G-Clouds: a silver lining or a security risk?

AnnieM, January 26, 2010

The clouds are lifting. No, I’m not talking about the weather or the end of the recession (sorry!) I’m talking about the emergence of the Government Cloud or ‘G-Cloud’.  Intrigued? As am I. It’s a new initiative (as of June 2009) to centralise public service infrastructure to cut costs, administration and laborious data entry.  Part of the government’s Digital Britain concept, the move to ‘virtualise’ public sector data and systems management is believed by many (and especially those in the Cabinet Office) to be the next logical step in the digital switch over. Makeitbetter.co.uk - a Conservative-led website reporting Government ICT initiatives - likens the concept to the introduction of centralised electricity in the early twentieth century. In the days before electricity was procured as a utility, organisations used their own electricity generators. Looked at from this angle, doesn’t it make sense to centralise data in one place, especially if it is said to cut down on costs and administration? Certainly both New Labour and the Conservatives agree on this ‘necessary’ development in public sector ICT.

The latest news is that the government would now like private sector companies to provide their own cloud for public sector use as an alternative to the G-Cloud.  Government IT chief John Suffolk explained at the launch of Socitm’s IT Trends 2009-10 Report that the new advice was due to the vastly different demands of public sector bodies such as healthcare providers and the police force.

It seems to be getting more controversial by the day. Sharing data in a centralised platform is a huge security risk. Outsourcing this shared data to a variety of private sector companies - albeit specialist - is an even greater risk. And although the government assures us that anyone providing a computing cloud platform would need to be fully accredited before they can offer secure data storage to public sector organisations (and John Suffolk insists that personal data will not be kept on the G-cloud until it is absolutely ready), I am not sure how this will work in practice. You only need to pick up any newspaper or browse any news site to read about the latest ‘confidential data lost’ scandal. It also makes for a greater accountability issue. If and when mistakes are made, will it be possible to trace the source of the error?

Even so, the government are hoping this centralised infrastructure system will be successfully implemented within the next three years.  And as their policy has been met with support from all political sides, it is highly likely that this will go ahead.

Who knows, it may mark the beginning of a new era for public sector ICT. It may actually deliver on its promises and benefit all involved. In the meantime, we at Jobsgopublic would like to hear from you.

Do you think the G-cloud is a good idea? Why? Or do you feel uncomfortable with an online data storage system?  Let us know your thoughts.