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Cloud Computing May Become The Worst Enemy of Centralization

by Andrea Di Maio  |  August 5, 2009  |  3 Comments

I am at the Gartner Symposium in Capetown, which is always a very interesting experience. Of course cloud computing featured a lot during the event, starting with the analyst keynote where my colleague Daryl Plummer said, among other things, that cloud computing is the next step after consolidation and centralization.

While this is both sensible and rational, I do not believe it will necessarily work this way in government. As I wrote in a research note some time ago ( “Shared Services in Government: Obscured By the Cloud?” – subscription required), commoditized, cloud-based solutions to infrastructure or application needs may offer individual departments or agencies the way out from long and complex centralization initiatives.

I had a conversation with a client here in South Africa about the large IFMS (Integrated Financial Management System) initiative, which aims to integrate and migrate government finance, HR, asset management, logistics and other line of business solutions, into a single distributed transversal system. Vendors have been selected for two modules, and the State Information Technology Agency is responsible for integration and custom-developed modules. This is a remarkably ambitious project that will ultimately provide a single system to federal as well as provincial departments: I am not aware of anything of comparable scale addressing two tiers of government.
As far as I understand, departments are somewhat mandated to use this system, so apparently there is no opt-out possible. On the other hand, integration and full deployment are going to take almost a decade: over such a long period of time, it is not unlikely that emerging cloud-based alternatives become attractive to provinces or federal departments that need to replace their legacy systems but are still waiting for IFMS to be available. Therefore, even where there is no opt-out, centralized solutions will be challenged by lower-cost, more-flexible alternatives over time.

It is even more so in cases where departments and agencies join on a voluntary basis. I wonder whether the “storefront” approach taken by the U.S. GSA (and being considered in the UK too) is a better way to go, assuming that the best role of a central government agency is to become a broker for emerging cloud-based offerings. This is not free from challenges though, such as the definition and enforcement of enterprise standards and vendor selection criteria that allow such a storefront to evolve its offering over time, while maintaining consistency across different solutions.

Many paths will lead to cloud computing in government, but quite a few might not be what whole-of-government strategic planners and architects expect.

Category: cloud  

Tags: gsa  shared-services  south-africa  

Andrea Di Maio
Managing VP
19 years at Gartner
33 years IT industry

Andrea Di Maio is a managing vice president for public sector in Gartner Research, covering government and education. His personal research focus is on digital government strategies, open government, the business value of IT, smart cities, and the impact of technology on the future of government Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Cloud Computing May Become The Worst Enemy of Centralization

  1. Gijs Key says:

    interesting concept. allthough I’m no fan of government use of the commercial cloud, much can be said for a govt cloud. Isn’t the root of the internet based on the government desire to eliminate risk by distributing network traffic? One could imagine a similar approach for leveraging risk by distributing computing power…

  2. […] that cloud computing can be as much an ally as an enemy of those centralized efforts (see previous post) and that, when looking for fast cost saving opportunities, some of these may be seized by […]

  3. […] sit in a stakeholder advisory committee, hence with a much less loud voice). Interestingly enough, the “dogma” of centralization may soon be challenged by the reality of commoditization, when individual departments may access technology services from cloud service providers which may […]

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