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Will cloud computing bring democracy to IT delivery?
As the Government tries to make UK cloud-friendly and innovation-ready, are political and cultural barriers really coming down?
The cloud is supposed to be a great leveller. One of its promises is to facilitate the speedy deployment of new, innovative capabilities and easy collaboration within and between organisations, no matter how meagre the budget or how technologically illiterate the users.
In the public sector, the Government’s latest strategy through CloudStore, its new public sector app store, is to democratise the situation even further - making it easier for Departments and local authorities and services to match their ‘business’ needs with the most appropriate solutions, so they can quickly tap in to the functionality they need and start delivering results.
But to what extent is this democratisation of IT being borne out? As far as CloudStore is concerned it’s too early to tell, but there are other signs that cloud computing isn’t breaking down barriers quite as readily as has been expected.
Guy Beaudin, public sector business development director at independent technology company Insight UK, believes that too many constraints remain which are preventing the UK from becoming a cloud leader.
Not only is the UK dancing to the tune of the EU when it comes to determining where personal data can be held but UK Data Protection legislation goes even further, specifying that personal data cannot leave Britain. “Anyone providing cloud services to the public sector in the UK must be able to prove that personal data is not leaving UK shores,” he says. “That can make the adoption of cloud services in the UK a very expensive proposition for the public sector. What should be a very liberating experience becomes limited to just those applications that are not in danger of carrying personal information. In a lot of cases that precludes email.
“The big, global cloud suppliers aren’t going to build data centres in the UK just to appease our public sector,” Beaudin continues. “It doesn’t matter how many times these influential companies raise the issue with the Cabinet Office; the Government throws its hands up, citing Data Protection.”
If the UK wants to build a sustainable cloud infrastructure the Government must be prepared to change the law, he claims. “Big players are important for economies of scale. Google offers all of its enterprise applications for £33 a year per user. Without access to that it’s down to companies like ours to meet the need, but when you’ve got to specify UK backup you’re looking at £20 per user per month; the costs don’t even compare.”
While Beaudin believes the Government’s current take on cloud procurement is commendable, he is concerned that the way it has been executed will give rise to chaos and confusion, which could ultimately lead to poor decision-making. “The idea is to show buyers what’s available, to help them refine what they need, but effectively what’s been created is an online catalogue with a series of technical descriptions that’s not easily searchable and makes it hard for business users to compare one offering with another,” he says. “Not only that, but you can’t buy from it directly.”
There is also a danger that, unless the public sector users perusing the catalogue are technology savvy enough, they could expend a lot of time and budget implementing a solution only to fall foul of Data Protection measures if they aren’t fully aware of the how these apply to the particular cloud-based activity.