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Security issues still shroud cloud services

Source: PSE June/July 15

Dr Andy Hopkirk, head of research at Socitm, discusses the need to allay data security concerns surrounding the cloud.

Cloud services could become the norm for some public service providers but they must meet technological and economic imperatives, as well as satisfying safety and confidence concerns, PSE has been told. 

A recent IT Trends survey of Socitm members, which showed that cloud computing is already in use or being piloted at about 90% of local public service providers who responded, suggests there is fertile ground for externally hosting some services. 

However, nearly half of respondents said there are applications or IT services for which they would not use a cloud services provider, with 70% citing data protection as having an inhibiting effect. 

These included anything involving person-related data, mission-critical/emergency services and control systems or systems that were highly integrated with other complex systems not in the cloud. Secure email and linkages to public sector networks were also specifically cited as excluded matters, as were ERP and other core corporate systems. 

Dr Andy Hopkirk, head of research at Socitm, told PSE that it is no surprise that when a new technology comes to the market, people have concerns. 

“But people have been talking about using cloud services for a number of years now. So, therefore, you would imagine, lots of people must have been doing it so these concerns have been sorted out,” he said. “What is surprising is when lots of people actually say they haven’t, and they are still worried about it – that is a surprise.” 

He added that the reality on the ground is that lots of people are now relaxed about using cloud-based services personally, such as Gmail and Facebook. But when it comes to work it is a different scenario: “It is still new, a bit novel and there are uncertainties about it”. 

Suppliers and service providers could do more to tackle the security concerns by, for instance, offering high-quality information in plain English to explain potential risks, and how to deal with and avoid them. On top of this, Dr Hopkirk suggests highlighting case studies of best practice and adoption to allay some of the fears. 

He added that the selling community cannot rely upon “purely economic arguments to be successful”. This is because public servants cannot choose to ignore data protection matters without incurring reputational and legal risks. 

Even Steve Shakespeare, managing director of Civica Services, who supported the publication of the IT Trends survey, said there is certainly “education…needed on the different types of cloud and what that means in terms of the benefits and acceptable risks for our customers”. 

He added: “So much depends upon what the business goals and strategy are and the types of application and data processing needed to deliver against these – both now and in the future. 

“In the end, ‘cloud’ is only a set of delivery models to be carefully considered on a case-by-case basis within the context that it is a business growth enabler and most probably part of a wider solution.” 

This was reiterated by Dr Hopkirk, who said that cloud can have the advantage for those with a ‘greenfield’ or new service to create – where there is no legacy to get over. 

“But for the people that have systems in place already that they are comfortable with, to abandon those and go to something else – the case needs to be made,” he said, whether it be economic, technical or security related. 

“Cloud could just be great value for money,” said Dr Hopkirk. “But if it doesn’t also allay the concerns about it being secure, safe and legal, it doesn’t matter. People are not going to do it. 

“Equally, the costs of maintaining a legacy system might be significant and growing but if it is seen as being safe, reliable and secure, then that is the justification to override the economic imperative.” 

He did note that in the end, as time passes, cloud services are likely to “just become the norm for some public services”. In the meantime, as the report’s results suggest, a priority for promoters of cloud solutions in the future must be in allaying data protection and general confidence concerns.

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