Public sector responses to Covid-19 have shown the value of expert management of a hybrid cloud, writes Rhys Sharp, public sector solutions director at Rackspace
Speed has been of the essence in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, with organisations having to react quickly in setting up solutions to support services to vulnerable people in lockdown.
It has been a major challenge, tapping into highly complex collections of processes, information flows and digital systems, often dispersed between on-premise, private and public cloud platforms. This complexity has to be unravelled so the systems can be reconfigured, with the scope to scale up the solutions to meet the surge in demand.
These challenges are not unique to the Covid-19 response. There is a long term need for new approaches to designing digital services, emphasising agility and speed; and they have to involve a firm grasp of how public needs are evolving and a pragmatic approach to the technology options.
Research for a new Rackspace/UKAuthority briefing paper highlighted lessons from the pandemic, characterised by a major switch to home working, and factors that will be highly significant over the long term.
The former included the importance of being prepared for this kind of upheaval, not just in having the technology available but ensuring that people knew how to use it, that sufficient software licences were available, that virtual private networks could be scaled up for more people to have remote access, and in some cases that new applications could be adopted quickly.
Accompanying these were the need to maintain robust security and overcome cultural barriers for more remote working. While cloud services, often within a hybrid architecture, have proved a big facilitator in overcoming the problems, it has been a complex challenge in which a strong understanding of the nature and costs of cloud is a major asset. Plenty of public sector organisations have relied on a commercial partner with the relevant expertise to assist them through the process.
Capability for evolution
The prime lesson for the future is that a strong, flexible capability can also lay the ground for a steady, long term evolution to meet changing demands; and this involves the ability to manage the intricacies of a hybrid cloud architecture.
The infrastructure does not have to be rigid, as a strong awareness of the options in cloud services and how they could be integrated into an existing digital architecture provides a solid starting point. A good knowledge of the market makes it possible to tap into these quickly, often within days rather than weeks, to boost existing capabilities and add new elements.
A hybrid cloud model can also lay the ground for ‘cloud bursting’, in which an application runs in a cloud or data centre and begins to use the capacity of a public cloud when there is a surge in demand for computing capacity. And it enables a smart approach to outsourcing through which organisations can take up cloud offerings that are most appropriate to specific services, and also help them to incorporate innovative solutions from small suppliers.
But it requires a shift in thinking, away from an operating model focused on an in-house data centre towards a dynamic use of the cloud services market, and a new skillset. This can be developed in-house or contracted to a partner, but in both cases it needs a collaborative approach to understand what the organisation needs and convey this effectively to whoever is procuring the services.
UKAuthority, supported by Rackspace, has investigated the issues, drawing on conversations with a number of public sector officials and audience polls at the recent Powering Digital Public Services online conference. They have published a briefing paper that rounds up the learnings and provides a number of insights on how the hybrid cloud can support reactions to a crisis and lay the ground for a successful evolution of a public sector digital architecture.
Register below to receive a copy of the new report, Managing Digital Complexity in a crisis
You can also download a pdf now of the UKAuthority and Rackspace report from earlier this year 'Smart Sourcing Insight'