The Centrality of the User: Cloud Technology Adoption in the Public Sector
By World Infrastructure Journal-
With the hope of reducing investment in IT infrastructure and resources while capitalising on the benefits and convenience, government organisations have continued to migrate to cloud-based services. However, there have been persistent concerns with security and accessibility that have remained unanswered. Though some security solutions are being found, there is a need for a more user-centric approach that prioritises data management while making the adoption of new technologies more straightforward and commonplace.
Cloud-based technologies can revolutionise the way the UK’s public sector works by simplifying and rationalising the maintenance of applications and the storage of data. Last month, UKCloud unveiled its latest version for Red Hat OpenShift, a platform that essentially allows code to be written and applications to be deployed faster by using innovative digital technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) to standardise tooling. Beyond speeding up development processes, the platform’s built-in technologies ensure best practice and remove inefficiencies and fragmentation to ensure the end user experience of the application is stable and secure.
At the same time, the Cabinet Office’s Government Shared Services function, with assistance from Shared Services Connected Limited (SSCL) who deliver a single operating platform to several bodies within the public sector, has seen benefits in both cost and efficiency by moving internal workloads to the cloud. For a UK public sector looking to digitally transform to keep pace with British infrastructure increasingly relying on technology, the benefits of buying into specialist Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions are clear. However, while more responsive, more adaptable, and more secure, benefits everyone, the technology is only as good as its usability.
According to research gathered by UKCloud themselves, 97 per cent of senior IT professionals and business leaders within the UK public sector are “evaluating digital technology and its potential to improve outcomes and services". 48 per cent however said they felt they lacked the “the resources necessary to understand and drive efficiencies from the data that they have” and 67 per cent reported their organisation “allocated no more than a few days a month for employees to innovate and research new ways to unlock the value of data. ” Limits to working internally, however, are not the only concern. Within the same survey, 45 per cent of respondents said they felt uncomfortable using cloud technologies “to safely and easily share data with partners and other agencies,” and over 60 per cent stated they still kept “some of their data stored in paper-based archives. ”
There is a significant appetite within the UK public sector for the implementation of cloud technologies, but it is clear that unless concerns around security are met, and efforts are made to ease their adoption and use, significant portions of those driving innovation within Britain’s public services will not feel comfortable or able to take advantage of their benefits. Public sector organisations need to take a more critical approach to assessing the interest of organisations and stakeholders, and a more robust approach to internal training and promoting cloud awareness. Cloud providers are aware of these concerns and are attempting to build technologies with user accessibility as a priority. UKCloud has looked to use technologies such as AI and IoT in a greater capacity to ease the user experience, and similar efforts are being undertaken by the majority of cloud providers featured on the GOV.UK Digital Marketplace.
However, technologically driven solutions to issues that fundamentally come down to a lack of comfort with new technology can only go so far. What is ultimately needed is a greater appreciation within the UK public sector for the importance of introducing new technologies clearly, realistically, and consistently. That means, beyond allowing employees greater time to work with and become accustomed to new technologies, while also continuing to encourage cloud providers to find innovative solutions to increase ease of use, the UK public sector needs to start adopting new technologies more regularly, across all levels.
Cultures of Innovation
As the pace of innovation quickens while the UK attempts to "level up" their infrastructure and reduce carbon emissions, the public sector will have to similarly adapt to ensure their methods of operation do not become obsolete. The best way to do so is by creating a culture of innovation where employees and partners are encouraged to adopt the latest technologies and ensure that as they are introduced, users have adequate time to familiarise themselves and explore their potential. However, for the most part, the various enterprises, authorities, and corporations that comprise the public sector continue to move forward with a “make do” attitude. This is despite “the promotion of a culture for innovation and the development of intellectual capital [being] issues of utmost importance in generating and maintaining a proactive and entrepreneurial organisation,” according to infrastructure management experts John Steele and Mike Murray.
For instance, in January of last year, Windows 7 was phased out by Microsoft while still widely used across the UK’s public sector. The move had been announced by Microsoft years in advance and meant that security updates and support would no longer be available to the users of the operating system. However in the last weeks of 2019, local authorities and members of the public sector were still running the operating system that was set to become “more vulnerable to security risks and viruses. ” This failure to respond swiftly to the pace of change in the world of technology came only two years after the WannaCry ransomware attack in 2017, which saw vulnerabilities in legacy IT systems exposed. This caused significant disruptions to the NHS’s operations and cost taxpayers tens of millions of pounds in repairs.
There has been no significant change in practices within the public sector since, indicating that making sure employees and partners have the ability and resources to make the most out of new technologies is still not a priority. Without such a change, however, UK public sector will continue to struggle to keep pace with innovation, and the current culture of apprehension around usability and security will remain in place to the detriment of the public sector and UK cloud developers alike. Making usability a priority from both a technical and support perspective and encouraging a true culture of innovation, will be key.
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