A Herd of Digital Leaders

I arrived at Atos’ building in central London for my first Digital Leaders Salon meeting with some anticipation. A gathering of the great and good in government digital thinking will usually veer towards either a technical discussion on the limitations and worries of digital sharing or a general concern over the lack of thinking which allows huge government IT contracts to be signed and then (usually) to fail. Please forgive any personal slant that I have added to the conversations and clearly any comments or corrections can and should be added as follow-up to this blog.

It was a breath of fresh air, therefore, to meet with a group of around 20 individuals who genuinely wanted to make a difference in public services, in this case by facilitating better Information Technology use in Government, focussing on Cloud opportunities.

Of course we spent the first portion of the meeting trying to agree a definition. We circled around the NIST definition of Cloud Computing as “a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g. networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or cloud provider interaction.” In my world, therefore, this left room for both Public and Private Clouds.

Discussion then moved to ‘why do anything?’ The consensus was that there has to be a well-defined business case before anything changes and that technology and security considerations have to be at the heart of all decisions (‘the geek in the boardroom’). Also, we should not wait for the big systems integrators and software behemoths to ‘catch up’ with Cloud offerings, since it might be in their interests to slow down the move, maintaining their ability to generate upfront licence and implementation revenue and continuing to allow organisations to customise their own applications, rather than re-engineering their processes to a standard software configuration. To be fair to those Sis who were present, they were not arguing for delay and one has gone so far as to re-invent itself with a Cloud services subsidiary.

The last part of the discussion focussed more on what we could do to encourage Cloud adoption, where it was appropriate. We talked around Cloud benefits of Cohesion, Collaboration, Cost and Consumerisation, before agreeing that there were not enough people championing the move to Cloud. The conversation then swerved gently towards inter-agency collaboration and we agreed that, while not directly related to Cloud, this was an important aspect where Cloud technologies could help. Again, there was a sense that no one department could or would champion collaboration, possibly because there was a false sense of data ownership, possibly because of data security worries and possibly also because KPIs tend to focus on stovepipe delivery of departmental services. It was even suggested that the termly nature of our government system would not encourage long-term thinking in this area, but at least certain departments and groups were taking the ball into their own courts, rather than waiting for broad policy.

Sadly, the conversation had to be curtailed due to the pull of the networking drinks later, but I hope the conversation at least encouraged those present, that they were not alone in seeking more effective use of Cloud and broader IT in government. Am I the only one who thinks things may be ‘turning’ in favour of this?