AWS public sector lead welcomes UK cloud computing "maturity"
Max Peterson argues organisations such as TFL demonstrate a new focus on transformational service functions; highlights importance of G-Cloud flexibility to ensure innovation
Amazon Web Services (AWS) believes the UK public sector has seen a significant shift in the maturity of cloud computing use over the last twelve months from cost cutting towards supporting more "mission critical" functions, driven in part by the influence of the G-Cloud framework.
Max Peterson, general manager for AWS' Worldwide Public Sector operations, argued that despite the company's growing global influence around cloud computing, public sector procurement agreements such as G-Cloud were beneficial for the overall drive towards government digital services in the UK.
However, he said it was important to ensure flexibility within G-Cloud and other contracting arrangements to ensure public sector clients remain innovative and capable in how they provide services are provided.
Peterson took the example of the company's work with Transport for London (TfL) as an example of the contractual benefits of using the public sector framework when looking for cloud solutions to help develop more innovative approaches to service design.
He said that TfL had been able to shift from early stage cloud computing to support more "mission critical" functions, such as collecting and analysing massive amounts of customer information to influence its own operations as well as providing real-time information to customers.
Yet at a time when questions have arisen over how cloud adoption may support more drastic reshaping of public service providers and their organisations, Peterson said that there had been a pattern of its customers in the public sector using cloud computing to focus primarily on cutting costs.
"In a typical journey, a lot of people do start with cost savings. So Peterborough [a council which makes use of AWS services as part of a wider transformation agreement] is looking to save £25m over several years. So things do start with cost savings," he said.
"You might call that commodity, but it is this pattern that we see where particularly public sector customers have to take cost out of their current infrastructure in order to position themselves for innovation because budgets are not flush with new money."
Citing the company's work with organisations such as the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), Peterson noted that cloud computing was particularly popular when used to try and provide organisations with "elasticity" in their technical capability to cope with temporary peak load demand.
"Throughout the year everybody's doing all the testing and then for one day in August every year [UCAS] becomes one of the biggest websites for access. So it's an application that is tailor made for cloud because previously you had to have enough capacity and equipment online for this one massive day," he added.
Peterson argued that once the opportunity to attack costs had been completed, it was then possible to use funds to support more innovative work and experimentation with service provision.
The need for customer education and a growing number of case studies about the potential for cloud adoption to transform key services were also seen as important focuses going forward to build understanding of the potential for more transformative, rather than cost-focused adoption of the company's services.
AWS describes itself as the world's largest cloud provider. Peterson said that despite the ongoing development of its own online marketplace and dominance, the company's growth was not expected to override a need for public sector focused commercial agreements like the Digital Marketplace or G-Cloud.
"One of the areas that government contracting is designed for is to make sure that whether you are talking at a national level or at a local authority level, procurement processors are buying things in accordance with policy.
"I think that continues to be a very important function and we see that around the world. There is no one way that people are doing it, because their needs go beyond buying to address factors that include competitive bidding and transparency," said Peterson.
"Now what we find is that a lot of innovation happens, for instance with someone at a very basic level going to do something as simple from buying via the AWS Marketplace, but eventually it scales up to the point they do need to turn to traditional procurement tools."
Peterson said it would be interesting to see how public sector procurement evolved around the world with regard to cloud adoption.
He claimed that it would be governments that are more able or willing to be flexible in applying their digital transformation with contracting requirements that are better placed to adapt to market changes. He said this would partly be the case through measures such as incorporating flexible commercial mechanisms within their frameworks.
"In an area that is advancing as rapidly as cloud computing is, you have to have a very flexible framework, because if you don't, then you end up not being able to take advantage of that speed of innovation. This is precisely why people choose the cloud," Peterson added.
While the potential benefits of cloud adoption remain open to organisational interpretation, AWS said that the questions of security had traditionally been a challenge within its operations and the wider market.
"We spend a lot of time talking to customers about how they actually can be more secure in the cloud and we provide great security white papers and have a great security resource centre. We have earned all the different types of government and industry security accreditations that you need and I think that the final thing that is changing this discussion is that customers and analysts are saying you can be more secure on the cloud," Peterson argued.
"The debate is not about is the cloud secure. The question is, 'what are you doing with the cloud to improve your security.'"
Peterson argued that the very scale of AWS' operations meant it was able to undertake a number of the security and compliance control requirements facing organisations and effectively perform "heavy lifting for them".
As such, the company was able to make all its security enhancements available to all organisations using its platform, overcoming their more limited economies of scale or ability to be innovative.