Across the Asia-Pacific region, countless businesses rely on cloud platforms to acquire limitless storage, sophisticated data tools and other advanced services — without the need for additional servers and other costly on-site assets that fatten their CAPEX. These advantages are now compelling governments to take action as well.

For a long time, technology leaders in the public sector have faced mounting concerns about the scalability, cost efficiency, security, flexibility and performance of their aging IT infrastructure and services. They now know that their problems will persist unless they make the pivotal decision to transform their legacy IT systems into ones that completely (or at least partially in the form of hybrid implementations) reside in the cloud.

In fact, legislatures and executive branches around the world have promulgated policies that mandate public sector adoption of cloud technologies, entailing the migration of entire systems into a cloud-driven economy. Australia has already made that quantum leap by passing legislation in 2014 that makes cloud adoption mandatory and requires non-corporate entities to adopt a cloud-first policy. Across the ocean, the United States is well into the implementation stage of its Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act, which started as an evolving policy in 2007 and took off in 2018. The act emphasizes the “transition of outdated legacy systems to commercial cloud computing”.

Elsewhere, much of the same shift is happening, and that is nowhere as evident as in the bustling hubs of Asia-Pacific. New Zealand, Malaysia and the Philippines have all set a “cloud-first” policy into legislation. Meanwhile, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan earn some of the highest scores globally in the Asia Cloud Computing Association’s Cloud Readiness Index.

What’s driving governments to embrace the cloud?

Governments might be blooming late, but they simply can’t afford to ignore the transformational trends taking hold and still expect to have the required agility and scope to serve citizens whose expectations have been seasoned by the cloud. Three driving factors that push governments to consider migrating to cloud-based architecture include the following:

Unified and shareable data sets

Governments are the most massive organisations in the world, but they are also among the most siloed and fragmented. Each department builds, grows and manages its own data set such that data about the same subject can come from multiple sources and sometimes conflict with one another. This impedes interoperability among relevant agencies or ministries, which in turn delays the resolution of problems or undermines the precision and efficacy of government strategies, programmes or initiatives.

Better service through improved efficiencies

On the other hand, a unified and shareable data set eliminates the siloed nature of public sector entities and promotes seamless synergy among departments. A single, accurate data source leads to better intelligence, smarter insight and improved quality of service.

Cost savings

Meanwhile, budget optimisation and cost reductions are overarching concerns for many countries in the region, especially among developing economies such as Vietnam and the Philippines. That’s because cloud technologies help (1) streamline operations, (2) reduce the need for expensive software licenses and periodic system upgrades, and (3) drive higher efficiencies and productivity across the board. These are pressing concerns for newly industrialising countries that want to drive better economic outcomes without breaking the bank.

What’s keeping governments from taking the plunge?

Governments remain wary of initiating sudden change when it comes to their IT systems. Three of the biggest pain points in this arena are due to cyber security, data sovereignty and balancing existing large investments in legacy systems.

Cyber security is a serious problem, with both government agencies and private enterprises often becoming victims of sophisticated cyber attacks. Fortunately, cloud technologies have matured to the point that even the intelligence community accepts commercial cloud solutions in lieu of or in tandem with on-premises data centres. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) itself has worked with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to build a secure system for the intelligence community, with its leaders lauding the level of security today’s cloud technologies offer.

Meanwhile, data sovereignty, which has to do with the ambiguity of who owns the data governments collect and use, is arising as a major concern in cloud-based architectures where data centres are often located outside these governments’ jurisdictions. For the most part, this issue is receding, given the aggressive move of cloud providers that have opened their respective data centres in key locations in the region, including Singapore, Indonesia, China, India, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Taiwan and Australia.

Finally, one of the major concerns that can burden more economically advanced governments is the analysis and expense of determining how to transition legacy systems to the cloud. This factor is somewhat paradoxical: Advanced economies such as Singapore, which have the budget and existing infrastructures to support full migration to the cloud, are often the ones having second thoughts due to their huge investments in systems that are now steadily becoming obsolete. Understandably, these governments spend more time analysing the issue in hopes of gaining incremental return on investment (ROI) for their legacy investments. On the other hand, governments in maturing economies, such as Vietnam, have fewer investments in legacy systems to hinder cloud adoption.

All roads lead to the cloud

Citizens and private enterprises across the globe have already grown accustomed to the convenience, scalability and efficiency accorded by the cloud. Can governments afford to stay put and still meet their constituents’ rising expectations? Indeed, governments can create their own cloud infrastructures, but will the economics of doing so outweigh the viability and proven assurance of partnering with commercial cloud providers? Regardless of the terrain, all roads are leading to the cloud. Given the transformative potential involved, the best strategy for the public sector is to take bold steps. The worst is to do nothing.