The past 18 months have fundamentally changed how government operates. Government services, from large central departments to local councils, have had a mission-critical requirement to deliver cloud-first services. This has rapidly accelerated migration to the cloud. But it has not been a journey without challenges and IT leaders in government have innovated at pace to utilise and maximise its potential.
When it comes to gaining a first-mover advantage, the Scottish Government’s Agriculture and Rural Economy (ARE) Directorate are true outliers. Before the pandemic hit, ARE were already in the process of moving their disaster recovery (DR) facility to VMware Cloud on AWS.
As one of the most digitally advanced departments in government, it was enthralling to bring Neill Smith, Head of Infrastructure at ARE together with Joseph Langford, VMware’s Chief Technology Officer and Tim Hearn, Head of VMware Cloud on AWS for the Public Sector. The purpose of the discussion was to share key learnings and takeaways from ARE’s recent shift in technology and thinking and to explore what government departments can learn from ARE’s journey to accelerate cloud capabilities.
The first question posed to the group was ‘how have the last 18 months transformed digital imperatives in government?’. Our panelists discussed how technology modernisation has rapidly been realised through the pandemic.
Our speakers reflected on how government departments have demonstrated an increased confidence in modernising at pace. It was noted that there is a great appreciation for the power and potential of cloud technology across government. However, a key challenge remains around ensuring government departments have the resources and talent required to fully utilise the benefits of cloud technology.
A point from Neill Smith summed up the challenges succinctly. He said that the first question business leaders need to ask themselves is, “operationally, how am I going to support these new technologies?”
Tim Hearn reflected on this and remarked that implementing a thorough assessment piece and developing strong foundations is essential. He noted that “if you take the time to develop really good models and structures, you’ll be able to modernise much faster.”
Interestingly, our speakers also noted that increasingly government bodies are looking to develop pro-active partnerships with organisations in the community to overcome shortfalls in these areas. We closed the discussion by sharing top tips from our speakers about how to implement a migration strategy effectively. It was noted that a lift-and-shift approach is not fit for purpose, but that government departments and local councils should utilise migration as a chance to double down their tech stack, be laser-focused on understanding their individual requirements and develop unique infrastructure accordingly.
To conclude the panel discussion, our speakers agreed that a culture change is key. In order to achieve change that really makes a positive difference, employees need to be allowed to flourish and experiment to find the right solutions for their communities.
Next our group of attendees, which included senior IT leaders from across government, went into roundtable discussions to share views and experiences pertaining to some key questions.
Firstly, attendees discussed the major challenges faced when it came to driving migration to the cloud. Data security was a big theme throughout the conversation. One participant said that moving to the cloud is actually more secure than on-premise arrangements but this is not always the perception.
Attendees then discussed what it means to be cloud-first and what it takes to get there. Participants noted that overcoming resistance to change was key. An interesting point was raised about the higher standards and requirements in government as opposed to business. An attendee remarked that there is a requirement to archive data for a minimum of 75 years, whilst also guaranteeing immediate access. This doesn’t apply in the private sector. Often this means it is harder to encourage innovation and new ways of working and to secure the buy-in and investment required.
The final question the group answered was: what are the priorities for government bodies as we move into a new phase? All our participants agreed that a step-change in thinking is essential. Attendees agreed that while most organisations have a cloud strategy, the majority of spending is still allocated to on-premise solutions. To move the dial, it is key to take a customer-focussed, agnostic approach to change. It was noted that it is important to embed this across the whole organisation. Often agility and innovative thinking is present at a siloed working level. This needs to be replicated across teams and departments to build confidence in digital.
Highly valuable and insightful pointers and lessons learnt were shared by all attendees during this fruitful morning discussion and participants left to resume their working day with one key thought in mind: a cloud-first approach can be an incredible catalyst for both digital and cultural transformation in government.