Is the UK’s Cloud First Policy in Crisis?

It should come as welcome news that the Government Digital Service (GDS) and the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) are reviewing Cloud First with a goal of updating the policy in ways likely to be friendlier to hybrid environments.

Fewer than one in four public sector organisations in the UK puts the cloud first in IT acquisition decisions, despite government requirements to do so. This surprising result emerged from a recent survey [LINK] conducted by iGov in partnership with Park Place Technologies.

As a global provider of IT maintenance services to private and public sector clients, we at Park Place were interested to know how the central government, the NHS, and other organizations in the UK are managing digital transformation and where the key barriers lie. We worked with iGov to survey IT leaders from over 200 organisations. Top-line results were discussed in a previous post, [LINK] but the cloud-related insights were among the most remarkable.

Cloud First Conflicts with Public Sector Practices

The UK government introduced the Cloud First policy in 2013. It is mandatory for the central government and strongly recommended for the rest of the public sector. Under Cloud First, organisations are required—or at least encouraged—to consider cloud solutions before any other options when making IT acquisition decisions.

One would assume that after six years, this policy would lead to considerable transition to the cloud across the public sector, and in fact, billions in cloud investments have been reported. But the results of the iGov survey also tell a slightly different story.

Only 6% of respondents said their organisation’s infrastructure is completely cloud-based. The reason for this may be that few public sector organisations are actually following Cloud First. Just 21% of participants in our survey said they adhere the policy. Interestingly, this statistic only rises to 24% for central government IT leaders, despite the fact that Cloud First is mandatory for them.

A far greater number (52%) say they are beginning to embrace the cloud at a software application level, but not an infrastructure level, while a still considerable one in ten organisations (13%) actively prefer traditional technologies.

Time to Rethink Cloud First?

It should come as welcome news that the Government Digital Service (GDS) and the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) are reviewing Cloud First with a goal of updating the policy in ways likely to be friendlier to hybrid environments.

In this, the public sector policy would mirror the change of heart happening in the private sector. Whereas “all cloud, all the time” had been the rallying cry for some time, leading many self-professed star-gazers to envision the death of the data centre, the reality has turned out quite differently. Companies of all sizes are pairing public cloud, private cloud, and traditional technologies in purpose-built, hybrid arrangements to meet diverse needs.

Cost may be part of the big picture here, too. Eighty-three percent of respondents in the iGov survey cited cost as a key consideration when selecting IT solutions, and it is well know that “costs can quickly ramp up in the public cloud.” Renting space on a cloud provider’s servers and storage arrays and paying based on usage is often more expensive over the long run than investing in on-premises or co-located infrastructure.

Complicating matters in the UK are the short-term government contracts currently required, just two years. Rebidding cloud services and facing the potential need to migrate data and applications every other year increase the risk and frustration of moving to the cloud, and this may have acted as a deterrent.

Thus while over half of survey respondents (53%) say that resistance to change is slowing adoption of new technologies, another factor may be involved as well. Public sector IT pros may be making an accurate assessment of the long-term risks and price tag associated with the cloud, playing it safe, but in ways that are good for UK citizens and their tax bills.