Malaysia, Singapore and the US are among many governments announcing their intent to pivot their operations to the cloud in the next few years. What exactly will this mean for public services?

“The Government services sector is different than the enterprise or corporate sectors because it impacts and is responsible to all citizens, totalling more than 30 million Malaysians as well as 10 million business entities. Needless to say, the amount of data it holds is massive and it is crucial to keep these data ultimately secure,” said Ahmad Nazri Ambi, Head of Digital Government at TM ONE.

Cloud computing offers huge potential for innovating new services to support citizens and enhance quality of life. Thanks to its ability to handle large volumes of information, governments can collect Internet of Things (IoT) data and develop actionable insights to enhance efficiency and address various issues. The cloud also enables governments to quickly expand new services across different agencies, according to the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), a public agency driving digital adoption in the country.

We explore how different countries have adopted the cloud to transform the way they serve their citizens by taking advantage of the cloud’s scalability.

1. Expanding digital identity services

Digital identity services have great potential to enable government to streamline their services and enhance service delivery. A citizen could pay taxes, book a hospital appointment, and apply for loans all in one place without having to re-enter personal information, which contributes to creating a more seamless experience.

Not only it will benefit the citizens – McKinsey research revealed that countries could unlock 3 to 13 per cent of GDP in 2030 by implementing digital identity programmes – as a potential result of increasing shift from informal economy to formal economy, increased employment and greater financial inclusion.

The opportunity for digital identity services has increased exponentially with technology advancements, greater access to smart devices, and lower implementation costs. We have seen many nations implementing such services, and initiatives such as the World Bank’s ID4D will help more countries build inclusive and trusted identity systems.

GovTech Singapore uses the power of the cloud as it works with developers and partners to create more services that build on its national digital identity system. These services are built on a developer platform that is hosted in the cloud, which allows them to quickly scale up and build more services as demand from businesses increases, reported Computer Weekly.

The cloud also makes it easier for GovTech to manage ongoing projects. The agency receives status updates on the progress of each project, and the system automatically sets up a testing environment once a software is ready for trial. It also benefits from cloud analytics that provides key service statistics to aid GovTech in its decision making.

2. Predictive public services

Numerous events throughout history – including the current Covid-19 pandemic – prove that governments must adopt an anticipatory rather than a reactive stance. After all, as the adage goes, prevention is better than cure.

Advances in data analytics and artificial intelligence have enabled governments to stay ahead of tax evasions, floods, overcrowding in hospitals, and many more.

In the United States, residents of Kansas City now hit fewer bumps in the road. Thanks to data analytics, the city is able to predict potholes before they appear.

The city government uses existing traffic cameras to gather data on factors such as the age of the pavement. This is combined with information on the weather, traffic accidents or road maintenance to predict when and where potholes might form, reported Government Technology magazine.

City leaders expect that this will allow Kansas to repair or resurface up to 70km of roads a year, up from only about 30 to 40km before. This technology is parked in the cloud – and is another good example of how cloud can help governments quickly build all sorts of specific solutions to improve citizens’ lives.

As seen from Kansas City’s case, integrating a data analytics tool into existing infrastructure resulted in significant cost savings for the city. It is the added convenience of not having to install new equipment or find new power sources. Large amounts of data are stored in a central and accessible cloud, and rapidly processed.

3. Emergency financial assistance

The Covid-19 pandemic has created turmoil across the global economy. Economic activities ground to a halt and livelihoods were impacted, spurring intervention measures from governments. The Malaysian government has deployed several financial assistance programmes for individuals and businesses. The Movement Control Order measures required applications to be processed online.

“This is where the government’s IT infrastructure was put to the test,” noted Ahmad Nazri. “The government was swift to act by shifting several critical services that were previously hosted on-premise – and were facing the risk of overload to the cloud. This helped the services to remain accessible despite simultaneous access requests from millions of citizens.”

Shifting securely to the cloud

Governments have been forced to recognise the advantages and efficacy of shifting their services into the cloud. However, security remains a top concern.

“The cloud holds enormous potential for business efficiency and innovation, but also can create a ‘wild west’ of broader and more distributed environments for organizations to manage and secure ,” said Abhijit Chakravorty, Cloud Security Competency Leader, IBM Security Services.

According to an IBM study, the two biggest cloud security risks are data theft and ransomware. Organisations have to take a unified approach that combines both cloud and security, rather than rely on cloud providers to provide security.

That’s why governments have taken care to guide their agencies to safeguard their networks during the shift to the cloud.

The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) released specific guidelines on how to choose a cloud platform. This includes advisories for organisations to carefully consider what services or data they can put on the cloud, and to assess if a cloud service provider is reliable and competent.

“As the enabler of Malaysia’s digital government, our own cloud platform, Cloud Alpha promises top-of-the-game cybersecurity and data sovereignty, so government agencies can rest assured that citizen data will be protected. Cloud Alpha is hosted in our highly secured Tier III data centre within Malaysia, so data residency is assured,” Nazri explained when discussing the key features of Cloud Alpha. In the past, the government had to host all of its data on-premise, but there is now a realisation of the potential power of the cloud for certain applications.

“With Cloud Alpha, civil servants can seamlessly make use of emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), IoT, big data, and blockchain to improve citizens’ lives. As the government is adopting an open data policy, a data lake stored and processed in the cloud will become a powerful source of insights and innovation for government services moving forward,” concluded Ahmad Nazri.

When facing the next normal, leaders often find themselves hindered by limited data processing capacity, slow tech-building and ageing infrastructure. By shifting to cloud computing, government services and citizens are only one click-of-an-app away, many processes can be made more efficiently – with the bonus of innovative new possibilities to enhance and forging new services. The ultimate result will be better outcomes for citizens.