Comment: Scotland's Progress to the Cloud
I was invited to chair the Holyrood Connect Cloud Services in the Public Sector conference which took place online earlier this month. It gave me the opportunity to reunite, albeit virtually, with a number of government colleagues I met when on secondment under the First Minister Digital Fellowship Programme.
When in government, one of the business areas I was responsible for was the Digital Directorate Cloud team, our remit being to accelerate Scottish Government’s adoption of Cloud.
When I joined, Cloud hosting was routinely adopted for new systems and services, however, architecting to maximise benefits of Cloud was still in its infancy and there was minimal progress on tackling the huge challenge of migrating legacy systems. At the time, the common issues were deciding where to start, how to create a compelling business case that demonstrated the benefits to be gained and justified the cost of transition and, of course, access to specialist skills and experience.
Progress Well Underway
The sessions from the conference showed that, two years on, there has been some great progress. The conversation has clearly shifted from “Why Cloud?” to “How to Get to Cloud?” and there is widespread appreciation of Cloud architectures. In many instances, the pandemic has accelerated plans and converted many sceptics to appreciate the value from cloud and the business resilience that cloud services offer.
The primary challenge remains access to the suitably qualified staff. Not surprising then that a key theme emerging from the conference was the importance of collaboration. The Cloud Community founded by the Digital Cloud team has proven invaluable to many and events like the conference itself play an important role too. Throughout the two days of the conference, speakers shared lots of lessons learned and there were plenty of recommendations for useful online resources.
Collaboration is Key
I’m a big believer that we need to foster increased collaboration between public and private sectors. That doesn’t mean breaching procurement or limiting competition. But it does mean creating fora, like the conference last week, where public sector can benefit from wider and/or specialist experience and private sector can gain deeper insights into the specific challenges faced by government. As was evidenced by the speakers at the event, there is a huge amount of opportunity to improve public services through use of Cloud. To accelerate that improvement, we need to better channel the capacity, skills and experience in the private sector to meet demand, ensuring compliance with standards to reduce risks of supplier dependency and vendor lock-in.
A further challenge that does remain, though did not feature strongly at the event, is procurement. Much work has been done to allow for agile delivery and Cloud hosting but more is required to enable fair commercial assessment of cloud solutions, and contracts need to reflect the appropriate IP, licensing and business continuity responsibilities.
The Future is Data
The really exciting opportunity is the potential Cloud offers to government to exploit data. The ability to build powerful analytical capability without the huge costs associated with traditional data warehousing has the potential, ensuring it is undertaken ethically and securely, to bring immense value to improve services and lives. We are just at the beginning of this journey but I’m sure we will see increasing numbers of projects in this area in the years to come.
So let’s keep on working together to make it happen.
Alison McLaughlin is chair of ScotlandIS and client engagement director at Exception, a digital services and solutions provider dedicated to helping organisations unlock value and create opportunity through the power of technology.