Cloud First policy yet to take off in Whitehall

Two years after the government launched its 'Cloud First' policy, more than half of Whitehall IT staff are not comfortable using cloud IT despite its potential to help save billions of pounds.

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New research shows that more than half of Whitehall IT staff are still not comfortable using cloud IT, two years since the government launched its ‘Cloud First’ policy.

Chancellor George Osborne is expected to demand £13 billion of departmental savings in tomorrow’s post-election budget.

Widespread cloud adoption could help significantly reduce the estimated £16 billion spent by the public sector on IT every year and enable vast savings across departments, agencies and councils.

However only a third of all civil servants and just 47 percent of Whitehall departments’ IT staff feel comfortable using cloud IT, according to a survey of 5,000 civil servants conducted by Dods and commissioned by cloud collaboration firm Huddle.

When asked "do you feel confident using cloud services?" a quarter of all respondents replied “I haven’t used cloud computing”. It's not clear, however, what the civil servants surveyed understood by the term 'cloud services'. 

Over three-quarters (78 percent) of IT staff polled said data security concerns held back cloud adoption, while 68 percent were worried about the time and effort involved in migration to cloud and 66 percent percent believed it could conflict with legacy technology.

These fears perhaps contributed to the survey's finding that 43 percent of all civil servants polled resorted to printing out and mailing to documents to each other when working on joint projects, rather than using one of the many cloud collaboration products available on the market. Almost a fifth – 18 percent – rely on USB drives.

The official UK ‘Cloud First’ rule, announced by the Cabinet Office minister at the time, Francis Maude, in May 2013, states purchases through public cloud should be the first option considered by all public sector bodies when buying IT services.

However the survey shows lack of confidence or trust in cloud products within the public sector remains widespread and is holding back adoption, despite ‘Cloud First’. The public sector has spent £639 million through the government’s G-Cloud programme since it was launched in 2012. But this  pales into insignificance compared to the many billions the public sector spends on IT every year: the latest public estimate was £16 billion per annum.

The Government Digital Service’s digital commercial team (responsible for G-Cloud) spends just one percent of its budget on ‘engagement’, i.e. encouraging the public sector to transition to cloud services, according to a blog post by former G-Cloud employee Mark Craddock published in March.

This survey data suggests that needs to increase. Alastair Mitchell, co-founder of Huddle, said: “UK government has to up the rhetoric on cloud benefits and training, else the cuts are simply not possible.”

“There’s no reluctance to collaborate – it’s just that staff are not yet convinced by the tools being offered to them, making it essential that UK Government provides more education on cloud platforms and their benefits,” he added.

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