We don’t usually associate government with industry-leading IT but the UK government’s G-Cloud is a potential exception. Today, the perception that it’s dangerous to place private data outside of a company’s firewall tends to override the fact that the technology and know-how already exists to protect information in the public cloud.
The recent resignation of Chris Chant, who leaves the role of G-Cloud Programme lead, has unearthed some potentially uncomfortable truths about this journey. And yes, the programme hasn’t had an entirely easy ride prior to this. A brief outage within days of launch encouraged the naysayers to cast aspersions over the project. But a realistic analysis of the experience to date suggests that whilst this wasn’t the ideal start, it isn’t a cause to throw in the towel. Service was still delivered through other channels, and the story since has focussed more on its successes.
But I feel that if the UK government gets G-Cloud right, there’s a strong bet that even the most conservative of enterprises will eventually follow suit. The critical issue is the recognition the UK government has made to forward-thinking IT strategy.
Francis Maude, Cabinet Office minister, has said that cloud services are estimated to cut government IT costs by about £460 million a year and that the cloud is expected to become the common infrastructure for government computing. One key aim within this is to reduce the cost of its 600,000 end user devices. A progressive approach to IT will need to be economically viable if it’s to be realised. If the G-Cloud proves a success it could be the catalyst to a far better approach to major public sector IT.
Alongside these objectives, the strategy implicitly recognises that the IT landscape is shifting from traditional supply models with a handful of suppliers and long-term contracts to short terms contracts with services also supplied by small and medium businesses. In a sense, the UK government is taking the flexibility that the cloud delivers and is extending it to the supply chain.
Chant’s criticisms suggest that some of the stereotypical fears about the restrictively bureaucratic and immobile nature of the public sector may be accurate in some instances. Those working in the political sphere tend to avoid projects which gain a poor public reputation, and I hope that enough energy and fait is shown in the G-Cloud to ensure that it doesn’t fall foul of this trend. But there’s a potential prestige to the G-Cloud that I hope all those involved recognise. If it’s judged to be a success, it could be a landmark moment in the evolution of cloud computing.