I have noticed that my posts on cloud computing in government generated some interesting discussion. So I thought I would push the boundaries just a little bit further.
In a recent article I have covered the “blurring of government”, highlighting how the convergence of social software, consumer devices and products and commoditization of infrastructure and software will lead to significant changes in roles, channels, service delivery models, operational procedures.
But what about the impact on IT organizations in government? In a previous post I touched upon how budget constraints are driving many to consider the adoption of cloud-based services at the infrastructure and at the application level.
Let’s assume that a fair portion government agencies in all tiers of government meet their computing requirements by using a combination of public and private cloud services. This is likely to happen first for hardware infrastructure (computing power, storage, network), followed by software infrastructure (such as email, middleware, content management, database management systems) and standard applications (financial management, HR, procurement, payment-processing).
All the above is not peculiar to government: any enterprise pursuing cloud computing may do the same. However, what is really special for government is the application layer above what I called “standard” applications. Hundreds of local authorities run functionally similar applications to deal with human services, license management, property taxes, and more. These are either packages purchased from rather small, local vendors, or bespoke applications developed by contractors, internal staff or a combination thereof.
Unlike in the commercial sector (where competitive pressures prevail), over the last few years I have noticed an increasing interest for sharing these applications among government organizations. Bespoke applications procured by a government organizations are more and more freely available to others, while some agencies are actively considering the establishment of communities of peers to jointly develop and support applications (what Gartner calls “community-source”). At the same time, the adoption of cloud-based infrastructure will push more of these domain-specific applications – both commercial off the shelf and community source – toward a software-as-a-service, off-premise delivery model.
Now, let’s step back for a moment and ask ourselves: what is left of the traditional government IT organization for an agency moving to cloud-based infrastructure and applications? Infrastructure and operations skills are no longer needed –.as most of the infrastructure is “in the cloud”. Application development and management resources are needed only for larger agencies that still run their own, very-specific applications, but become almost irrelevant for smaller agencies and local authorities. Project management skills are needed in fewer cases and can be shared or even centralized across different jurisdictions. Some roles, like vendor management or portfolio management, remain – although significantly transformed – and actually become even more important, but it is far from certain that they should remain embedded in the IT organization or better moved to the business.
Even if only part of this scenario proves true, greater commoditization of government infrastructure and applications will lead to smaller internal IT organizations but also lower IT spending in government. While this is desirable from an efficiency and taxpayer perspective, what are the far reaching consequences? Government is an important employer and buyer of IT skills and very much so at the local level, in spite of increasingly global trade agreements.
Some of the early pressures to adopt open source solutions were actually caused by the desire to localize developments and ensure governments would spend more within their jurisdiction as opposed to paying licenses to companies headquartered in a different jurisdiction. Ironically cloud-computing, SaaS and community source – which are rooted in open source principles – may not only reduce the overall government IT spending, but also push spending as far away as possible from any particular government jurisdiction, as well as question the need for their own IT organizations.