Why is the UK public sector still afraid of the cloud? [Your 10-minute guide to embracing Public Sector Cloud]

The introduction of UK Government’s ‘Cloud First’ policy in 2013 felt like the beginning of a new era for the UK public sector. An uptake of new technologies with a ‘public cloud first’ philosophy, which championed the formation of a comprehensive ‘Public Sector Cloud’ strategy recommended for Central Government and the wider public sector. This was the opportunity for the UK to showcase the benefits of advancing digital maturity on the world stage, to lead by example and to thrive from the array of benefits cloud beholds.

Fast forward to 2021, and have we seen the uptake of cloud we expected from such policies? The short answer is no.

But the UK Government hasn’t stopped pushing for transformation:

 

"We want to encourage the widespread uptake of digital technologies more broadly - both for the benefit of the economy and wider society" - UK Government Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (National Data Strategy 2020)

 

To really understand the lack of cloud adoption, we must take a look at the success of G-Cloud, a programme launched by the UK Government to encourage public sector organisations to adopt cloud-based IT systems by considerably reducing costs and fostering greater choice and flexibility as well as on-demand scalability.

Over the last 5 years, public sector (not including Central Government) G-Cloud spend has been rising and the trend suggests it will continue to rise. This is great to see, growing spend in G-Cloud translates to growing trust in cloud, and a growth in the UK’s national digital capability.

 

Graph: Wider public sector G-Cloud spend between 2015 and 2020.

 

What’s more, Central Government G-Cloud spend is growing at a similar rate year-on-year too.

 

Graph: Central Government G-Cloud spend between 2015 and 2020.

 

So then, what’s the issue? Well, although these graphs look eerily similar, showing a healthy growth in public sector spend on G-Cloud services, they paint quite an alarming picture about which areas of the public sector are placing a greater priority on cloud adoption. If we place both charts side by side, I am sure you will draw a similar conclusion.

 

Graph: Comparison of G-Cloud spend between wider public sector and central government between 2015 and 2020.

 

Plainly and simply, the majority of the UK public sector is falling behind on cloud adoption. A wider uptake could stimulate interoperability and better collaboration, as well as cost, flexibility and security benefits. However, organisations still seem to have reservations about cloud.

Though there is a trend of growth, almost 8 years since the UK government introduced it’s ‘Cloud First’ initiative, this growth just isn’t happening quick enough in the wider public sector. And let’s be very clear here, though G-Cloud spend in central government looks impressive, it’s by no means a gold standard. There’s definitely lessons to be learned from this data, namely, cloud is not seeming to come ‘first’ for public sector organisations’ IT strategies.

And so, to address this, we must therefore ask the question, why is the UK public sector still afraid of the cloud?

Only in answering this question can we figure out how we can turn the tides of cloud adoption to ensure these digital maturity shortfalls don’t continue into the future.

 

 

Cloud is Robust

 

Dismissal of cloud for public sector workloads stems from multiple factors. Perhaps the most significant is the intangibility of cloud. There’s a perception that if you are watching the flashing lights in a server room, your data cannot be compromised, and moving this precious payload offsite is like handing over the keys to your data. In fact, 85.2% of public sector organisations have reservations about the robustness of cloud security.

 

85% of public sector organisations have cloud security reservations - UKCloud State of Cloud Adoption Report.

 

But the striking reality is that it is the complete opposite. With cloud, your data is hosted in state of the art, continuously improved hardware. Most cloud providers deploy Security Operations Centres (SOC), and some offer Disaster Recovery support. Some, like UKCloud, are UK sovereign, meaning your data never leaves the island. There are even clouds that can support above-OFFICIAL workloads, tailoring assurance to the needs of your organisation. If your assurance requirements are much more strict, consider reading our recent blog exploring Defence Cloud.

On the other hand, the current solution, the trench of legacy that most public sector organisations are unwilling – and some unable – to leave, cannot be described as ‘uncompromisable’. This isn’t just external threats, where outdated hardware is a hack waiting to happen, but also a constant firefight with failing hardware, tying up resources and causing integral services to be brittle. When a small team is responsible for the upkeep of hundreds, or even thousands of enterprise applications, keeping your hardware and software up to date is a behemothic task. It’s only a matter of time until something gives.

Legacy is not a long-term digital solution, and cloud migration provides much more significant assurance benefits. Yet clearly most public sector organisations still aren’t realising this, even 8 years after the Cloud First initiative. Perhaps back then cloud wasn’t so fit for the public sector, as there were expectations that hyperscalers or other ‘one size fits all’ clouds couldn’t meet, or were too niche to consider accommodating. But a public sector cloud does exist now, one which caters to the needs of the industry; one which can offer the benefits and opportunities of Multi-Cloud platforms without compromising on niche requirements.

