Imagine a world where US citizens in the UK could extend their visit to France by simply applying for an online visa, without a visit to the French consulate. What if the same US citizens could also simultaneously participate in the Presidential elections back home with just the click of a mouse? While most governments still have a long way to go to make convenient access to government services via the Internet a reality, the good news is that e-governance is on the rise and cost-effective cloud technology could spearhead its onward march.
The United Nations E-government Survey 2012 shows a steady improvement in e-government development index, with most countries improving their online service delivery. As more services are being integrated across sectors and agencies, the UN forecasts that more complex public sector services of the future will be delivered via the cloud.
The United States currently leads the global adoption of cloud technology in the public sector. As part of its "Cloud First" strategy, all US government IT investments in the steady-state will have to include an analysis of cloud-based alternatives in their budget submissions by September 2013. In fact, the US had already initiated the use of cloud-based collaboration systems such as Google documents, and was the first government-wide system on the cloud in 2010.
The most visible advantage has been cost efficiency. For instance, when USA.gov—the Federal Government's primary information portal—moved to a cloud-based solution, it brought in a whopping 72% cost saving of US$1.7 million. But reduction in ICT spending touches only the tip of the iceberg. Governments are also adopting cloud technology for greater scalability, access to latest technology, elimination of procurement hassles and universal access to resources.
The collaborative power of cloud technology is evident in initiatives such as the $3.7 billion Priority School Building Programme (PSBP) in the UK that uses cloud-based collaboration software. Elsewhere in Asia, Japan's Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (JAIST) also supports its students and researchers on a private cloud environment. In both these instances, universal access to a collaborative resource at a minimal cost gives cloud technology its cutting edge.
Cloud technology and the virtualization of storage space have enabled governments to pursue the goal of green IT. In Denmark,virtualization allowed the Municipality of Copenhagen to move from 638 servers to just32, reducing its carbon emissions by 77%.
With these advantages, cloud technology in e-governance is expected to see higher adoption levels. But, in countries like India, the principal speed breakers have been concerns over security and data privacy. Here, governments have been unwilling to entrust their data to third-party service providers. Yet, it is important for governments to adopt measures that allay these concerns to gain the 'cloud' advantage.
The United Nations E-government Survey 2012 points to a digital divide in the adoption of e-governance, with poorer countries often lacking the e-infrastructure required. However, cloud technology, with its tremendous cost efficiency, could help these countries leapfrog the digital divide and enable good governance.
Do you know of examples of countries that have successfully unleashed the power of cloud technology for its citizens? Please share with us.