Cloud Society: Cloud in public sector Europe? If the shoe fits…

Opinion Jon Collins Nov 26, 2012

Despite some scepticism, Europe is still a fruitful market for cloud - it's just different from the US

A little definition can go a long way in IT, particularly when terms are ambiguous or given multiple meanings. Case in point: a recent article in the New York Times. Titled European Governments Staying Out of the Cloud, it explains how Europe is therefore a less promising market than the United States for cloud services.

While there’s plenty of good stuff in the article, its arguments are diluted by the fact it talks about a cloud as a thing, rather than a set of characteristics. Rather than reiterating those points, it is worth considering where cloud is making sense to central and local governments, and where it is less so.

In the UK specifically, the Cabinet Office has two programmes underway – at a lower level, the Public Services Network (PSN) which is aimed at providing a shared networking infrastructure across public organisations. Certified providers are building services on top of this, which are to all intents and purposes ‘cloud-based’.

The second initiative is of course G-Cloud, in which (once again) cloud-based service providers can be selected for inclusion in a catalogue. “We can only see an up-side,” says John Glover, sales and marketing director at online collaboration tools supplier, Kahootz. Which sounds pretty positive.

Broadening to continental Europe, two factors are at play. First and for the record, yes, Europeans are notably more reticent than their US counterparts. We old-worlders are less keen to accept things at face value or try things out, which goes a long way to explain why start-ups tend to fare better in the US than over here.

Equally, Europe (despite efforts for better or worse since the war) lacks a common legal framework, particularly in areas such as privacy and contract law. What is lawful in one country may be completely illegal in another, as well as potentially being socially unacceptable.

All the same, public sector Europe is keen on cloud for all the same reasons as everywhere else. A report from the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENSIA) highlights ways in which cloud can reduce risk – for example by increasing reliability, enabling business continuity and delivering levels of physical security would be lacking in many public organisations.

The same report lists risks including that all-important insider threat, given that data is accessible by a third party. Interestingly, the fear of third parties exploiting data for marketing purposes is not highlighted as a risk: while this is likely a simple oversight, it does suggest that the issue is not as troubling as the New York Times article is making out.

Of course, data confidentiality is being treated with a great deal of respect across the European public sector – not least in healthcare, but here the issue is less about whether organisations want to benefit from third parties delivering services over the Internet, and more whether they can meet local legislation and norms while delivering efficient services to their clients.

From the US standpoint, Europe may occasionally appear slow or behind the curve when it comes to new technology adoption. But in the case of the cloud, it is a simple question of deciding when, where and how such new technology delivery models apply. Where they can, they will.

Jon Collins

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Jon is an author, technology commentator and director at Inter Orbis, which researches the impact of technology on business and society. With over 20 years’ in the technology industry, Jon has a deep understanding of the global infrastructures, software architectures, and governance models required to make communities work..

In Jon’s varied career he has been IT manager, software consultant, training manager, IT security expert and industry analyst. He was named European analyst of the year by the Institute of Industry Analyst Relations in 2009..

Outside of technology, Jon has authored several books about music including bands such as Marillion and Rush, Jon is currently writing two books about the impact of the Internet on business and society, and is researching a novel about the violinist, Paganini.