How governments are migrating to the cloud effectively and securely

By Woo Hoi Yuet

Public sector experts shared how governments can shift to the cloud to improve citizen services while ensuring data security at AI x GOV 2022.

There is always an element of uncertainty when it comes to change. Even working in a new country, moving into a new flat, or exploring a new restaurant are forays into the unknown. Similarly, governments are entering new terrains of digitalization and adopting cloud-based platforms in public service agencies.

This migration to the cloud is a transformative shift—and daunting too. While the advantages of the cloud have been well established, public servants still have lingering concerns about the ease and security of moving to the cloud.

How can governments help their agencies adopt the cloud and unleash its potential to improve workflows and citizen services? In AI x GOV 2022, public sector experts gathered to share how governments can migrate to the cloud effectively and safely through empowering people, establishing partnerships, and changing mindsets.

Cultivating an innovative and cloud-first culture

Adopting a cloud-first mindset in the government can help public servants improve their productivity quickly.

The Philippines government is one of the first in the region to have a cloud-first policy. It has improved the efficiency of public services, such as in the budgeting aspect. During the Covid-19 pandemic, it played a key role in providing timely statistics to the public, shared Maria Victoria Castro, Undersecretary for Digital Philippines.

For governments to adapt to evolving technologies, it is important for agencies to have an open attitude to change, she highlighted. Public servants should have the willingness to learn, experiment, and drive things forward within the organisation, added Dennis Lui, CEO of VITAL.

VITAL is a government agency in Singapore that provides shared services for the public sector, such as procurement, human resources, and financial services.

Upskilling the staff and showing them the ease and benefits of cloud-based solutions is essential in driving the technological shift to the cloud in the government, emphasized Lui. To tap on the potential of the cloud, VITAL has come up with the Citizen Developer Strategy, This means putting the people at the core of the digital transformation.

For example, it provides officers with the necessary training to tap into cloud-based platforms to make their jobs easier. Officers can pick up skills on how to navigate no-code cloud tools like StudioX to develop applications. This encourages staff to experiment and develop their own projects, thereby having a stake in this digitalisation journey.

Exploring new possibilities with the cloud

When public agencies decide to restructure their systems and start thinking about how to adopt new technologies like the cloud, it can give rise to more innovative solutions, shared Lim May-Ann, Director of Asia Cloud Computing Association.

The cloud can accelerate the development and adoption of other technologies, such as AI, machine learning, and high-performance computing, added Akanksha Bilani, the Regional Alliance Head at AWS for APA and Japan. This can help governments significantly in decision-making and implementing more impactful policies.

For example, Co-WIN is a cloud-based vaccination platform launched by India, allowing citizens to easily make vaccination appointments and access vaccination certificates. Healthcare providers can also use it to track the vaccination inventory. As Co-WIN uses the cloud, it is highly scalable—it managed to register over 940 million users and allowed the government to accelerate its vaccination programme.

The cloud can give rise to even more innovations that can make government workflows better. For example, virtual bots that can automatically respond to questions can make the job much easier for the staff, shared Lui.  AI and machine learning can be used to synthesize information from the government database and answer straightforward questions.

Another exciting possibility is having a machine-learning system that can read documents, automatically analyse them, and filter the necessary information to the backend departments, added Lui. Staff can focus more on work that requires their judgement, instead of handling manual and time-consuming tasks like transcribing physical documents to the computer.

In the education sector, cloud-based solutions allow students to learn in a hybrid environment, where they can switch seamlessly between physical classrooms and virtual realities. For example, a student in aerospace engineering can tinker around with their own plane in the virtual world, explained Tang Ming Fai, Director of IT services at Temasek Polytechnic.

It is important to understand that adopting the cloud is a cyclical process, highlighted Lim. When mapping out the strategy for cloud migration, organisations need to be flexible and constantly incorporate new technology that can enhance the workflow.

But for governments to truly realise the potential of the cloud, they need to be open to partnerships with technology providers. This helps to build a team of experts that can develop impactful solutions for the government and apply them where it is the most critical.

A key aspect of VITAL’s digitalisation strategy is to engage partners, noted Lui. This means learning from best practices in other industries, exploring innovations in the private sector, and incorporating them into the organisation.

Ensuring data security in the cloud

When it comes to migrating to the cloud, governments have to navigate the tension between harnessing the power of the cloud to increase productivity and ensuring data security.

A solution to this is to adopt differentiated levels of security, shared Tang. This means classifying data according to how sensitive it is and adopting the relevant security protocols. For example, less sensitive data can be uploaded to the cloud, while top-secret data is more suitable to be kept on on-premise platforms.

The Singapore government provides clear guidelines on how to classify the data, added Lui. This standardized approach makes it easier for public agencies all across the governments to shift to the cloud.

When organisations are clear about what data can be uploaded, they have more assurance to let their imagination run free and be more open to incorporating more cloud-based innovations, remarked Lui.

Governments can also rely on the expertise of third-party solution providers to keep their data safe, shared Bilani. Amazon Web Service helps to automate security functions that can protect the data stored in the cloud. For instance, the data flowing across the global network can be automatically encrypted before leaving the cloud facility, such that only authorised users can access it.

The shift to digitalisation is taking governments by storm all across the world. Everyone, regardless of whether they are a procurement officer or an educator, will be part of this change. Governments should harness the power of partnerships and empower their public servants to be part of this digital transformation.