Last Friday I started my briefing tour in beautiful Vienna, where I had a chance to address government IT executives in two separate meetings, both focused on the topic of cloud computing. At the end of the second meeting I got a question I have heard several times, but was asked with an interesting spin.
“Andrea, after hearing you for 45 minutes I have not yet understood what is the killer application for cloud computing in government”
Mission accomplished. Making people ask themselves that question, and concluding there is none was my intent from the very beginning.
Of course there are certain applications that are easier to deploy in the cloud, such as email and collaboration, CRM-like applications, open government apps are all good examples. But there is no point in looking for a killer application. It is far more important to look at cloud as one amongst many options to solve the problems we have to solve.
Asking for a killer application is like putting the car in front of the horses, and taking cloud as a solution to a problem that we may not have or that may not have the highest priority for us.
However, cloud is being mandated in different shapes and forms. The Cloud First policy in the US and the establishment Foundation Delivery Partners in the UK are just two examples of how governments around the world are pushing for cloud deployments as a means to reduce IT costs. Such a pressure, although important to get the ball rolling, may be shifting the attention from understanding how cloud-based services can help solve problems, to looking for solutions that others have deployed or are claimed to be “best practices”.
Let’s take cloud-based email, which seems to be quite a popular option these days. There are already significant differences between real total cost of ownership (TCO) and the red herring numbers of few bucks per user per month that some cloud supporters claim (without factoring in helpdesk, archiving, migration, mobile support, and so forth). Even when one gets the real TCO, there are wide variations between costs per user in different government organizations, and I have come across some IT organizations that run their email far more cheaply than they would going for a cloud solution. Therefore cloud email would be a great choice for some, but not for others, who would rather benefit from considering cloud in some other part of their IT portfolio.
Of course this is a symptom of maturity, or rather lack thereof. Technologies and solutions that are at the peak of inflated expectations – where cloud still is when it comes to public sector – are often looked at as a panacea to address most if not all IT problems. However, trying to determine what is the killer application is far less useful than taking a serious look at one’s own IT portfolio and pick the most appropriate sourcing strategy: which may, or may not, be cloud-based.