G-Cloud awareness shockingly low as public sector distrusts cloud computing (Updated 09/07/15)

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan July 7, 2015
Summary:
83% of public sector employees aren't aware of the G-Cloud framework or know how it works, while trust levels in the cloud overall are shockingly poor. Something must be done.

g-cloud-in-the-sky
So how’s that UK government drive to the cloud working out then? Not very well at all it seems with 92% of 5000 civil servants polled saying that they don’t trust the cloud.

And the bad news for the UK G-Cloud framework is that there’s still a massive communications and marketing problem with 83% of the public sector not knowing what it is or what to do with it.

The study, published in a white paper entitled Meeting the Digital Challenge, carried out for cloud collaboration firm Huddle, makes for depressing reading. It finds that:

  • 85% of respondents reckon that the time and cost implications of cloud apps and services outweigh potential benefits.
  • 83% are concerned that new cloud systems will clash with existing on premise tech in use throughout the public sector.
  • 53% of IT-responsible staff say they’re not comfortable with the cloud.
  • 65% of all job functions across the civil service feel the same.
  • 36% of respondents said they have no experience of using cloud computing.
  • 52% of the public sector just believe that their organisations can’t see the benefit of moving to the cloud.

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Source: Huddle

The study polled 5,000 public sector employees including central government (1,529), local government (1,222), and NHS (2,148), from all types of roles and levels – from clinicians to administrators, managers to Chief Executives (including more than 400 staff within IT departments).

The study findings were published as the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne prepared to announce his emergency budget today. As part of his spending plans, he’s calling for a £13 billion cut in IT spend over the next 3 years.

Alastair Mitchell, co-founder of Huddle, says this should be making cloud a more attractive option, but that’s not happening:

The public sector frontline is stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, staff are being asked to remove £13 billion of spend, but on the other, the new cloud-based IT infrastructures that are key to a large proportion of these savings are not yet sufficiently understood or trusted enough to be widely deployed. The UK government has to up the rhetoric on cloud benefits and training, else the cuts are simply not possible.

G-Cloud's low profile

The Huddle study reinforces existing concerns about the role, development and awareness of the G-Cloud framework, describing it as “an excellent and welcome initiative”, but one which has been strongly criticised.

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Source: Huddle

Awareness remains the biggest issue with a shocking 73% of respondents saying they don’t know anything about it, while a further 10% have heard of it, but don’t know what it is or how to use it! Over three years into its existence, that’s a bad situation to be in, as Huddle notes:

That’s 83% of public sector employees that don’t have a grasp on a flagship government-mandated procurement framework.

It could be argued that knowledge and understanding of G-cloud is irrelevant to many public sector staff. The same cannot be said for IT departments, and again the research raises concerns, as only 50% of public sector IT staff have a working knowledge of the framework.

In central government, where there is a specific legal mandate for Public Cloud First procurement, 45% of IT staff polled said they are not aware of the G-Cloud framework or whether their department uses it. In local government, only 12% of overall respondents are aware of G-Cloud while in the NHS, that drops even lower to 5% awareness.

The report adds:

It may be that G-cloud will never fully achieve its ambitions, but it’s more likely that it’s just taking longer – especially outside of central government – than anyone might have expected.

A lot of this is down to poor communication of the G-Cloud message, argues the Huddle study:

If government communications professionals can congratulate themselves on awareness levels of security classification systems, then they have to accept there is work to be done where G-cloud is concerned. The initiative aimed at easing procurement has not entered the consciousness of, or been understood by, 78% of central government employees.

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Source: Huddle

One of the more interesting findings was that cloud confidence is lower in central government (37%) than in local government (75%), which makes local authorities reluctance to use the G-Cloud framework all the more surprising. The study report finds:

Confidence in new systems and technologies is bred by trust and it’s clear that local government staff see three major problems with cloud computing. Concerns over security top the list (77%). This is swiftly followed by concerns over the time and effort it might take to switch to using cloud services.

Local government employees also worry that cloud services will conflict with existing core technologies (65%). This is a real challenge to IT staff and vendors advocating evolving to cloud services to support new ways of working.

The decision to move to security self-certification by suppliers selling their offerings via the Digital Marketplace is also causing problems. Across the public sector as a whole, 78% of respondents said they were unhappy with this. Central government is most uncomfortable, with 80% of respondents holding their hands up here.

What to do?

Huddle proposes a 3 point action plan to encourage wider cloud adoption:

(1) Build awareness and confidence in cloud computing by:

  • demonstrating the value of cloud platforms in context & only migrating when appropriate IT infrastructure, connectivity and devices are in place.
  • emphasising UK data residency in choice and communication of cloud platform addressing the issue of ‘protectionism’ by IT departments in pushing back against cloud migration, maintaining inefficient, inflexible and unsecure practices.

(2) Get to grips with the government’s new security classification system quickly:

  • accept it represents a major cultural change, with interpretation and application of guidelines resting on Senior Information Risk Owners (SIROs).
  • when considering certification of commercial cloud platforms, understand how the former Impact Level system maps to the new system.
  • while the UK government does not offer formal security certification for cloud platforms, consider turning to the ‘gold standard’ – the US government’s FedRAMP certification.

(3) Embrace G-cloud within organisations and help employees understand the drivers for working with SMEs.

My take

Huddle is a company that's profited well from public sector cloud adoption in both the UK and the US. In the UK, it's been a champion of the G-Cloud framework. So the uncomfortable findings of the research should be looked on as tough love.

There's still a major communications problem around cloud in the public sector in general and G-Cloud in particular. As I noted a couple of weeks ago, Cabinet Officer minister Matt Hancock didn't mention cloud at all in his keynote address at the National Digital Conference last month.

This report needs to be closely examined by the Digital Marketplace team. I'd hope it will inspire a more proactive and cloud-specific program of evangelism.

Something has to change.

UPDATE (09/07/2015)

I offered the G-Cloud team the opportunity to respond to the study findings. Last evening, a Cabinet Office press officer sent the following, unattributed statements:

Digital Marketplace, G-Cloud framework spend hit a record £639m in May 2015. Use of the Digital Marketplace from both central and local government is increasing.

We have an engagement plan in place to increase awareness of the Digital Marketplace and we'll be providing greater help and advice to central government departments and the wider public sector.

I have now asked for further clarification and a chance to talk directly to the G-Cloud leads. We'll update this story as and when.