Information Strategy document - how the government missed a trick

Houses of parliament

When the government published its consultation on how to support and nurture the Information Economy in February 2013, it seemed like a promising moment to be in cloud computing.

The consultation document outlined ambitious ideas for promoting growth in five sectors: cloud computing, big data, e-commerce, internet of things and smart cities.

Indeed, in its summary of responses published three months later, cloud computing was highlighted as ‘the most important of the five, because effort spent in this area would drive the other areas, facilitate access to data, reduce costs and improve efficiency.’

From this, it would be reasonable to assume that actions coming out of the final strategy document would significantly boost the cloud sector. So it's a surprise that in the 57-page final Information Economy Strategy (IES), there is no section on cloud computing,

What's happened here? Was all the talk so much hot air? Yes and no. It is certainly odd, given how much the government made of cloud in its call for views and evidence, and in the summary of that evidence, that there is no specific coverage of cloud issues in the IES.

Readers of the document could also be forgiven for being disappointed at the number of ‘actions’ in the strategy which involve further discussion, setting up of committees and future strategies to be published. For example, it is excellent that the government is setting up an Information Economy Council to drive actions coming out of the Strategy – but that’s no substitute for immediate action on skills, security or tax breaks.

Similarly, lots of the ‘actions’ point towards efforts which are already underway. However, careful examination of the IES does give some reasons to be cheerful.

The summary of responses noted, when it was published in May, that the main barriers to growth in the cloud sector were cyber threats, both real and perceived, poor mobile and fixed infrastructure and inadequate data protection.

To varying degrees, these are addressed in the IES, and should the government make genuine headway in these areas it will certainly help the cloud sector grow. A considerable amount of the document is spent on cyber security, with reminders of research funding already available, user training schemes and of course the huge amount of work done out of public sight to keep the UK’s online infrastructure secure.

There wasn’t anything in this document that a reader of the separate Cyber Security Strategy wouldn’t already know about, but it served as a good reminder of existing work. Similarly, there were reminders in the Strategy of the government’s existing work to promote broadband infrastructure and of its 5G research funding at the University of Surrey.

But the glaring omission is any mention of changing organisational cultures to encourage more employees, both in the private and public sector, to adopt online services – particularly those who have a significant influence over spending.

For example, the government’s work on the G-Cloud iterations is laudable and should save it significant money in the long run as well as being of benefit to the SMEs on the framework. The IES contains important passages on how to improve digital skills in the UK, which should encourage citizens to do more online, but nowhere in the document does it suggest how it is going to change cultures, especially in Whitehall, to ensure that public sector workers take ‘Cloud First’ to heart rather than relying on their desktops.

It seems odd that, shortly after the Government COO films how long his computer takes to start up and places it on YouTube, that there is no mention of how to change the way public sector workers think about the commissioning and use of IT services, particularly cloud-based ones. To give the government some credit, this is something that is being pushed by the Cabinet Office – but mention of it should have been made here.

Overall the IES certainly isn’t bad news for the cloud sector, but what it seemed to promise in its initial consultation hasn’t been matched by the reality. It's a collection of reminders of action already being taken, promises to set up committees and of action further down the line.

These changes, particularly changes to organisational culture and mindset, however don’t take place overnight. Despite the concerns, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic. The government is clearly supportive of the cloud sector, and wants to encourage growth here – but of course there is always more work to be done.