Duncan Gillingwater, Regional Director, Public Sector UK&I, Dynatrace, discusses why the transition to the public sector cloud needs to happen, now

There’s a common misconception that the transition to the public sector cloud is falling and digital transformation is stalling.

Some public sector bodies have indeed been slow to adapt and keep pace with the shift to the cloud, but these criticisms aren’t entirely justified. For example, the Home Office has shared insights into its own extensive use of cloud-native services such as Kubernetes, Docker, and even infrastructure as code to enable Agile development practices across the department.

However, there’s still a lot of work to be done. To encourage a more widespread move to the public sector cloud, organisations need a new approach.

Among other things, this means adopting a more future-facing mentality. It’s not enough to just move existing applications to the cloud or spend valuable time and resources trying to patch up Frankenstein’s monster of legacy systems to work alongside more modern platforms.

So, how can the public sector stamp out rumours of stalling transformation and harness the cloud to its full potential?

Getting it right when the stakes are high

Some challenges to digital transformation are unique to the public sector. For a start, the stakes are often incredibly high, and much more so than in the private sector.

If there is an issue with a system responsible for paying people’s benefits, the impact is huge as those vulnerable people may not be able to afford their rent or put food on the table for a few days.

People are far more likely to complain about these sorts of issues in the public sector than they are in the private sector, where they can switch to the services of another company if they need to. In the public sector, citizens don’t have that degree of choice to fall back on, as there is only one provider available.

Faulty digital services are, therefore, likely to make headline news and could have lasting political ramifications, as the finger of blame usually points to the government party in charge.

As a result, there is an understandable reluctance to make any significant changes to the technology stacks underpinning digital government services in case something goes wrong. But organisations end up stuck with an outdated ‘ticking time bomb’ system, which only becomes more of a liability as the years go on.

public sector cyber space
Image © scyther5 | iStock

Why ‘lift and shift’ doesn’t work

Another hurdle facing public sector organisations is an inherent ‘lift and shift mentality. Often a failed move to the cloud is because the organisation hasn’t rearchitected its applications – they’ve just been picked up and moved to the cloud.

But, when you take an old application and move it to the cloud, you move all of its problems with it. These applications often end up performing even worse than they did on-premises.

Many public sector organisations aren’t seeing the advantages of the cloud

As a result, many public sector organisations aren’t seeing the advantages of the cloud – which only encourages them to stick to the status quo and makes them more reluctant to abandon the old way of doing things.

The priority should be ‘doing cloud well’ by rearchitecting applications and making changes that have a wider and more lasting impact on improving digital agility.

Public sector organisations have already proven they can do this when there is an urgent need – for instance, launching new healthcare services almost overnight during the pandemic to support citizens. Now, this momentum needs to be maintained.

Why the public sector cloud is building for the needs of tomorrow

To accelerate digital transformation in the public sector, organisations need to shift their focus towards building evergreen digital services – that are purpose-built for the cloud. These services should solve the needs of tomorrow’s citizens rather than meeting the short-term needs of today.

By getting the cloud done right, public sector organisations can gain more agility and flexibility and scale up their digital services more rapidly to meet growing public demand. They can also launch new digital services at speed and keep up with the pace of digital transformation as it continues to accelerate.

This agility means that if we see another widespread crisis like the pandemic, the public sector will be better equipped to respond.

To get this right, observability is also key: cloud environments are complex, dynamic, and fast-changing. As a result, organisations are often at their greatest risk during a transformation, when change is rapid, and it’s easier for performance problems or security vulnerabilities to occur.

To anticipate these issues before they arise and impact user experience, organisations need to get on the front foot by arming their teams with real-time insights into their hybrid cloud infrastructures. This is true of every sector, but particularly the public sector, where one small failure could lead to the loss of crucial services for communities.

Looking to the future of the public sector cloud

It’s not true that the public sector is falling behind when it comes to digital transformation. However, there is certainly more that public sector bodies can do to accelerate their digital journeys – such as speeding up the move to the cloud and adopting a more long-term view.

These organisations need to ensure they are getting the cloud done right and looking towards the future by building applications that are designed to last.

If they succeed in these endeavours, the possibilities are endless, and the public sector cloud could become a shining example that leads the way to digital innovation for others to follow.


Duncan Gillingwater, Regional Director, Public Sector UK&I, Dynatrace.


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