AWS Digital Government – Innovation and Transformation

AWS for Government

The tier one Cloud providers like AWS have tailored their services for the public sector.

For example data security is usually the first concern raised and AWS has taken a number of steps to address this requirement, aligning their services to the documented standards for the Canadian Government, as well as for the UK G-Cloud, and developing relevant services such as Secure Network Connections from their experiences of working with the USA Government.

Agile Infrastructure – Moving out of the basement

Notable user examples include the DVLA, utilizing AWS to more rapidly pioneer new digital service innovations, such as the MOT service that processes 42 million transactions annually and the Commercial Vehicle Operator licence.

Niall Creech, Head of Cloud Engineering at the Ministry of Justice, provides this excellent case study of the type of benefits government agencies can seek from adopting the Cloud, documenting their move to the AWS Cloud as shifting to Government at Scale.

Niall makes the point that in today’s IT world there is little value to be had in operating traditional data centres any more, and moving to the Cloud represents “moving out of the basement”.

It’s not simply a process of outsourcing, transfering the same technology paradign from in-house to an external supplier, but of harnessing an entirely new paradigm all together.

The case study offers a very articulate definition of how Cloud provides an ‘Agile Infrastructure’.

Instead of just migrating the same virtual servers to IaaS, Niall describes how they have embraced Cloud Native building blocks, such as containerized applications, serverless functions and elastic storage, to make possible more dynamic and agile provisioning and management of IT infrastructure. For example all live services have the ability to have any of their servers destroyed without notice, with no alerts and no user impact.

Digital Innovation – Transforming Procurement and Culture

Speaking at the AWS summit Mark Schwartz (Twitter) sets the broader organizational context for these trends, challenging the core idea that you can’t innovate in large enterprise Federal Government.

He defines the core measurement relevant to this goal: Speed – The lead time from realizing there is a mission need to deploying the required capability. Cloud speeds that deployment and reduces that time cycle.

More importantly Mark has been considering the broader organizational challenges and how they can be overcome to unleash the unused potential for expanded innovation in the public sector, chiefly by focusing on and transforming procurement and subsquently, culture too.

Highlighting that some procurement initiatives can take years and decades to complete, Mark says the way to address this systemic slowness of procurement and change control bureaucracies, is to transform them using these Cloud ideals.

At Immigration they have put in place a Continuous Delivery system that is always in operation, applying automated testing and public Cloud provisioning to all the code that is fed in. This enables them to work with a much higher frequency of smaller volumes of new system requirements, and be in a continual state of always deploying these new features to production at a high rate. In short to work at a higher rate of innovation.

The especially powerful effect of this approach is that it greatly lowers the cost and risk of experimentation.

As a consequence every one across the organization can be encouraged to be more innovative, to try out new ideas by putting in the code requests and spinning up the prototype applications.

With the public sector having a notorious reputation for a high price for project failures it’s no surprise risk aversion can be a strong force to overcome to drive innovative change. By lowering this price and visibly setting a cultural tone of encouraged experimentation, these systemic dynamics can be addressed and a enterprise-wide culture of innovation unleashed.

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