Five impediments to cloud adoption in the public sector (and how to overcome them)

UKCloud has been helping public sector organisations with digital transformation since before the Government unveiled the Cloud First policy back in 2013. In that time, we’ve seen many changes that has made it easier to adopt cloud; not least the digital marketplace and NCSC cloud security principles. And although we’ve supported hundreds of digital transformation projects over the years, from the original digital exemplars to large shared services programmes, cloud adoption is still well behind where it should be.

Hence, our recently commissioned survey to more than 300 senior IT professionals and business leaders within public sector organisations about the State of Cloud Adoption. There was a mix of business and technical responses, from a wide variety of organisations representing different sizes, different public sector communities and different regions across the UK. I’m presenting the results during a webinar on the 29th January, of which this blog provides a glimpse of some of the findings.

One of the most welcome findings from the survey is that 4 out of 5 respondents recognised cloud as merely an enabler for the adoption of transformative technologies like artificial intelligence and hyper-connectivity. Most organisations are attracted by the massive potential to deliver much better outcomes through the use of technology like cloud.  It’s important that we don’t see cloud as the end, merely a means to the end – and entities like Defence Digital and NHSX are helping to maintain that vision.

This finding supports the really positive response from the GovTech community to develop innovative national capabilities to drive the UK’s continued prosperity through the next decade and beyond.  There is a tremendous opportunity for private sector specialists to channel their capabilities to help deliver on this vision.

Back to cloud adoption in itself, in true Family Fortunes style, “Our survey says…” that almost 9 out of 10 of those polled expressed a desire to shift traditional IT environments into the cloud, if they could find the ‘perfect solution’ – something Cleveland Henry calls ‘cloud keen’. So, what makes the perfect solution?  The survey revealed a real mix of technical and non-technical issues that public sector organisations are concerned about. Some of the issues are no surprise like skills and cost. But other issues like policy and risk seem more revealing.



Despite the Cloud First policy, and community-specific direction coming out of Defence Digital and NHSX, 79% of respondents believe that “lack of clear policy/strategy” is impeding their organisation’s cloud adoption and digital transformation.  From my interactions with customers, I believe this stems from the perception that the strategy is usually focused on building cloud-native applications for hyperscale platforms and isn’t clear enough about how the majority of traditional systems fits with a cloud-first policy. GDS and CCS announced that they are currently reviewing this area, and my hope is that the refreshed guidance more formally encourages the diversity and plurality of multi-cloud. In the meantime, I’d encourage organisations to look at our Transformation Accelerator and free discovery workshops to get a better understanding of how a multi-cloud strategy can help them modernise their existing IT environments as well as supporting cloud-native applications.

The second surprising issue relates to risk. Despite the work that the National Cyber Security Centre is doing, respondents expressed concern especially as a significant number of cyber attacks are from hostile nation-states. Unsurprisingly, nearly half of organisations said they wouldn’t use public cloud for their most secure and sensitive systems. And many ruled out public cloud for systems that they need to run on-premises or in Crown Hosting.  In these scenarios, multi-cloud’s mix of public, private and secure cloud environments (hosted in the Crown Campus or on-premises) would enable these organisations to reconsider and increase their adoption of cloud while minimising the changes required to operational systems.

The third impediment is also non-technical. Nearly 4 out of 5 organisations cite fear of vendor lock-in as an impediment to cloud adoption, and there is a slightly stronger concern about concentration risk (over-reliance on one sole cloud provider).  Could cloud providers become too big to fail – the Carillion effect? It’s also interesting that the EU is also concerned about becoming over-dependant on the hyperscale cloud platforms.  So, my advice is to encourage plurality and diversity by pursuing a multi-cloud strategy rather than pursuing the convenience of a single cloud platform.  Multi-cloud helps you spread your risk and tap into the competitive tension between competing cloud providers (IaaS, PaaS and SaaS) to drive innovation, improved service levels and better value for money.

Impediment four is the classic skills and capability challenge. More than 80% of organisations cited skills and capabilities as an impediment with more than three-quarters specifically facing challenges building and operating cloud-native applications which require new skills such as DevOps and automation. These skills are necessary for building applications optimised for public cloud, but multi-cloud helps organisations avoid this challenge by enabling them to carry forward existing skills and capabilities relating to established technologies (e.g. VMware, Oracle and Cisco-powered private clouds). In the same vein, I often challenge organisations as to whether they really want to develop their own software, or whether it would be more prudent to adopt Software-as-a-Service clouds to tap into the skills and capabilities of specialist software businesses.

And the final impediment I’ll cover here is the concerns around cost and affordability.  Cloud is almost always more cost-effective than traditional siloed environments which are often plagued by under-utilisation (waste) and inflexibility. The commercial model of public cloud is certainly appropriate for cloud-native workloads which are dynamic and elastic – but with that flexibility can come uncertainty. This is why more than three-quarters of respondents cited a fear of cost over-runs which are impossible to budget for. Hence, UKCloud offers cost optimisation services which help you to analyse the cost of public cloud and make better decisions to take back control of your budget. Further, nearly half of the respondents said that CAPEX costs are easier to fund than OPEX costs; and hence public clouds can be unaffordable at scale.  This drives interest in private cloud solutions, as part of a multi-cloud strategy, which are aligned to the CAPEX budget of the organisation.

Adoption of cloud solutions is key to knocking down the silos that exist across the public sector. It is key to unlocking precious resources and datasets that will drive better insights and deliver better outcomes. Hence, by understanding the impediments to cloud adoption, the UK GovTech community can work collaboratively to provide the diversity of solutions and skills that harness the innovation made possible by digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, IoT and mixed reality. By nurturing our nation’s precious data as a national asset, the UK can genuinely develop world-class national capabilities.

Join me on our on-demand webinar or read our detailed report to find out more.