Consumers and business organizations all over the world are moving towards the cloud. On the consumer side, there is no dearth of apps for data storage, backup, photo sharing, collaboration etc. – all of which live in the cloud. Similarly, enterprises are in the midst of moving their data centers, in-house applications, and enterprise management tools to cloud hosted environments.
It should not be surprising that even governments in the US, EU and elsewhere are looking to incorporate cloud technology in order to provide better services to state departments, citizens and businesses. Using the cloud can reduce IT expenses, provide flexibility and adaptability to change as well as encourage innovative services that would not have been possible earlier. However the EU in particular continues to struggle with cloud implementation in the public sector.
A recent report by the EU’s own security experts state that most of the countries in the union have no proper plan to transition to the cloud1. In spite of the benefits of the cloud being universally acknowledged, few nations – with UK and Spain being the exceptions – have put in place concrete guidelines for a nationwide cloud deployment that can deliver public services to its own citizens and enterprises.
While some government agencies have their own websites, they are often not integrated with other departments leaving users to navigate a maze of websites to find the information they need. In addition, the websites only serve as a static page for information and do not include cloud capabilities that cover end-to-end transactions. Thus, a user may be able to download forms for filing taxes online but will not be able to complete the process without a personal visit to the office.
According to the report, security and privacy continue to be the biggest concerns that hamper the transition to the cloud. In the wake of the startling relevations by Snowden on the extent of NSA surveillance on global cloud communication, security concerns are rightly at the top of everyone’s minds. However it would be foolish for government agencies to delay cloud adoption on that count only. Instead, it may be better to focus on better security implementation and plugging known security loopholes.
Privacy concerns on the part of government agencies are somewhat harder to be countenance. The countries in the European Union have extensive privacy legislation in place – in many cases more comprehensive than American laws – which restrict how and when personal data about people can be collected. In fact, EU privacy laws are mainly designed to protect users from corporate data mining rather than government surveillance. This means that state agencies are not as strictly restricted when it comes to collecting user data. Nevertheless, privacy concerns continue to be an obstacle to government cloud deployments.
In a fast changing world where consumers are increasingly expecting services to be delivered online, delaying cloud adoption could have unpleasant financial consequences for countries. The advantages offered by cloud technology – scalability, flexibility, lower costs etc. – are precisely what government agencies need in the present day. Hence it is extremely surprising to see that most countries in the European Union are slow in adopting it.
1. Published by European Union Agency for Network and Information Security, February 2015