With today's FT front page story (update: and a BBC story not behind a paywall which says that there isn't a story after all), we might just have found another supporter for increased use of the cloud in government, albeit an inadvertent and perhaps unlikely one. Who knew that Michael Gove would be such a help? Maybe he just wants a GoveCloud?
New arrivals in government are often surprised by the processes and controls that they operate under. I suspect this government, perhaps the first to be truly wired, felt it more than most. After all, when Tony Blair took office, a web was something spiders spun. It strikes me that the last thing anyone was trying to do was to hide information from the FoI act.
Instead they were, in my view, reacting to:
- A desire to be in control of their own inbox so that they could read and answer every email rather than have a gatekeeper or administrator preview it
- Their experience in opposition when they were doubtless used to reading email on their phones, their tablets, a web browser on holiday or on their sleek MacBooks.
- A first time experience with a government laptop and an all too common 40 minute boot time coupled with the requirement for probably 3 passwords (alphanumeric and mandatory special characters) not to mention a dongle. All enough to drive anyone to an alternative solution.
Cloud in and of itself isn't the solution to these problems but the consideration of the cloud will force departments to think about the realistic security controls their data needs. That will lead to downgrading much of the perceived need for increased security - after all, corporations the world over who doubtless worry about their corporate secrets just as much as government worries about its own secrets.
Data in the cloud and in a government domain, held under a government contract, will be just as liable to the rules of FoI as data within the big data centre firewall. But it will be more useful to its users. Alongside that costs will fall and productivity will even go up, discounting for the changes in work/life balance.
And then the non-story that is today's FT front page will, instead, be asking questions about why government data is still locked behind big, expensive, unwieldy, dedicated, 20th century systems.
Meanwhile, I suspect a lot of people across government swallowed hard when they read this story - almost certainly after it was forwarded to their private mail accounts - and wondered whether to carry on using their android tablets for email.