Cloud has matured to meet industry demand, yet this demand has not translated into adoption. Cloud security reservations have held back the public sector, delaying the inevitable move from risk and complication, to security and sensible simplicity. They have delayed the building of a robust digital foundation.

 

 

Do More, One Step at a Time.

 

There’s a misnomer that cloud only accommodates those organisations looking to transform. This may have been true in the past, with a platform designed for the more ambitious organisations. And, whilst in the 2019 National Audit ReportChallenges in using data across government – the UK Government is exploring and championing the use of new technologies such as robotic process, AI and automation in developing public services, there’s more to cloud than the ‘scary’ and the ‘expensive’.

We’ve already established that cloud is a more secure home for your workloads. But what if your workloads are legacy-dependant?

That’s no trouble for cloud, and it starts with Multi-Cloud. Simply, you can host your legacy workloads in the cloud.

Full-stop.

In fact, it’s cheaper, it builds your foundation in the cloud for future workload optimisation, and of course, it’s safer. Utilise virtualisation cloud technologies such as VMware to ‘lift and shift’ your workload into cloud, ditching the outdated on-prem infrastructure and building resilience.

Once you’re here, explore the opportunities to implement new services through software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendors. Also, deploy reskilled IT staff tired with fighting fires in your data centres to develop new and exciting cloud native services. Cloud helps you better deploy your resources, and finally explore what it means to have a comprehensive digital strategy.

Doing more with data isn’t just exploring the art of the possible, but it’s understanding what the next few years of your digital strategy will look like. How can you get the most out of your IT? Not just for your benefit, but for the benefit of the UK Citizen. First, it’s about breaking free from troublesome legacy estates.

Just because it isn’t broken, doesn’t mean it isn’t going to break. 91% of organisations have experienced a tech-related disruption over the past two years, and legacy tech isn’t getting any younger. Waiting for your service to fail, ignoring cost overruns, tying up resources and ignoring the warning signs is unsustainable.

 

91% of organisations have experienced a tech-related disruption over the past 2 years. - IDC State of IT Resilience Report.

 

There is no longer a big leap to the cloud, small changes on frequent occasions can help you escape the shackles of legacy, and offer better value and service to your customers.

It’s time to start small and start now.

 

“With data now a critical part of modern life, we need to ensure the infrastructure underpinning it is safe, secure and resilient. The infrastructure data relies on is a vital national asset.” - UK Government Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (National Data Strategy 2020)

 

 

Breathe Life into your Budget

 

Cloud adoption really is an analogy for climbing out of the valley to the top of a mountain, and this analogy could not be more true for cost savings to the public sector.

 

 

The cost of legacy estates dig a trench far greater than meets the eye.

Firstly, public sector organisations no longer need to pay for the upkeep of a datacentre (or whatever makeshift solution they choose). The physical cost of a premises is an unnecessary cost, especially when you consider the alternative – offsite cloud hosting.

Strategically, hosting all workloads and storing all data on-site makes very little sense anymore: it is overly expensive and seriously resource intensive. It’s not just the cost of premises, it’s the cost of labour and day-to-day maintenance, costs that are unpredictable and unnecessary.

Secondly, the cost of upgrading hardware is nothing short of an enormous feat. One which, to stay at pace with the industry, will have to be undertaken on a semi-regular basis. Is it really worth such an investment to double down on an outdated solution?

Thirdly, the cost of service downtime for any IT solution (be it in a legacy estate, or in the cloud) is unthinkably huge. It’s not just your service to customers which will be affected, but the damage to your reputation for reliability which is also affected. Think ahead, don’t get tangled in legacy debt – consider the alternative.

That’s not to mention the other side of the coin, that legacy encourages stagnancy and does little to promote innovation and growth. With cloud, you get so much freedom: your resources are no longer tied up addressing unpredictable but inevitable issues, meaning you can actually begin to strategise on these new possibilities.

However, let us preface this with an important message – not all cloud vendors and their solutions will be optimal for your requirements. There will be a cloud solution for your workloads, but to avoid cases of bill shock or runaway cloud migration costs, it is important to speak to responsible vendors to find the right path to the mountain-top for your organisation.

54% of public sector organisations don’t agree that cloud is a cheaper, and more efficient home for your integral legacy applications. But when you no longer have to worry about premises, maintenance, or upgrade costs, you struggle to see the justification. Your provider takes care of all hidden, unexpected costs, while you enjoy the benefits of a Pay as You Go (PAYG) pricing model. Your costs are fixed to a contract, and the same can’t be said for unpredictable legacy estates.

 

54% of Public Sector organisations believe cloud is a more expensive home for legacy workloads. - UKCloud State of Cloud Adoption Report.

 

This ‘PAYG’ price model also has the other benefit of on-demand scalability – no need to purchase more hardware to grow… just grow!

