Infrastructure > Cloud

Changing mindsets: Why cloud is Peterborough's first choice

Published 01 June 2015

Security should not be seen as a barrier preventing public sector organisations from using cloud services to support innovation, argues Richard Godfrey, assistant director for Peterborough City Council’s Digital Peterborough campaign.


Working in local government means we will always need to work as hard as possible to deliver the best service for the public within the ever shrinking budget envelope we are given. To deliver this type of unfaltering service requires a different approach to delivering services and better use of a cost effective IT infrastructure that is both agile and secure.

For many in the private sector, the cloud is rapidly becoming the option that gives the most flexibility and cost efficiency to the IT team. It would be rare to find a start-up today that doesn't use the cloud as its primary IT infrastructure. Larger enterprises are also using the cloud far more pervasively than ever before, with many moving their key applications onto a cloud platform, driven by the demand for workforce mobility and the need to be agile in their operations.

This industry shift towards cloud has also been felt in the public sector with a small number of Local Authorities beginning to make the move towards cloud services. For Peterborough, the challenge of delivering services efficiently with reducing budgets ultimately opened the door to cloud computing and through devising an innovative technology strategy will now enable us to provide the best service possible to the organisation and the public.

After reviewing the options, we have now embarked on a two year project that will see the majority of our server estate move to Amazon Web Services' (AWS) cloud. To date, the project has given ICT staff the tools they need to deliver better services to the organisation for less than we could on-premises and has given them the opportunity to drive innovation through a range of AWS technologies.

There are two core requirements for a public sector organisation to move to the cloud. Firstly you need a commitment to change and a willingness to move away from the old ways of working. Secondly it requires a fundamental understanding of how to handle data and how to keep it secure.

In handling data securely, local authorities need to take the view that data comes in all different forms depending on the organisation, from highways to social care to public health and the cloud isn't a one-size fits all approach. By understanding the types of data held across different departments and applying the necessary risk assessment against each, alongside the CESG Cloud Security Principles, IT will have more options and access to more services to enable the council to perform at their most efficient. I have seen many examples of a "no to cloud" approach across entire council's without having performed any assessments, thereby limiting options for new ways of working and of delivering IT services. While it is great that the sector is taking security very seriously, there needs to be an education, led by IT managers, to think differently about how data can be safely accessed, shared and stored.

There is also a common perception that data held locally by IT departments, in on-premises data centres, is more secure than using the cloud. I don't believe this is accurate, and this misconception has become a roadblock for many when discussing what IT strategy is best for their organisation. It means teams are limiting their options due to these concerns.

Cloud providers, such as AWS, spend millions a year on delivering security by default, far more than the individual IT team could ever spend. They have consistently achieved robust security standards, such as ISO 27001, SOC 1, 2, 3 and PCI DSS Level 1. Most recently AWS received approval for its Data Processing Agreement from the EU's Article 29 Working Party, reassuring customers of the highest standard of security and privacy in handling their data, inside and outside the EU. Not only that, they have specialists with expertise in security that many internal company teams will not have.

In allowing the cloud providers to deliver this level of security expertise to my server estate, it allows my IT team to concentrate on the value add layers that they can bring to the different directorates within the council. IT will move from being a back office function concentrating on keeping the IT estate ticking over to a much more dynamic department helping drive efficiency and innovation.

The point I am making by addressing security in particular is that it should not be the barrier it appears to be for the public sector. Cloud services can and should be the enabler to allow innovation to flourish amongst organisations and councils. Every IT strategy has to be innovative on behalf of its citizens and deliver the right services for the individual organisation's requirements. The important factor is that we here at Peterborough City Council believe we have found that by using cloud services.

Ultimately, some people in the public sector may still come up with reasons beyond security not to take the cloud route, but with budgets being put under more and more pressure, and IT teams needing to innovate in an increasingly digital world, to not consider the cloud would be a huge missed opportunity.

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