What is cloud?
A debate rages on Twitter as to what constitutes cloud computing. It was inspired by my previous tweeted post and draws upon Public Strategist’s articulate post on the very subject. I say “rages”. It drew a few shy of 20 comments, retweets and points of discussion. (It’s all relative.)
First things first. I’ve decided that, like internet, cloud will hereafter be lowercase—in my world at least. Its gratuitous capitalisation has done nothing but make a big deal out of something that was happening anyhow. So if we lowercase the C [sic], we won’t attract eyeballs and will be able to get on with the job in hand.
To me, cloud means nothing more, nothing less, than shared. I posted a year or so ago about my forays into cloud computing. For the record, I regard myself as unusually bold in this area, having divorced the majority of my stuff from my desktop and moving it into a shared resource, a cloud, if you will.
But I was thinking that actually, in addition to my computing examples, my car usage is also cloud-based. I am an avid fan of Streetcar. Their cars are shared resources that can be called upon by anyone, subject to availability, much like the Boris Bikes that have become so famous. I see these as no different to the computing resources that I call upon.
Any computing resource that is shared by more than one individual, department, organisation, should be regarded as cloud-based. And the greater its level of sharing, both of code and resource, the more cloudy it should be regarded.
A shared drive is probably the lowest form of cloud computing. Hotmail should be regarded as the pinnacle, with an estimated 360m active accounts.
For government, there are certain aspects of computing that just aren’t in the market for sharing beyond the confines of the users that use them. Many of the DWP and HMRC systems, for example, are so bespoke and self-serving (in a non-pejorative sense) that they can’t be “cloudified”. No one else would want to use them.
But so much of the stuff that government does on a day-to-day basis is consistent from one organisation to the next. Email, collaboration, call centre screens, contact and content management systems, Office-esque applications, financial and HR systems. They’re all used consistently from one organisation to the next. And as such, they can be shared—or put in the cloud.
Whether this is a cloud built specifically for government or one that also serves individuals and the private sector will depend on the case. Horses for courses. But let us be clear: the former *must* play its part. Otherwise, we’ve missed the point.
It’s also important that cloud should not be confined to the world of computing. In these austere times, sharing, or cloud, should become the modus operandi. There should be cloud offices that can be used by people from numerous government departments; cloud call centres; cloud procurement vehicles; cloud subject-matter experts (people that can be called upon by multiple departments).