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For the last seven years, the government’s policy of austerity has required those delivering IT services to the public sector to continually find efficiencies wherever they can. At the same time, they have sought to digitise public sector services wherever possible to meet the expectations of an increasingly digitally-savvy public. Coinciding with this need to digitise more, and for less money, public sector organisations have also been compelled to use the Cloud to deliver on these ambitions, as per the government’s 2013 ‘Cloud First’ policy.
Whilst Cloud services have a good reputation for providing the efficiencies and cost savings the public sector needs, along with the flexibility to deliver new digital services quickly, their reputation for delivering secure, stable, resilient and always-available services is less favourable. The process of moving to the Cloud is also beset with its own unique technical challenges.
But technical hurdles aside, there is a deeper, more embedded resistance among public sector organisations. I believe this can be traced back to four specific fears, and that these fears are borne out of misperceptions about the Cloud itself. But like all misperceptions, these can be addressed with the right education. The four fears are: a lack of understanding of the technology; concerns over data security; fear of losing control; and fear of change.
To a greater or lesser degree, the first three barriers can be addressed by engaging a specialist to better understand and gain reassurance about the Cloud solution prior to its planning and delivery. It is the responsibility of the Cloud services provider to address these points. It is their job to reassure and educate potential customers about the technology, and to explain how it differs – but more importantly how it doesn’t differ – from their current on-premise solution.
For example, to allay fears over data security, Cloud providers need to show that not all Clouds are created equal; the security and availability of a Cloud service built specifically for the needs of the public sector is in an entirely different league to the one built for sharing the odd family photo with your Granny. Demonstrating this difference will reassure the customer. With a greater understanding of the technology, concerns over data security and availability can be addressed relatively easily.
Business continuity, particularly during the transition period, should also be addressed, as this is where much of the Cloud anxiety comes from. The phrase ‘we can’t move that service to the Cloud, it’s business critical’ is all too common. But how can you implement a Cloud First policy if that’s your position? Isn’t everything business critical when it comes to public services? As part of any Cloud conversation it is essential to engage a highly skilled service transition team to carefully plan and execute the move, with a focus on the impact to the broader organisation. The transition should not just focus on the technology, but the impact on the wider business. If the Cloud transition team can talk you through every step of the Cloud migration process, then you will see that the process is far less disruptive than you once thought.
Fear of losing control is another area that the Cloud specialist can address directly. They can show where data ultimately resides and clarify their areas of responsibility with clear SLAs. IT departments are ultimately responsible for ensuring public sector IT services are secure, stable, resilient and available. They have developed methods of working, processes and tools which have been tried, tested and evolved over time to minimise disruption at all costs. It is therefore only natural for them to feel nervous about handing some of this responsibility over to a third party. After all, even if the day-to-day responsibility has been shifted to someone else, when something goes wrong the blame still comes back to them.
This shift in responsibility and loss of control ultimately crosses over to the final fear; the fear of change. The fear of change is a natural human condition. Fear is often borne out of a lack of information or understanding about a situation. Some of us might love surprises, but most of us fear the unknown.
The fear of change is borne out of a lack of understanding among those who it will affect. Not knowing why the change is happening, how it will help, or not being involved in shaping the change is a sure-fire way for the change to fail. A move to the Cloud is a significant transformation for the organisation. It is not ‘just an IT project’. To treat it as such is fraught with peril. It is a fundamental change to the way the organisation, and all its staff, will operate.
When faced with such change, it is natural for people to ask questions they wouldn’t normally ask of other projects, questions like: will I lose my job? Will I need to learn new skills? What if something goes wrong? Will this change make my job harder, not easier? or, what is wrong with how we do things now?
People in an organisation have invested a lot of time and effort in creating, improving and operating their IT services and developed a sense of pride and ownership in enabling and supporting the organisation. To fundamentally change this environment is challenging and will be met with resistance. This resistance needs to be actively managed as part of the transformation plan. In many instances, IT departments do not wholly trust third party suppliers to serve the organisation with the same dedication, loyalty and mutual purpose as those within the IT department. It is therefore important for ITSM culture and ways of working to be carefully documented and updated to ensure services remain secure, stable, resilient and available. A central part of establishing this is through true partnering with third party suppliers – i.e. not engaging in the traditional subservient vendor/client relationship – and actively building trust between both parties.
People’s concerns about their roles must be addressed directly. Cloud transformation will result in some services moving across to suppliers or roles disappearing due to automation. Individuals, particularly those in IT, worry about their relevance and their jobs. A key point to bear in mind is that through Cloud adoption, organisations can re-deploy these highly skilled people to work on higher-value areas. This could be on innovation or other core IT services. There may be areas of IT that are incompatible with the Cloud strategy and need traditional IT service management and systems administration.
Organisations need to think about the impact on job roles and produce a clear strategy ahead of any Cloud adoption, in order that those affected are engaged and managed throughout the transformation. Through careful planning and engagement, organisations can address job concerns, highlight the compelling need for the transformation, give people a vision of the future, their role in it, manage resistance and gain buy-in.
People within an organisation moving to the Cloud will also have concerns and apprehensions about learning the new skills, knowledge, processes and ways of working that will be required in the new Cloud future. They will be worried about whether they can learn the new skills and behaviours and whether they will be able to cope with the new processes and ways of working. In addition, they will be concerned about whether they will be satisfied working within the new Cloud reality.
These concerns need to be incorporated into transformation planning and specific activities put in place to provide them with awareness of the need for change, to build a desire to be a part of the change, show them how to change (including the skills, behaviours and learning required to implement the change) and give them the support and reinforcement to sustain it.
The necessity of a Cloud culture
Ultimately, all fears of the Cloud stem from a change in organisational culture and the unpreparedness of individuals to make the change. Staff need to be adequately prepared, informed, bought-in and given the means to utilise the benefits while a cloud transition team must be engaged to manage the migration process. It is one thing requiring public sector organisations to look to the Cloud first, but if public sector staff don’t adopt a Cloud First mindset too, then there is a real danger of propriety IT persistence and/or shadow IT creeping in. If the new Cloud solutions are not fit for use then IT literate customers, developers and engineers may start looking to procure their own Cloud IT, risking the rise of shadow Cloud IT. Good staff will leave, systems will become fragmented, and the Cloud will fail to deliver the value to the public that was promised.
The delivery of Cloud is not an IT project but a transformation; cultural and people change activities must take place in parallel with the technical change activities. The transformation plan must incorporate process, organisation, technology and information. Only when this happens can the public sector overcome its Cloud fears and achieve the benefits of the Cloud.
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