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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?
As to political barriers at another level, for example as each organisation fights to assert its own value and retain possessive control of its own data, or as IT reasserts its position in the face of escalating business demands, Beaudin believes such issues have scarcely had a chance to surface. It would be easy to blame the lack of widespread business innovation in the cloud on internal politics (albeit that there are pockets of progress here and there, one example being the London Borough of Lewisham’s cloud-based graffiti and fly-tipping reporting application which is being rapidly replicated across the country). Yet Beaudin believes the inhibitors are even more fundamental.
“There aren’t enough technical bodies in the public sector to even get to that point,” he claims. “Internal IT departments are worried about getting left behind, but are so wrapped up in security and data protection policies, and providing robust backup and restore, that they haven’t got the capacity to think about anything else.” The irony is that if they surrendered everything to an external cloud provider someone else would shoulder that burden, freeing up more of their time and head space to focus on real business innovation, he notes.
Where there are signs of cloud-based innovation, this is still at an operational IT level rather than at the forefront of business use, concurs Andy Rogers, chair of the cloud computing steering group at the National Outsourcing Association, citing the example of Royal Mail which shares infrastructure with other public sector bodies to keep costs down when managing peak service loads.
Rogers echoes Beaudin’s comments about a lack of skills being at least partially responsible for holding back real business-level innovation, and says this is an issue that applies across the private sector as much as in government organisations.
“Enterprise architects and strategy teams don’t know how to embrace the cloud to this end,” he says. “They have lots of legacy systems that don’t necessarily lend themselves to being moved into the cloud. It’s okay for office applications, but preparing applications for transition to the cloud is a lot of work, and very costly.”
That said, IT managers of large enterprise organisations are learning to let go. “I was at a Gartner event a few weeks ago, where CIOs were adamant that they no longer cared who owns the infrastructure,” Rogers says. “Running their own data centres isn’t practical,” he notes. “IT organisations are no longer as asset-based as they used to be. What is an issue, however, is ownership of the application and the core data – the intellectual property. This is creating a barrier. Security and risk departments are growing as they strive to control and protect this property, which is restricting organisations’ fleetness of foot.”
It is the value of this intellectual property that is also likely to temper the enthusiasm with which users share content and resources with those from outside their immediate fold.