EXPLAINER

Why Cloud Computing Is a Key Enabler for Digital Government

A cloud-based solution can help public agencies effectively respond to client demands even during peak periods. Photo credit: ADB.
A cloud-based solution can help public agencies effectively respond to client demands even during peak periods. Photo credit: ADB.

Published: 23 June 2021

Moving systems into a cloud environment future-proofs public services.

Introduction

Governments are adapting to the way citizens and businesses are consuming more digital content, and how they have become increasingly reliant on digital sources for information and services. Across Asia and the Pacific, countries are scaling up e-government citizen services and establishing digital economy development plans.

One of the key enablers for this transition to digital is cloud computing technology, which helps deliver government services in a more agile, faster, and cheaper manner compared with a traditional information technology infrastructure. Moving government systems into a cloud environment and integrating its full capabilities into new digital solutions can help future-proof the public service.

However, the adoption of cloud computing still faces barriers in the public sector.  This calls for government-wide policy adjustments to create enabling regulatory conditions and ensure a clear and robust cloud strategy.

This explainer is based on a working paper, Cloud Computing as a Key Enabler for Digital Government Across Asia and the Pacific, published by the Asian Development Bank.

What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources, such as networks, servers, storage, applications, and services, that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.

The move from on-premise solutions toward cloud solutions (cloud deployment) can be a gradual process and different options are available, including private cloud, hybrid cloud, and public cloud deployments.

Provides applications running on a cloud infrastructure. The applications are accessible from various client devices through either a thin client interface, such as a web browser (e.g., web-based email), or a program interface. The consumer does not manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure including network, servers, operating systems, storage, or even individual application capabilities, with the possible exception of limited user-specific application configuration settings.

Examples: Slack, Trello, Office 365, Salesforce, Dropbox

Users: End-users

Provides processing, storage, networks, and other fundamental computing resources where the consumer can deploy and run arbitrary software, which can include operating systems and applications. The consumer does not manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure but has control over operating systems, storage, and deployed applications; and possibly limited control of select networking components (e.g., host firewalls).

Examples: AWS, Google Cloud Platform, Azure, VMware, OpenStack

Users: Network architects and tech administrators

Deploys onto the cloud infrastructure consumer-created or acquired applications created using programming languages, libraries, services, and tools supported by the provider. The consumer does not manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure including network, servers, operating systems, or storage, but has control over the deployed applications and possibly configuration setting for the application-hosting environment.

Examples: Cloud Foundry, Heroku, Github, Kubernetes, Docker

Users: Software developers and engineers

How does cloud adoption benefit a government?

Cloud adoption requires only one technology migration. This offers the opportunity to streamline technology operations and greatly improve efficiency in deploying technology resources. For instance, Singapore's Land Transport Authority (LTA) reported a 60% in cost savings when moving to cloud from an on-site solution.

For example, a tax department may implement a cloud-based solution that automatically adjusts to system requirements, thereby ensuring the department’s ability to respond to demand during peak periods, such as with tax return deadlines.

The Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, for instance, was able to set up a national cloud-based education platform in record time, allowing students to continue their studies despite movement control lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Building public sector solutions with the latest cloud computing resources and tools ensures that governments will be able to attract and retain talent who are relevant to the industry and who want to serve in the public sector. Having to maintain an aging or outdated technology platform is demotivating and will accelerate a decline in service quality compared to that of other sectors.

What is holding back cloud deployment in the public sector?

It remains a challenge for policymakers to establish security and data protection policies that balance the need to protect data and the need to allow secure data flows. Some governments have put in place restrictions, such as data localization that hamper cloud adoption. Others have developed multiple technical and security policies that overlap with existing international standards, creating a complex mesh of conflicting policies.

The need to update existing cost structures and procurement models also holds back cloud adoption. In many cases, government agencies may want to purchase cloud services, but the existing purchasing rules may not allow utility-based variable cost items, such as cloud services, to be purchased. Updating such policies may require legislative changes, which would take significant time to be proposed and passed officially.

Moreover, personnel with technical knowledge of the specific requirements in the public sector are required to begin the system design and cost-estimation processes. In some instances, they may not be available, and external resources may need to be brought in.

How can governments enable greater public sector cloud adoption?

First, governments should establish a conducive regulatory environment that supports the adoption of cloud computing in the public sector. This could include the following:

  • limiting data localization policies that might be in place,
  • establishing cross-border data transfer mechanisms (e.g., through the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)'s Cross-Border Privacy Rules (CBPR) system),
  • implementing a data classification framework that allows for different types of data to be managed differently, and
  • creating an interoperable cloud system for government, which includes an iterative policy process where government policies may be adjusted and harmonized in the case of policy conflicts.

Second, governments should establish a clear and robust cloud strategy and adoption plan. This would include details on their intended migration and/or implementation approach, underpinned by an overarching government cloud policy, such as a Cloud First strategy.

Finally, governments should ensure that in-house support is provided to guide government institutions on their journey of adoption. This could be achieved through the designation or creation of a dedicated unit or center of excellence as well as a cloud procurement marketplace.

Resources

Asian Development Bank. 2021. Cloud Computing as a Key Enabler for Digital Government across Asia and the Pacific. Manila.

Tech for Impact. Cloud Computing: The Future of e-Government or Data Risk? 

Ask the Experts

  • Thomas Abell
    Advisor, SDCC and Chief of Digital Technology for Development Unit

    Thomas Abell is the chief of Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) Digital Technology for Development Unit, which is tasked with facilitating the effective use of digital technology to improve development impact. He has over 30 years of professional experience in digital technology.

  • Arndt Husar
    Senior Public Management Specialist (Digital Transformation), Digital Technology for Development Unit, Asian Development Bank

    Arndt Husar facilitates the effective use of digital technology in ADB programs, focusing on digital transformation, startup ecosystems, and cross-sectoral partnerships. He is an Innovation Task Force member and supports ADB’s futures thinking and foresight activities. Prior to ADB, he was senior advisor and deputy director of the UNDP Global Policy Centre in Singapore where he focused on Technology and Innovation (2019) and Public Service Excellence (2013–2018).

    Follow Arndt Husar on

  • Lim May-Ann
    Director (Singapore), Access Partnership, and Executive Director, Asia Cloud Computing Association

    Prior to her current role, Lim May-Ann was managing director of the technology research firm, TRPC Pte Ltd. She is a public policy professional, focusing on development, technology policy, and communications across Asia and the Pacific.

    Follow Lim May-Ann on

  • Asian Development Bank (ADB)

    The Asian Development Bank is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region. Its main instruments for helping its developing member countries are policy dialogue, loans, equity investments, guarantees, grants, and technical assistance.

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Disclaimer

The views expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) or its Board of Governors or the governments they represent. ADB does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this publication and accepts no responsibility for any consequence of their use. By making any designation of or reference to a particular territory or geographic area, or by using the term “country” in this document, ADB does not intend to make any judgments as to the legal or other status of any territory or area.




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  • Thomas Abell
    Advisor, SDCC and Chief of Digital Technology for Development Unit

  • Arndt Husar
    Senior Public Management Specialist (Digital Transformation), Digital Technology for Development Unit, Asian Development Bank

  • Lim May-Ann
    Director (Singapore), Access Partnership, and Executive Director, Asia Cloud Computing Association

  • Asian Development Bank (ADB)