Following a year of remote working, cloud technology is a tool that every civil servant has utilised when working from home. A recent roundtable discussion, supported by Microsoft, gathered experts to discuss the shift to cloud technology, and where the challenges and solutions could lie
As introduced by Simon Case in a previous Civil Service Live session, the civil service has slashed through 15 years of transformation in the past year - with little intention of reverting back to the old ways of working.
Microsoft has supported the government in maintaining and improving their cloud services for a wide range of projects over the past year; including the use of Microsoft Teams for NHS England and NHS Wales for the deployment of the vaccine programme and cloud technology to support local authorities in their test and trace and vulnerability hubs.
Despite these rapid strides, Michael at GDS argued that though the switch to the cloud has been rapid, there is still a past mindset in the workplace that might not support this new cloud technology. People still email word documents to each other, and they get uploaded as a new version to the cloud service - “the processes of change aren’t adapting as fast as the technology”.
Permanent Secretary for the Department for Education, Susan Acland-Hood, agreed. She described the need for accountability in collaborative documents, saying that it is fantastic that individuals can edit one document in real time, but there needs to be an individual responsible for making this information cohesive.
Part of the mindset around the cloud is dependent on an individual’s understanding of what the cloud is, and Michael highlighted that there are two dissimilar things that are defined by the word. Firstly, the migration of our productivity suite and collaboration suite to a cloud system, uses the ‘cloud’ to run offices without servers and restrictions that existed from previous technology. The second refers to the transformation of digital services through data science and engagement with the government.
James Reeve, head of digital at the Department for Education, highlighted that this is only the beginning as we adapt to this experiment of culture. We should be continuously adopting new products and technologies where there are product innovators, constantly looking for catalysts of change. With this, we are able to deliver at an incredible pace that we couldn’t have imagined 10 to 15 years ago
Security was also a key concern among panellists, with a debate over whether there should be a consistent judgement on data and security across government. Susan Acland-Hood described the differences in government organisations she worked for, where “every organisation seems to have a different approach, with a different level of acceptability on what goes in the cloud and what doesn’t.”
Anthony and Maureen both suggested that non-ministerial offices might also have lower risk appetites, and often organisations within government might be proud of their history and resistant to change because of this. Non-executive directors were more concerned with the migration to the cloud, with Anthony highlighting that there was a struggle to “drag people into the 21st century” and adapt their culture.
This security concern is something that is raised by citizens as well. Within the charity sector, they fear data will be used for other purposes than the reasons they provide it for if stored in the cloud.
While security is a concern, there were discussions that we are often better at judging the risk of doing something rather than not doing it at all. With the fear of change being so high, one solution posed to the group was creating a multidisciplinary team with aligned goals across policy and security to analyse the risks posed from a change to cloud or innovative services.
The session ended with a consideration of what could be done to instigate change and improve risk appetite across government. Chris Perkins, general manager for public sector at Microsoft, said: “Having a multidisciplinary team for discussions on security can help make more objective decisions.”