US President Barack Obama has set an example to the UK public sector by setting out plans to put Cloud Computing at the heart of overhauling the government’s technology infrastructure to make it more efficient and cost-effective.
According to a White House document published as part of the administration's 2010 budget request, Cloud Computing is seen as a way of revitalising moribund IT projects in the US public sector and delivering greater value for money for the hard-pressed US tax payer. To that end, the Obama administration plans a series of pilot projects which will “utliise more fully and broadly departmental and agency architectures to identify enterprise-wide common services and solutions with a new emphasis on Cloud Computing”.
The document says: “The Federal technology environment requires a fundamental re-examination of investments in technology infrastructure. The Infrastructure Modernization Program will be taking on new challenges and responsibilities.”
These pilots will test a variety of services and delivery modes. These projects should lead to significant savings, achieved through basic changes in future Federal information infrastructure investment strategies and elimination of duplicative operations at the agency level. financial management,” says the document.
Piloting in The Cloud
Pilots supporting the implementation of a Cloud Computing strategy will include:
- End-user communications and computing—secure provisioning, support (help desk), and operation of end-user applications across a spectrum of devices;addressing telework and a mobile workforce;
- Secure virtualised data centres, with Government to-Government, Government-to-Contractor, and Contractor-to-Contractor modes of service delivery;
- Portals, collaboration and messaging—secure data dissemination, citizen and other stakeholder engagement, and workforce productivity;
- Content, information, and records management - delivery of services to citizens and workforce productivity;
- Workflow and case management—delivery of services to citizens and workforce productivity;
- Data analytics, visualisation, and reporting— transparency and management;
- Enterprise Software-as-a-Service—for example, in financial management.
The expectation is that a move to The Cloud will reduce the financial burden of vast public sector IT programmes. “Of the investments that will involve up-front costs to be recouped in out-year savings, cloud-computing is a prime case in point,” notes the document. “The Federal Government will transform its Information Technology Infrastructure by virtualizing data centers, consolidating data centers and operations, and ultimately adopting a Cloud Computing business model. Expected savings in the out-years, as more agencies reduce their costs of hosting systems in their own data centers, should be many times the original investment in this area.”
But there are risks attached, warns the document. “Implementing a Cloud Computing platform incurs different risks than dedicated agency data centers. Risks associated with the implementation of a new technology service delivery model include policy changes, implementation of dynamic applications, and securing the dynamic environment. The mitigation plan for these risks depends on establishing a proactive program management office to implement industry best practices and government policies in the management of any program. In addition, the Federal community will need to actively put in place new security measures which will allow dynamic application use and information-sharing to be implemented in a secure fashion.
UK's lamentable track record
In the UK, IT programmes in the public sector have a lamentable track record of failure, both in terms of functional capabilities and budget over-runs. The single most problematic project at present is the National Programme for IT in the NHS which is currently years behind schedule, bitterly opposed by NHS staff who would have to use its deliverables and currently looking at a budget in excess of £12.7 billion.
Tory leader David Cameron has announced he would scrap the NHS Connecting for Health's electronic patient record (EPR) system if he got into power and replace it with Cloud-based alternatives. “Look at computerising the NHS,” he said. “Labour say: 'Let's call in the expensive consultants. Let's commission a massive IT project. Let's make the state more powerful with a new, centralised computer to store everyone's health records.' The result: NHS Connecting for Health, costing over £12 billion. One part of it is the electronic patient records system - a central state-run database designed to let GPs, hospital doctors and nurses share your medical notes.
Cloud Computing technologies could be used to achieve a better result, more quickly and for less money, he said. “In an age when we’re asking people to put up with tax rises and spending cuts to pay for Labour’s Debt Crisis we can use technology to give people even more power – through transparency,” he said. “In this age of austerity, a web-based version of the government’s bureaucratic scheme services like Google Health or Microsoft Health Vault cost virtually nothing to run. So this is where some really big savings could be made. Not just shaving a bit off this budget here; that cost there. Instead replacing whole chunks of the expensive, bureaucratic government machine with more modern methods - for a tiny fraction of the cost."
Cameron insisted that the Tories would not embark on such a massive, on premise IT project. “We would have said 'Today, you don't need a massive central computer to do this. People can store their health records securely online; they can show them to whichever doctor they want',” he said. “And when they're in control of their own health records, they're more interested in their health, so they might start living more healthily, saving the NHS money.”