Solutions

How Governments Can Embrace the Cloud More Effectively

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Student using a phone to study
Thanks to the cloud, countries all over the world have been able to offer distance learning to students amid the pandemic. Photo credit: ADB

Lim May-Ann, executive director of Asia Cloud Computing Association, does not want to sugarcoat it: Migrating to the cloud can be challenging for governments.

At a webinar to launch the paper, Cloud Computing as a Key Enabler for Digital Government across Asia and the Pacific, she said there are barriers that need to be addressed so countries in the region can effectively adopt cloud computing.

"A lot of people tell you that moving to the cloud is a very simple thing. It is a very, very simple thing," said Lim, who is one of the authors of the paper published by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). However, deployment can be challenging. "You actually need to look into all of the different systems which interlock into cloud computing," she said, noting some countries, including Indonesia, facing difficulty as they move to the cloud.

To be successful, governments need to lay the right policy environment, establish a clear strategy and adoption plan, and ensure experts are in place to help with the implementation, she said.

Benefits

Amid the challenges, Lim urged governments to embrace the cloud, citing benefits from reducing costs and streamlining operations and improving efficiency and agility in service delivery to enhancing resilience through better business continuity and disaster recovery.

Thomas Abell, chief, Digital Technology for Development Unit, Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department, ADB, said apart from connectivity, the cloud has emerged among technologies governments need to invest in more in the wake of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. “Almost all of the public computing and services that are essential for our economic development now are served out of cloud technologies,” he said.

He added, “cloud computing is in some ways becoming the next infrastructure for the digital economy. You start with basic infrastructure: water, power, transport,  and then you add connectivity for digital. And now cloud is another layer.

He said ADB published the paper to understand how governments can more effectively use cloud technologies.

Indonesia experience

At the webinar, Semuel A. Pangerapan, director general, Information & Communication Technology Applications, Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, Indonesia, noted some of the challenges the government is facing as his country prepares to shift to the cloud. “Right now, most of the government agencies, they are worrying about how to move to cloud. They worry about security. They worry about anything.”

He said the government has also encountered some issues convincing the private sector to make the shift. He cited concerns from the financial sector, which is worried about security. “They worry too much.”

To allay such concerns, he said it is important for governments to have a plan in place which will guide all stakeholders in making the shift. He said Indonesia is in the process of drawing up guidelines to ease the transition.

Challenges

According to the paper, one of the challenges facing policy makers concerns establishing security and data protection policies that balance the need to protect data with the need to enable secure data flows. Some governments have put in place restrictive regulation. Others have developed multiple technical and security policies which overlap with existing international standards, creating a complex mesh of conflicting policies.

Outdated cost structures and public procurement modalities are also barriers. In many cases, government agencies may want to purchase cloud services, but the existing purchasing rules may not allow utility-based variable cost items, such as cloud services, to be purchased. Updating such policies may require legislative changes, which would take significant time to be proposed and passed officially.

There are also technical barriers as technical knowledge of the specific requirements in the public sector is required to begin the system design and cost-estimation processes. In some instances, personnel may not be available and external resources may need to be brought in.

Policy recommendations

The paper recommended the following to enable greater cloud adoption:

  • Establish a conducive regulatory environment. Establishing such an environment would address concerns about data privacy and security among stakeholders, the paper said. It also urged countries to assess key bottlenecks in terms of data management, data classification, and interoperability between government service platforms; develop cloud-relevant data privacy regulation; develop cloud-relevant cybersecurity regulations and enforcement; and leverage internationally recognized standards and best practices on cloud computing.
  • Establish a clear and robust cloud strategy and adoption plan. This signals a government’s receptiveness toward cloud computing and should be followed up with a clear implementation plan or strategy to suit the requirements of the country and incorporate the learnings from earlier implementations. Governments should also consider adopting a cloud-first or cloud-by-default approach as a whole-of-government approach; define and manage the scope and timeline of projects; and ensure that strategies and road maps for advanced technologies (such as artificial intelligence) acknowledge the role of cloud and consider the linkages with the cloud strategy.
  • Ensure that in-house support is available. Having experts will guide government institutions as they move to the cloud. Governments can designate or create a dedicated unit or center of excellence, as well as a cloud procurement marketplace that would allow fast and safe assessment and purchase of cloud services for public sector deployment.

Marcus Bartley Johns, regional director, Government Affairs and Public Policy, Microsoft, said COVID-19 has shown governments the role of new technology solutions like the cloud in meeting some of their policy challenges as they deal with the pandemic. He said education is one of the areas that highlighted how the cloud can reach many in just a short period of time.

He cited the case of the Republic of Korea which was able to use the public cloud to expand service capacity more than 500 times within 2 weeks, giving access to three million students to learn online through the educational broadcasting system. “That kind of service delivery is really just not possible without the cloud.”