ADI), told me that Covid-19 had driven IT modernization in government…

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October 29, 20205 minute read

In a recent podcast, Matthew Cornelius, Executive Director of the Alliance for Digital Innovation (ADI), told me that Covid-19 had driven IT modernization in government as far in a few months as achieved in the previous 15 years. For him, the agencies able to better respond to the pandemic were those that had committed to a cloud-centric strategy. Cloud’s role in government service improvement and innovation was the focus of the government sessions at this year’s OpenText World.

Matthew knows a little about IT modernization in government. Before joining ADI, he was Senior Advisor for Technology and Cybersecurity Policy at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB). His experience of government response to the Covid-19 pandemic was that it was mixed – depending on whether the agency had already invested in cloud to transform their digital business processes.

Agencies that had already invested in cloud, that had digitized their workflows. You can give anyone a laptop and send them home but if your business processes and digital workflows aren’t enhanced and updated then you won’t be able to respond to the massive, distributed telework cluster that government took on.”

Matthew Cornelius, Executive Director of the Alliance for Digital Innovation (ADI)

A wake-up call and an opportunity

After years of ‘cloud first’ or ‘cloud smart’ strategies, deployment rates before the pandemic remained relatively low. Cloud spending in government has been increasing with estimates suggesting the government cloud market in 2023 will be worth almost $50 billion. However, research shows only 11% of US federal IT systems are currently running in the cloud.

It’s not that we haven’t been aware of the issues. Prior to the pandemic, the UK’s Institute of Government made the case for modernization: “Relying heavily on legacy technology creates several risks for organizations: data and security vulnerabilities; being locked in to uncompetitive support arrangements with a single supplier; and a proliferation of work around processes as systems cannot keep up with changing business needs. The organization as a whole becomes less responsive, as it becomes costlier and takes longer to adapt public services to policy or other changes.”

The need to pivot rapidly to complete digital work processes and service delivery during Cobid-19 has change priorities. According to Matthew Cornelius, there is a new vigor within government to embrace digital technology that can drive innovation.

He said: “There’s growing dynamism and enthusiasm in this space that we weren’t seeing previously. Agencies are working hard to make sure the public can get better services from the government.”

At the heart of this is cloud infrastructure that can accelerate scale and flexibility. But, for me, the pandemic has shone a light into two areas regarding cloud deployment. The first is the need for government agencies to transition to the benefits of commercial cloud solutions. The second area is the requirement of cloud to be the enabler of the digital technologies that can drive more efficient, cost-effective operations and better citizen services.

Government clouds must transform

According to Gartner, less than 5% of private government clouds currently deployed have full cloud features. They are less scalable, less reliable and less feature-rich. Most importantly, they lack the ability to be the platform for innovation that government agencies need. Instead, agencies have to be more open to the capabilities in commercial cloud solutions.

Jeanette Manfra, Director for Government Security and Compliance for Google Cloud recently told Nextgov: “… because government clouds are run through specialized, standalone data centers, they can have up to an 18-month lag time in receiving new features. This greatly impacts the government’s access to critical new technologies.”

This is something that ADI’s Cornelius wholeheartedly agrees with. He draws a comparison between commercial and public organizations during the pandemic: “Companies like Netflix or Peleton had no difficulty in scaling their services to meet the new environment. So, why is it that government seemed to run into so many roadblocks?”

Cloud as government enabler

Jennifer Manfra’s point about the cloud as the foundation for new, digital technologies is perhaps the most important. Government proved capable of pivoting to entirely digital operations. This has to be sustained and extended.

With shrinking budgets and distributed, remote workforces matched by rising citizen demand and the need for more innovative services, developing a modern, cloud-centric environment is the only way to:

  • Rethink the type of citizen service delivered and the delivery channels
  • Rethink the future of work in a remote and distributed working environment
  • Address the digital equity and accessibility gaps faced by citizens
  • Enable agile operations and service provision
  • Improve communication with citizens and build digital trust
  • Make full value of data and insight to drive government decision-making

Yet, ADI’s Cornelius says there’s something holding back government adoption of the cloud: agencies still doesn’t fully understand all its capabilities. That’s why this is our key topic of the government track at this year’s OpenText World. We’ll look at the opportunities and challenges of cloud in government as we slowly emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Visit here to listen to OpenText World sessions on demand.

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