Public sector CIOs should look to the leading cloud computing providers for insights into architecting the next generation of government IT infrastructure as an agile whole-of-government utility rather than creating outdated, inflexible shared services and outsourcing arrangements.
The emerging logic of cloud computing
Public sector agencies are not immune to the pressures being placed on all organisations this year to cut costs and boost operating performance. The flurry of economic stimulus spending under way across the globe might create the appearance of spend, spend, spend by government, but the reality is that governments themselves are being beaten by the hammer of the economic crisis.
Departments and agencies in Australia have been asked to tighten their annual efficiency dividend belt another notch, from 2 to 3.5 per cent, and to specifically target ways of reducing business-as-usual IT expenses, under the recommendations of the Gershon Review. This climate of austerity is likely to get a lot worse before it gets better. CIOs need to be on the front foot with ways to make a step change downwards in their day-to-day IT costs before the CFO cuts their IT budget anyway. Cloud computing appears to offer the potential of such a step change in IT operating costs, enabling agencies to access other-worldly scale economies. Should public sector CIOs be tapping into the cloud?
Cloud logic and public sector IT management
Discussion of cloud computing in the public sector often revolves around agencies putting applications on platforms, such as Amazon EC2, or using applications such as Gmail or Salesforce. Concerns over data sovereignty, privacy and control over public data in the cloud, naturally enough, tend to kill these discussions before they gain much of a head of steam at least for anything but niche applications.
We need to move beyond this at-the-margins thinking and explore the applicability of cloud logic to the core operations of government IT. In essence, cloud computing is the holy grail of utility computing the ability to treat IT as a ubiquitous, on-demand service and flexibly consume as much, or as little, as is needed. This is made possible by virtualising applications from hardware so they can scale, architecting applications as multi-tenant web services and simplifying the way users access applications via the Internet.
Cloud computing is about re-conceptualising the boundaries of how IT is delivered. Computing that used to operate within the boundaries of a single machine, or within an organisations IT infrastructure, can be performed within the infrastructure of an organisation operating at a global level. Cloud computing delivers the power of massive global infrastructure to anyone, regardless of location.
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