To top that off, finding a true ‘Public Sector Cloud’ provider, one with a commitment to the taxpayer, will often mean gaining commercial benefits from your relationship. UKCloud’s Memorandum of Understanding with Crown Commercial Service, signed in 2020, was an agreement to deliver better value to the taxpayer through discounts, shared economy-of-scale savings and much more. Find a cloud provider that cares as much about the public sector as you do, and reap the benefits.

A public sector cloud is more than just an environment built for the public sector, it’s about providers committing to serve the people you serve – it’s about relationships and doing the right thing. With social value becoming ever present in public sector procurement, look out for how your provider can be of benefit to the UK society too.

 

Webinar: Click here to watch our latest webinar on demand. "What is social value and how does it impact you?"

 

 

Cloud can transform – but it doesn’t have to.

 

One of the most common misconceptions people have of cloud is that the leap to transformation is so great, whether that’s for budget reasons, skills and resource limitations, or just time and effort concerns, it seems like more trouble than it’s worth.

79% of public sector organisations say lack of necessary skills and capabilities hinder their cloud adoption. When so many hyperscale clouds would have you believe that building your own cloud native applications is the best route into cloud, there’s no wonder this is the case.

 

79% of Public Sector organisations say lack of necessary skills and capabilities hinder their cloud adoption - UKCloud State of Cloud Adoption Report.

 

Public sector cloud needs to be fit for the needs of the public sector, this means starting simple with legacy modernisation, and transforming simply – buying rather than building.

You see, there is a high likelihood that your cloud native solution may already exist – there may be no need for you to start from scratch, no skills and capabilities gap. Software as a Service (SaaS) is an ideal solution to mitigate this issue. Further, newly developed cloud native applications often get built, then teams move on, leaving applications stagnant. SaaS providers will consistently refresh their feature-sets, giving you access to the latest and greatest there is available.

Then, enter: Multi-Cloud. A flexible, simple cloud solution where you can mix-and-match multiple cloud technologies, be it legacy modernisation like VMware, or transformative like Azure. Utilising Multi-Cloud avoids the issue of being tied down to one cloud provider for all of your workloads, it lets you build your digital foundation by ‘lift-and-shifting’ to the cloud, and allows you to scale up your digital vision whenever you are ready. The ideal cloud solution for the public sector.

Multi-Cloud also allows organisations to run the cloud at the location of their choice: on-premises, 3rd party datacentre, Crown Campus or global cloud data centres. Multi-Cloud really is all about giving you choice.

 

But what if I want a more transformative cloud strategy?

 

Then go ahead – that’s what cloud was built for. Yes, the new does work with the old, but now you’re on the Multi-Cloud platform – where transformation happens – why not consider the operational benefits of transformational technologies?

Take a look at Hull City council – their cloud transformation led them to be inspired to adopt smart city technology, allowing them to automate much of their day-to-day operations such as lighting, parking, traffic and waste management.

Let this be a case study for the potential of cloud, and the benefits which can be reaped by those in the public sector who choose to embrace it.

Let’s be real, the public sector cloud message needs to be less focused on the ‘art of the possible’, and address the industry’s current IT issues first and foremost. But while we sit here, hammering home that cloud is a simple step; moving legacy systems into the cloud; building a digital foundation – there’s so much operationally beneficial potential in cloud that we are desperate to talk about.

So yes, put those building blocks in place, but be inspired to not just stop there – be open minded with your digitalisation vision.

 

 

Overcoming the fears

 

Over the past 8 years, since the introduction of the ‘Cloud First’ policy, it’s plain to see that there has not been a wide enough uptake of cloud. It’s also clear as day that the public sector’s over-reliance on legacy IT is costing organisations to spend more time and resources maintaining out-of-date systems, just because they feel like they have to; because they have no alternative; because a public sector cloud doesn’t exist.

Perhaps there is a fear of cloud in the public sector, a fear that data will be out of reach, or that single vendor lock-in will keep organisations in the clutches of one provider. Hopefully this article goes to show that these worries are unfounded, or mitigable.

But there’s also a troubling inertia plaguing the uptake of cloud in the public sector too. After 8 years, and countless other government initiatives encouraging the uptake of cloud as a ‘vital national asset’, we are still seeing a sector stagnant in its IT strategy.

Things need to change.

And perhaps the most important avenue to change is speaking to cloud vendors. Have conversations with responsible providers about your ideal public sector cloud solution, and your worries and qualms. Ultimately, providers such as UKCloud have a commitment to ‘doing the right thing’ and serving the best possible value to the taxpayer. Our goal is to encourage the wider uptake of digital technologies in the UK public sector, and to make transformation happen. So if you want to learn more about cloud, and start planning your digital future, browse our cloud solutions, or talk to one of our experts today.