The move from ‘cloud-first’ to ‘data-first’

Has the public sector been too focused cloud as a destination, meaning it has failed to leverage data as a strategic asset? The experts at Think Data for Government weigh in.

Posted 23 May 2023 by Christine Horton

It could be argued that digital transformation became synonymous with cloud adoption over the last decade. But has this led the public sector to be too focused on cloud as a destination while failing to leverage data as a strategic asset?

It was a topic under discussion at the recent Think Data for Government event.  There is still work to be done when it comes to realising the value of data, according to the panel of experts (pictured).

“The really important thing about data is data infrastructure,” said Lisa Allen, director of data and tech services, Open Data Institute. “It’s not just about the data itself, but it’s about the policies and processes and the people and the technology that supports it, and making sure that you can have access to that right data.”

Allen also said when she was working for the Environment Agency, she realised the important of joined-up data with others in the different groups. “If you think about how it works, the data needs to join up across government. You need to be able to design the data to stack across government departments, make sure they all fit in together. So, making sure that each department is playing to the strongest and how you join that all up together will make things a lot simpler, and you’ll get better quality data.”

Charlie Boundy, head of advanced analytics at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) detailed the organisation’s own efforts migrating its applications and data into the cloud. He believes cloud and data are now in parallel to one another.

“That [migration to the cloud] been a massive step forward for us to say it’s in close proximity to each other. It moves us much more from a bulk moving of data around between different hosting providers, to much more of a proximity of services, learning from each other, getting the feedback and being able to put data back into your services. We’re trying to make sure we understand what feedback we’re getting; we’re trying to be inclusive in our services. It’s been really, important to have something like cloud to enable that, and not just data swamp where we just gather more data.”

Data-first modernisation

As an technology vendor, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) has been a vocal critic of the government’s cloud-first policy, arguing that public cloud is not always the most efficient destination for workloads and data. Instead, it advocates for a hybrid cloud approach. Russell Macdonald, HPE’s chief technologist, public sector and hybrid cloud, said organisations should adopt a data-first modernisation approach.

“It considers where data needs to be, rather than being obsessed with putting it in one place and then putting analytics over the top. Do you need to bring the analytics to the data? And there’s lots more need for real time analytics and inference at the edge. You’ll be able to make course corrections to how services are being delivered, rather than that kind of hindsight review of analytics that perhaps we were used to before.

“But there are clearly challenges, having a disparate environment: multicloud, on premise and public cloud and so on. You’ve got to work with the right providers that can help you navigate that complexity and have the right platform so that you can apply the analytics in that complex environment.”

Bundy countered that in “an ideal world we wouldn’t have on premise. It’s very hard if you’re doing anything with data analytics to do a whole lot of work to try and make on premise look like cloud.”

However, he said the reality is that the hybrid model will exist for the foreseeable future. “There is loads of data in Google and Google Cloud, there is loads of stuff that a lot of us have in Microsoft, Teams-based based ways of working, a lot of applications on AWS. And then stuff that we’re still really sensitive about which we keep on premise. The reality is we need to try and make all of that interoperable. And that’s just what we have to, as government, push the cloud providers as well and say, this is what we want. We’re not going to put all our eggs in one basket.”

If you didn’t get a chance to attend the conference and watch this session live you can still register to view this and all the other recorded sessions. Please register here.