Digital leaders need to develop a flexible approach to deal with questions around data location and future uncertainty, says Andrew Puddephatt, director for the UK public sector at Nutanix
Uncertainty is becoming a certainty in the outlook for UK public services. Whilst it is still difficult to assess fully the long term effects of disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the financial squeeze is likely to demand that authorities do even more with even less, and relationships with the EU and the US are raising awkward questions around the rules for the storage and exchange of data.
The public sector cannot realistically foresee every demand that will emerge over the next few months, let alone years, and it will have to react quickly in how it uses the cloud elements of its digital infrastructure.
UKAuthority, in partnership with Nutanix, has investigated the forces at work for a new white paper, ‘Cloud for coping with uncertainty in public services’, drawing on discussions with public sector digital leaders and the coverage of developments over the past year and more.
The project confirmed that cloud provided a major asset for organisations in their response to the pandemic, enabling the surge in home working and providing the foundation for a range of digital services. This comes from some of the core advantages of public cloud: the simplicity of harnessing readily available services; its scalability; their easy operation through commodity hardware; and the capacity to use them in quickly developing and deploying new services.
Over the past year the public cloud has really proved its value as a resource that organisations have used to support the massive shift to home working, maintain their operations through lockdown, adopt new digital tools and quickly spin up services to support people who are most vulnerable to the pandemic. There is every sign that the trend will continue, as it supports an agile and often cost-effective approach to dealing with new challenges and coping with the tight financial outlook for the public sector.
But there are complications. One is in the backdrop of uncertainty around legal factors in the management of personal data and its location.
This comes partly from the breakdown in 2020 of the EU-US Privacy Shield scheme. While data transfers across the Atlantic have continued using standard contractual clauses, it has created widespread uncertainty around the future and the scope of organisations to use cloud services based in US data centres.
A further complication has been added by the US Cloud Act of 2018, which allows federal law enforcement to compel US based technology companies to provide requested data stored on their servers whether they are in the US or on foreign soil.
Cloud as appropriate
Another factor is that, as the pandemic has shown, there could always be unforeseen events that force public authorities to quickly develop new digital services and make new uses of data, and this will have implications for how they use cloud. In some cases it will demand a complex integration of data from different sources, in public and private clouds and on-premise, and that combination is likely to change over time.
The public sector cannot realistically foresee every demand that will emerge over the next few months, let alone years, and it will have to react quickly in how it uses the cloud elements of its digital infrastructure. The only certainty is likely to be change.
This is where the view of cloud as an operating model – rather than a choice of place for systems and data to reside long term – can be an important asset. It provides an approach that can be amended to meet new demands and open up opportunities from new technologies and services, with the scope to manage a hybrid cloud that continually changes shape, with shifts in the emphasis between public and private and a use of on-premise facilities when appropriate.
It also reflects a growing mood in the public sector in favour of ‘cloud as appropriate’ rather than ‘cloud first’ and comes down to an agile approach to using cloud services. Some organisations are already heading in this direction and some are looking at it, but there are plenty for which it would require a shift in the mindset.
The issue will be high on the agenda for public sector digital leaders, and the only way to face up to uncertainty is by ensuring flexibility.
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Image iStock-Дмитрий Ларичев