Gaining efficiency in government through the cloud

Dan Mannion, Microsoft’s director of Public Sector Cloud Strategy, talks to Cherie Rowlands about the benefits a national cloud rollout can provide to both the government and citizen

Cherie Rowlands
Cherie Rowlands
By Cherie Rowlands on 08 April 2014
Gaining efficiency in government through the cloud

This article was first published in the Spring 2014 issue of Touch 

What is the history behind Microsoft’s National Cloud initiative?

I took on the role as director of Public Sector Cloud Strategy at Microsoft around two years ago and I started by interviewing our cloud strategists who are dedicated to our public sector customers and engage with national governments worldwide. We discussed what was going on in the market, what they were concerned about and the support they needed, and the term they kept referring to was ‘national cloud’. It became apparent that we were witnessing and starting to become a part of a global trend – one we now call the Microsoft National Cloud Initiative.

What has fuelled this global trend?

Central governments want to take advantage of the cloud for three main reasons. One, they want to save money. Two, they want to deliver better services within government, to business and to their citizens. Three, they want to become more globally and economically competitive by supporting their local IT industries – driving jobs and developing the skill sets of their citizens. They therefore look to consolidate their IT infrastructures onto a single cloud platform for the whole of central government.  Some governments are viewing cloud infrastructure as strategic as they view their power and telecommunications infrastructure.

One government may have as many as 40 ministries that they have assigned to run its daily business. The way these have operated in the past is that they have their own IT departments each with different capabilities and funding levels. This means there’s a lot of hardware overlap, IT spending is wasted and collaborating across departments and ministries is often a challenge. Consolidating IT across all departments by building one national cloud platform enables ministries to overcome these challenges and deliver better services to citizens.

Cloud gains include greater transparency, interactive and scalable citizen portals, as well as the ability to deliver volumes of data to citizens. Government benefits include lower IT costs as budgets are consolidated through reduced hardware inefficiencies. Being able to access resources anytime-anywhere supports remote working and helps ensure operational continuity, while centralised data storage and backup allows a faster response in disaster recovery situations. But collaboration is the biggest reason governments give for moving to the cloud – multiple users from anywhere in the world can work and communicate on projects simultaneously.

Which deployment models are available?

It depends on three key criteria – cost, control and privacy. When moving to the cloud, governments need to decide on which deployment makes the most sense – public, an in-country service provider, private or hybrid.

For example, the UK Parliament recently adopted Microsoft Office 365 – the public cloud collaboration and messaging service – for all its communications. Data is held in one of two data centres located in Dublin and Amsterdam. The parliament is willing to communicate on a platform that exports all that important data to the public cloud because of its confidence in the security of Microsoft’s public cloud solution.

By the way, it is a misnomer to call Windows Azure or Office 365 the public cloud – there is nothing public about moving your e-mail workload to Office 365. You control access to the data and take it out of the platform whenever you wish. When governments compare that to the private data centre experience they have in their own country that they run and own with their own people, they are often say that Microsoft is ahead of them in terms of their security.

Government organisations – particularly an intelligence agency or military – don’t want some information to be publicly available, and so rely heavily on a platform’s privacy. These departments are willing to spend more money for a private cloud infrastructure, where they own the data centre and can ensure only the people with the appropriate security clearance can access the servers and information.

Which deployments are proving more popular and why?

It varies on a country-by-country basis. Across the 56 countries we are engaged with today, around 20% of workloads will move to the public cloud, 40%  to an in-country service cloud – often a national telecommunications provider – and 40% will remain in a government-owned private cloud with government-owned data centres.

I recently met with Spain’s minister of IT and industry after he had submitted a national strategy to the prime minister. When it came to looking at the key drivers behind the implementation, it was decided that the goal was to provide a platform that supports local IT and software development, and so they are considering the support of a local telecommunications provider that will partner with local, perhaps small, business.

In the same week I met with the head of the shared-service agency in Portugal. The key driver there is 100% cost saving. Due to the level of European Union support the country is receiving currently, it needs to cut its IT budget by 25% in the next 12 months. Therefore, it needs to be on the public cloud as quickly as possible to gain the fastest return on investment.

These are the ways in which governments are deciding on their own cloud strategies. We are not about selling software.  We partner with governments to help them select the right strategy for their countries through flexible, manageable and agile Microsoft technology and services.

How are governments rolling out solutions?

Within the 56 countries we are engaged with that are at some stage of moving to a national cloud, the most common first step for 70% of them is to consolidate e-mail for all government workers. That is because it’s easier to consolidate that platform than it is other systems. Second, it has a much bigger impact to the end users.

Around 15% move collaboration tools such as social networking, to the cloud by implementing Microsoft SharePoint, to enable improved sharing and annotating of documents. SharePoint has centralised document storage so it’s easier to share documents and it also allows users to share documents across departments. The remaining 10-15% is a mix of infrastructure-as-a-service and messaging.

What key challenges do governments face when developing cloud strategies?

The first challenge is whether the government has already applied a data security model to its data, so it can easily make decisions about which apps or workloads can move to which cloud deployment.  Some governments have done a very good job of this, sometimes too good, while others are trying to create it on the fly.

Secondly, the country may not have the right procurement framework in place to allow the different agencies and ministries move to the cloud, but it is important that they do. If ministries continue on a business-as-usual basis simply because their IT budgets support that, then not only is the benefit of the cloud lost, but spending on a solution that is not used, wastes taxpayer money.

There are various ways to encourage use of cloud technology. Canada, for example, has created an IT service agency bringing together 41 different IT departments into one IT shared-service agency. It has the people and the budget and they control 300 data centres. That forces them to think about how to operate more efficiently to enable them to start to reduce the agency’s budget.

France took a different approach. It invested €450 million into two separate consortia that are building and designing a cloud solution for the French Government. The government then instructs each department and agency to consume those cloud services. The UK Government on the other hand, decided to encourage public cloud consumption and has created the G-Cloud framework which pre-certifies 600 vendors’ cloud solutions. Once a provider makes it onto a G-Cloud framework, any ministry or any agency can procure it without needing to go to public tender.

How do you see national cloud strategies evolving in the future?

In one word – hybrid.  I have greater vision of this after spending two days with around a dozen CIOs at our Western European CIO Summit that Microsoft ran in Brussels in February 2014. The attendees want to get out of the business of IT and they are keen to see their governments move to the public cloud as much as possible. Not one of these CIOs wants to build another data centre or buy another server, but they still need to maintain some level of IT infrastructure for highly secure, highly private data. Governments recognise they need to move to the cloud. The stage we are at now is ‘how’, and that’s where we come in.

What final words of advice can you offer?

Central governments are on a journey to the cloud. They won’t move everything to the public cloud and don’t want to keep maintaining all the ageing IT infrastructure they have today. One solution doesn’t fit all, so find a partner that can help you with this journey. My message to all government CIOs is that in Microsoft you have a partner who won’t say you must go to the public cloud or you should stay private. You will find a partner that will look for the right model that best fits your business. This is what we call our Microsoft National Cloud Initiative. Whether you want to start with your private data centre or whether you want to start moving workloads to the public cloud, we’ll work with you to help you do that as effectively and efficiently as possible.

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