The public sector is sometimes considered slow moving and loathe to try new technology. But that’s rapidly changing. Governments in countries across the world, such as Singapore, are forging ahead, adopting secure public cloud infrastructure to deliver better service in a timelier manner. 

In October 2018, the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, announced the government would move some IT systems to a commercial cloud system. Within a month, the Singapore government launched the Digital Economy Framework for Action and its Services 4.0 strategy. At the heart of this initiative is a cloud-native, cloud-first strategy for both the government and the broader Singapore economy. This initiative was more than a mere statement of intent as it makes clear that every agency needs to have a definite plan to embark on the journey toward cloud platforms as the basis for providing advanced digital services to Singaporeans.

The benefits of public cloud for government
The benefits of this approach are substantial. The adoption of a cloud-native, cloud-first strategy will give government agencies and citizens easier access to emerging technologies. The API-driven and standards-focused nature of cloud systems makes the integration of new technology simpler. Therefore, if a new service emerges, the effort to integrate it is reduced, along with the costs and time. This allows governments to move faster to meet the evolving needs of citizens. And according to recent data from IDC, Singaporeans are indeed embracing cloud services, reflecting increased consumer confidence in the solution.

In addition, cloud-based solutions can give better cost control as agencies only purchase services, such as infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS), as needed. This means expenditure can be shifted from capital to operational funds, freeing up large tranches of money for developing better systems rather than maintaining ageing hardware and software. 

Cloud infrastructure is also far more elastic and allows agencies to add capacity during peak periods and reduce it during lulls. This means systems don’t have to be sized for peaks that may occur only occasionally. 

The challenges of moving to cloud
Shifting from traditional on-premises systems to the cloud changes the nature of security challenges. The risks associated with external attacks are different, and that requires rethinking how systems and data are to be secured. And while there might not be a change in the compliance obligations to ensure appropriate controls on data, the way those controls are managed will require a full review. 

There are also technical challenges in moving to the cloud. Many existing services were built on the assumption they were to be hosted on internally managed systems. As a result, technology teams were structured around this idea. So, as well as needing to potentially rearchitect systems to operate on remote servers, challenges can arise as internal IT teams fear a loss of control.

As for other challenges? A British report from the Cloud Industry Forum noted that 40 per cent of respondents cited budgetary constraints as the reason why their move to cloud had slowed, while 24 per cent blamed skill shortages.

How do you make the move?
In order to overcome some of the budgetary pressure that a transition to the cloud may create, it’s important to look for low-cost opportunities that offer a substantial return. In some cases, this can be as simple as providing a more attractive front end to services that may precede a more substantial architecture review. However, in doing that, it is important to have a vision for what you want the future to look like and establish a plan to achieve it.

Next, look for cloud providers that give assurances that they will deliver the level of security required to comply with regulations and then assure the public that their data is safe. Cloud providers such as Microsoft and Amazon Web Services are now offering government-specific cloud services and work with third-parties to assist government agencies as they move to cloud-based systems. 

Singapore is already seeing results from its cloud initiative. Thirty companies and associations from major enterprises have joined Singapore’s Digital Cloud Community and pledged their support for cloud-native architecture.