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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?
At a public sector level, Bill McCluggage, formerly a government CIO and now and an advisory technology consultant for the public sector at EMC in the UK, believes that there is an education gap which now needs to be addressed.
“My personal belief is that the supply side - the IT industry - is now sufficiently aligned so that, with SLAs [service level agreements] and due diligence, it is competent to provide cloud services to Government,” he says. “At the demand side, there is still a lot of upskilling required to harness this very dynamic environment.” Real progress requires an alignment of vision and strategy across business leaders/officials/MPs, CIOs, commercial/procurement directors and finance directors, he notes.
Claiming that the Foundation Delivery Partner groupings behind CloudStore are very strong and will help shine a light on what’s possible (Warwickshire County Council is championing a new email system, and the Ministry of Justice is ‘powering ahead with the cloud’), he says, “Business owners and users need to be led on a journey.”
Buying into the cloud as a business facilitator also means being prepared to embrace new approaches to governance, according to Graham Oakes, a technology consultant and cloud computing specialist. “I’m still consistently seeing a tussle between those trying to exercise control, and the people with real jobs to do,” he says. Those vying to take charge aren’t just IT managers worried about data security, privacy and integrity issues, but also include central business managers.
Whose standards apply – with regard to branding, for example? Who owns the content, and when is information transferred from a local to a central level? “These are governance issues, and developing best practice in these areas is very much a work in progress,” Oakes says.
“I'm not convinced the cloud is going to be democratic,” he concludes. “There's a real risk that organisations' use of the cloud will polarise into two extremes: centralised and authoritarian, where IT will control the cloud infrastructure and create a more or less rigid set of policies and access controls dictating how everyone else uses it; and anarchic, where individual units or teams buy their own facilities from external cloud service providers, bypassing all central control. I see signs of both in organisations I'm working with today.
“Smart organisations are addressing these governance questions and thinking about which decisions need to be centralised and which should be devolved. They are the ones who will get the most out of the cloud, but I doubt they'll be in the majority. Maybe as the cloud industry matures it will get better at helping people think about these questions, but most vendors don't really have good answers in this area. They're focused on technology and products, not on the human and political elements.”