Advancing government innovation through cloud: What’s the CIO strategy?

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This Public Sector Innovation series, in association with AWS Institute and Intel, outlines how CIOs can advance their mission through cloud innovation, acknowledging business challenges while outlining examples of best practice within the government sector.

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Amid the uncertainty of lockdown and potential second waves, government agencies are seeking new ways to enhance citizen engagement and experience levels through advanced technologies.

Motivated by a desire to balance public safety with restarting economic activity, the public sector is leveraging cloud to drive ability, scalability, and speed to reduce bottlenecks and instigate recovery efforts.

Underpinned by reliable infrastructure, CIOs are also increasing focus on cyber security and compliance, creating the need for a modernised and realistic approach to innovation.

“We have seen technology-driven disruption of business and industries take place over the last decade or more, opening up opportunities for new business models and to create more value for customers and shareholders,” observed Sumner Lemon, Regional Director, Digital Transformation and Enterprise Sales, Asia Pacific and Japan, Intel.

Such disruption, added Lemon, is made possible by cloud and the ability to gain insights from data through artificial intelligence (AI).

With 2021 fast approaching, government agencies remain aligned with “forward-thinking” departments across the region embracing cloud, evident through the development of multi-cloud data strategies. This is in addition to rolling out organisational and cultural change programs to take advantage of emerging technology capabilities.

Navigating the ‘new normal’

Despite the direction of travel, the pandemic continues to impact how organisations prioritise technology during the short-term, focusing efforts on increasing operational efficiency, transforming existing business processes, and optimising employee digital experience. Within this context, organisations are also beginning to develop a more strategic view of a work-from-home structure, resetting CIO expectations as a result.

“The ‘new normal’ is still being defined,” acknowledged Craig Fox, Executive Advisor of Cloud at Amazon Web Services (AWS). “At the moment, the focus remains on the people element, especially the challenge of understanding how the public sector addresses its workforce operating model.”

Outlined to CIOs during an executive virtual roundtable across Asia Pacific – in association with AWS Institute and Intel – Fox accepted that before wider conversations can take place in relation to cloud and innovation, the impact of remote working must first be prioritised. As a result, a heightened focus on workforce operating models is driving widespread industry investment in collaborative technologies.

“While the need for high availability and scale is prevalent, I believe it’s too early to clearly define what this looks like in government,” Fox added.

What is clear and consistent however is an acceptance among CIOs and government agencies that a return to pre-pandemic operations – such as a highly dense desktop working environment – is “unlikely”, assessed Fox.

This then flows into discussions regarding how IT can support different operating models in the future, with CIOs focus areas centred on matching IT capabilities and investments to employee personas. In turn, this shift in behaviour is expected to influence more broader IT decision-making.

“For example, why would CIOs embark on desktop fleet refreshes if employees failed to gather in large numbers within company offices once again?” Fox asked.

From a purchasing standpoint, government IT spend is forecast to decrease slightly in 2020, down 0.6 percent year-on-year to US$438 billion, according to Gartner findings.

Despite the minor downturn – and in addition to CIOs prioritising employee collaboration – government agencies are accelerating investment on digital public services, spanning public health, social services, education, and workforce re-skilling. This is motivated by a desire to support individuals, families, and businesses heavily impacted by the pandemic, with “less urgent” IT projects making way for critical deployments such as digital workplace support and cloud services.

For most CIOs operating at the heart of government, cloud became a lifeline during COVID-19 with agencies underpinned by enhanced digital infrastructure responding most effectively to the pandemic. Therefore, a shift to migrate legacy workloads and applications to the cloud is underway, creating added technical debt complexities in the process.

“I’m seeing customers address this challenge, which is a balance between migrating existing workloads and building new services, with a clear focus on building new via the cloud,” he said.

In response, Fox advised CIOs to embrace “data-driven decisions” with regards to cloud migration, supported by a pragmatic approach based on business outcomes. A sentiment shared among CIOs, aligned to the belief that “data has gravity” in the government sector.

From India to Southeast Asia, to Australia and New Zealand, organisations are also currently aligning migrations to commercial refresh and investment decisions, as well as licence renewals and commercial real estate considerations.

“In some ways, this is an acknowledgment that the reduction of technical debt requires a sustained investment over time,” Fox observed.

The path to cloud transformation

In outlining examples of cloud best practice in government, the importance of recognising the different stages of transformation currently taking place across the region must first be acknowledged.

For the majority of CIOs – irrespective of geographic location – innovation is linked to a strong sense of pragmatism, shaped by an understanding that cloud transformation success is not dependent on an “all or nothing” approach. Likewise, culture remains an important factor in kick-starting modernisation plans, increasing company reliance on data-driven insights.

“One of the practices includes putting in place a hybrid cloud strategy that meets government requirements," Lemon advised. “This is alongside evolving procurement processes to facilitate the acquisition of cloud-based services.”

Delving deeper, Lemon advocated the value of CIOs investing in new skill sets to capitalise on the potential of cloud and artificial intelligence, evident through the addition of developer and data scientist talent.

“Also partner closely with the industry and the private sector to share best practices and accelerate cloud adoption and innovation within the government,” Lemon added.

Changing the narrative in relation to cloud transformation is equally important in the months ahead, advised Fox. Such responsibility lies on the shoulders of IT leaders, leaders now tasked with driving the organisational dialogue with regards to how the business can maximise cloud technologies. This is in addition to remaining cognisant of cost, risk, security, and resilience considerations.

Consequently, CIOs must demonstrate strong cloud leadership motivated by data-driven discussions based on application capabilities, as well as increasing investment in building internal cloud enablement engines. Committing to action is also advised, through identifying realistic proof of concepts capable of building new business value, balanced with migrating existing workloads to the cloud.

“CIOs will be surprised by the advantages that this approach can bring,” Fox summarised.

Leveraging a partnership spanning 15 years, Lemon added that AWS and Intel help drive digital transformation agendas across Asia Pacific in enterprise-level delivery of cloud services and infrastructure.

“This results in innovative, high performance, and cost-effective cloud solutions for a wide spectrum of workloads, including AI, high-performance computing, and the Internet of Things,” he said.

The AWS Institute convenes and engages global leaders who share an interest in solving public sector challenges using technology. For more information about the AWS Institute, please visit: https://aws.amazon.com/institute/

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.