Government CIOs and cloud: a tumultuous relationship

The need to deliver better services, and at a lower cost, is driving every level of government to look for new, more collaborative ways of working. While this need is not new, the tools available to government organisations are.

Initiatives to drive greater collaboration (both internally between teams and agencies, and externally with partners, suppliers and the public) are today being met with a mix of cloud computing, social tools, mobile devices and collaborative work platforms.

However, these tools have presented themselves to government organisations not only as an opportunity, but also as a challenge – most notably, the ability to leverage cloud technologies for collaborative work management in a way that strikes a balance between the very real need to protect sensitive data, and the need to remain proportionate and aligned with wider business goals.

>See also: UK public sector faces a ticking time bomb on cloud

In other words, tools cannot compromise on ease of use when programmes are increasingly being evaluated and funded based on the public’s and employee’s experience.

A recent report by Gartner talked to this dichotomy, stating, “Infrastructure, analytics and cloud computing are the top three technology priorities for government CIOs in all tiers and regions, but the adoption of cloud services in government lags behind other industries.”

The desire for change is clear enough – from multi-agency project coordination and supplier management, through to the basic need of employees looking to sync, share and publish files across desktop and mobile devices. But have governments moved quickly enough?

The Gartner report went on to say that for CIOs in general, “in relatively short order, cloud has moved from a concept, to a possibility, to a viable option”, though only a ‘small minority’ of government CIOs are adopting a cloud-first approach when scoping new projects.

Why the delay and why the small minority?

More than two years ago, the UK government actively promoted its position on cloud technology, with the then Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, stating, “The Cloud First policy will embed the skills a modern civil service needs to meet the demands of 21st-century digital government and help us get ahead in the global race.”

Similarly, more than three years ago, a U.S. government paper concluded that: “Going forward, we must pilot, document and rapidly scale new approaches to secure data and mobile technologies and address privacy concerns….Shifting to the cloud is one area of opportunity.”

What then, is stopping some government bodies actually taking to the cloud? The main obstacle is security – or, at least, the perception of it.

91% of CIOs who participated in the Gartner 2015 CIO Agenda research said the digital world creates new types and increased levels of risk in government. In addition, government CIOs are hampered by complex legacy IT environments that must be simplified and modernised.

This is borne out of independent research that Huddle commissioned into public sector IT practices in the UK. The results showed that just 37% of central government employees are confident using cloud IT – and only a little over half of staff in IT departments are self-assured using cloud platforms, with almost a quarter claiming not to have used one at all.

This is a major barrier to effectively implementing many of the government’s service evolution programmes, and one that almost certainly also exists in the U.S.

The reason for this uncertainty emanate from fears surrounding security, time and effort to move to cloud platforms, and a lack of expertise to implement them.

Nearly half of central government staff felt their organisations could not see the benefit in cloud computing. But the research also found that a huge 93% of central government staff share and work on information with external organisations.

If this external data collaboration is not taking place via secure cloud platforms, then insecure and inefficient approaches are filling the void – email, post and even couriered hard copies.

Yet the importance of effective security cannot be underestimated. Not just the basic concern of the sensitivity of the data that public sector bodies hold, but also the degree to which external collaboration features in public sector day-to-day life.

Public sector CIOs need to see cloud as a cultural revolution, and that means reversing the security fears. A frontline lack of trust in cloud security is the fundamental Achilles’ heel of the wider and faster adoption of public sector cloud services.

How to reassure CIOs

It is possible to have a trusted cloud-collaboration solution for government and public sector organisations. Teams can work securely in the cloud, empowering confident collaboration across teams and government agencies to support multi-agency project delivery, drive more effective procurement and supplier management with external partners, and enable secure and simple document sharing to increase the productivity of your employees and contractors.

Cloud collaboration tools need to have the ability to manage information that is rated as ‘official’ under the Government Security Classification Policy (GSC). This protects data against common threats such as opportunistic hackers and abuses of business processes, while remaining proportionate and aligned with wider business goals of the organisation.

>See also: Gartner’s top 10 government tech trends in 2015

The majority of information that is created or processed by the public sector falls within this category. In order to adhere to strict security guidelines, suppliers need to also ensure that data is always encrypted in motion with high-grade SSL, and at rest with 256-bit AES for those who need to maintain complete control.

In addition, using the UK Government G-Cloud, which eases the procurement process for public-sector bodies in the UK for IT suppliers that use cloud computing, adds additional peace-of-mind that data is secure. This is because only by using G-Cloud can the public sector guarantee that the technology has been rigorously tested and meets each industry’s specific security requirements. 

The benefits of the cloud are loud and clear, as is the energy and ambition from the highest echelons of government. Government CIOs have a real opportunity to translate their vision into action. Cloud collaboration can deliver the efficiency gains, cost savings and collaborative working practices that will transform the public sector IT landscape.


Alastair Mitchell, president, CMO and co-founder, Huddle

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...