Cloud computing in the public sector: a distant dream or the near future?

The public sector has been slow to embrace public cloud, but Mark Vivian, CEO at Claremont, wonders if that might change soon

The pandemic has seen the rapid digital transformation of private sector organisations to keep up with digital demand. Following suit, many public sector organisations are now craving the benefits of lower infrastructure costs and greater flexibility associated with cloud technology.

A recent Accenture study found that 70% of public sector executives see migration to cloud as key to the transformation of core models and systems in the next three years. However, many of these executives don’t always know the best approach to investing in cloud migration. Now, there is the additional pressure of scrambling to meet the demands of the post-pandemic environment.  

The overall benefits of cloud are clear, with 72% of IT decision-makers in the private sector citing increased efficiency as a main driver behind adoption. But how can the public sector optimise specific applications in the cloud to meet their needs? 

Why is the public sector moving to the cloud?

Both the public and private sector face pressure to modernise, streamline and be at the forefront of IT innovation. However, the public sector does not enjoy the luxury of unrestricted budgets and faces constant pressure from the public to get things right. 

Similar to the private sector, cloud-based hosting options for enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, such as Oracle E-Business Suite, can enhance critical applications within government infrastructures such as the core finance, procurement, HR systems, that enable work-from-home grants and the furlough scheme.

As many public sector employees continue to work remotely, cloud is an effective migration pathway to leapfrog to the latest technology platforms and centralise management systems to provide IT leaders with greater scalability and flexibility, leading to increased levels of security.

UK government introduced a “cloud-first” policy in 2013, stating: “In the future, when procuring new or existing new services, public sector organisations should consider and fully evaluate potential cloud solutions first- before they consider any other option.” However, extenuating circumstances have restricted budgets, and on-premise is still a simpler risk adverse hosting option for many public bodies’ ERP systems.  

Fast-forward seven years and we have the Covid-19 pandemic. The UK government had to distribute fiscal support for all at an insanely high speed, and to rely on financial applications and cloud computing solutions to help run various financial schemes such as furlough. If the UK government can implement its “Covid cloud strategy”, then why shouldn’t cloud hosting be more prolific in other areas such as ERP?

The cost benefits of public sector cloud

A recent National Audit Office (NAO) report revealed that IT reforms and spending cuts had saved the taxpayer approximately £316m after a year of the “cloud-first” policy was put in place. This is thanks to government departments hosting applications on cloud infrastructure and minimising their reliance on on-premise systems and legacy technology.

As we recover economically from the pandemic, public sector organisations will look for innovative ways to economise. One way to reduce costs is to move applications to an infrastructure cloud.

However, many of the applications used in the public sector are complex and require tailored skillsets and infrastructure stacks, otherwise costs can spiral. This is where specialised managed service providers (MSPs) thrive.

As is the case with Oracle E-Business, choosing a cloud hosting partner that uses Oracle’s own virtualisation can save governments and councils cash through reduced software licensing costs, and working with a specialist cloud hosting partner can provide an inclusive service wrapper that will lower the total cost of ownership.

NHS England recently issued a call to vendors for advice on an integrated ERP cloud solution. Working closely with a specialist MSP that understands the intricate requirements of the project could provide NHS England with the additional support and technical capabilities to maximise its technology investment.

The importance of public sector cloud security

Security is one of the main reasons organisations have expressed concern over hosting their applications in cloud infrastructure. A company running its servers on-premise can retain control over security and the measures it has in place. The responsibility of prompt patch updates, firewall and antivirus software installations, and fending off cyber attacks, lies with the in-house IT staff or a third-party managed service provider.

Cloud security is developing at a rapid pace. Cloud providers utilise tools such as web application firewall (WAF) and the intrusion prevention system (IPS) and distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS) protection to mitigate against many security threats.

But it is more important to consider the credentials and services provided by the cloud supplier. It’s one thing to have an arsenal of tools, but unless they are configured correctly and appropriately, they will have little value.

It is important to note that these benefits may not be fully realised if the “lift and shift” approach is adopted. This is where many public sector organisations fall short. The migration process needs to be planned and configured to take full advantage of an infrastructure cloud. 

Specialist cloud managed services that provide a bespoke service wrapper can optimise the security of specific application sets. For a system such as Oracle E-Business, an MSP will be able to grapple with the biggest security challenges that are unique to that system, such as having an exhaustive inventory and a single, consistent approach to authentication, authorisation, logging, monitoring and alerts.

While progress is being made in the public sector in terms of cloud adoption, an application centric approach is required for the best value for money. For the best performance, efficiency, security and cost savings, public sector organisations should explore cloud hosting partners that work with particular application sets. By drawing on their skills and expertise, the burden of in-house management can be lifted, and performance optimised.

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