Cloud computing – the future of public sector analytics?

Could cloud computing be the future of public sector analytics?
6 October 2020

enterprise resource planning. Source: Unsplash.

  • Predictive analytics applications have proven to have a great effect on city budgets, as well as human lives, which have been made possible with the scale of the cloud
  • The explosion in the uptake of the cloud has brought a realization that digital transformation can happen anywhere on any timescale

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has seen enterprises rapidly adapt and transform to enable digital demand in cloud computing. But can the same be said about governments?

These age-old and traditionalist institutions can often be perceived as slow to embrace digital transformation. But, whether it’s connecting and drawing insight from city-wide Internet of Things (IoT), or reversing entire tax systems in a matter of days, can cloud computing meet the demands placed on the public sector?

Pandemic urgency

The booming uptake of the cloud in recent months has brought a realization that digital transformation can happen anywhere on any timescale. The global pandemic has taken rollouts to the extreme, with previously seven-year digital transformation plans being accelerated to just four days to get benefits out to citizens in need.

The UK government needed to distribute fiscal stimulus at speed following the COVID-19 outbreak, and it turned to cloud computing solutions to help run its entire national tax system in reverse.

The government’s cloud strategy makes clear that cloud technology, when properly implemented, has the potential to improve the speed of delivery while increasing security and creating opportunities for organizations to innovate.

That said, there has also been a call for government organizations and functions to work together more effectively across functions to take full advantage of cloud computing solution benefits. There is also an acknowledgment that due to its sheer vastness, organizations need to be wary that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to cloud-based technology.

“We recognize that one size does not fit all when it comes to the use of public cloud, as many of the organizations we have spoken to have taken valid, and sometimes opposing, strategic decisions. This is often because either cloud technology is so versatile that the same outcome can be achieved in different ways, or because organizations have made decisions based on their unique maturity or capability,” said government officials.

Effective solutions

Another example of cloud computing’s effectiveness is in the Netherlands’ water management system. With one-third of the country below sea level, transparency in water management is paramount for both efficiency and public safety.

Cloud computing helped to analyze real-time data from 15,000 sensors to identify changes in infrastructure and water flow so the government could act quickly and with precision to mitigate potential flooding.

In addition, sensors in streets work in tandem with weather forecasts to predict whether gritting roads for icy conditions would be a waste of money. Predictive analytics applications have proven to have a great effect on city budgets – as well as human lives – which have ultimately been made possible with the scale of the cloud.

Rotterdam skyline with Erasmus bridge at twilight as seen from the Euromast tower, The Netherlands

Rotterdam skyline with Erasmus bridge. One-third of the Netherlands is below sea level. Source: Shutterstock

“You may not think of a government or city council as having a large IoT estate,” said Microsoft’s director of smart infrastructure, Daniel Sumner, “but think of light poles, luminaries, air quality sensors, water meters, and water quality management systems. All of these are connected and generating a huge amount of data.”

Prior to Microsoft, Daniel Sumner worked in biosurveillance at the US Department of Homeland Security and used analytics to understand new health threats.

During this period Sumner cites two constant challenges. “One was storing data and remaining compliant; the other was managing a large collection of tools to enable machine learning and predictive analytics, allow visualization and dashboard, and for optimization purposes,” he said in an interview with Global Government Forum.

Sumner realized a clear need for an end-to-end cloud analytics solution was key in bringing these tools together, and to secure and scale a platform to host them on.

Customer satisfaction

Sumner predicted that customer satisfaction will eventually go a long way in motivating government decisions around cloud computing solutions and data. As citizen experiences continually improve, expectations will rise. “Citizens are expecting a level of performance that they experience in the consumer world,” added Sumner.

While governments have the responsibility to keep citizens safe, by providing faster access to innovation and improving citizen services, cloud computing solutions are proving to be an agile option in strenuous circumstances. The ability to quickly conjure up virtual machines to test and scale ideas can be an invaluable asset in rolling out new services in days, as opposed to months or even years.