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How cloud computing can transform public services in cities

Adoption of technology by governments no longer a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’

The way public services are being delivered, all over the world, is rapidly changing. As people make greater use of the internet and smart devices, they want Governments to provide better digital services. Covid-19 has only served to accelerate this, with a greater expectation than ever that State bodies should be able to operate remotely and at speed.

“Cloud computing is key to this burgeoning national and global digital transformation. That’s because the flexibility it provides is fundamental to the responsive and nimble services that people now expect from Government. As the cloud allows for the on-demand delivery of dynamic IT resources over the internet, State bodies using it no longer have to worry about managing cumbersome and expensive data centres. Instead, they simply access the digital tools they require on an as-needed basis, meaning they can focus on services and outcomes rather than the hardware underpinning them,” Mark Finlay, head of public sector Ireland at Amazon Web Services, says.

Elasticity

There are several features of cloud computing. The first is elasticity, meaning that the service can withstand surges in demand, whether expected or not. The use of AWS by UCAS, the UK equivalent of the CAO, is a good example of how the cloud helps public authorities to manage demand peaks. When A-level results are released in the summer, the UCAS website experiences a massive influx of traffic. AWS allows UCAS to scale up to accommodate that demand and then scale back down to normal loads afterwards – while paying only for what it needs.

The second factor is security and privacy and the cloud provides the safeguards that citizens are looking for. In 2019 Grand River Hospital – a major Canadian hospital in the State of Ontario – turned to AWS to house its patient data. The hospital needed to safely store confidential information but also make it accessible to the patients concerned under Canadian law. The cloud made that possible.

The third element is innovation. Cloud computing allows public bodies access to cutting-edge technologies, including machine learning and artificial intelligence, without the need to invest in costly supercomputers. The experience of Transport for NSW (TfNSW), responsible for improving public transport, brings that to life. In 2018, TfNSW, an Australian Government Agency began using AWS machine-learning which now means that TfNSW is better able to predict passenger numbers across its entire transport network, thereby improving the experience of all who use it.

The fourth factor is aspiration and for governments to think big and to try achieve goals that were technologically out of reach only a decade or two ago. For example, AWS data analytics tools are helping make breakthroughs in how medical conditions are identified and diagnosed. SkinVision, an international start-up, uses AWS to help identify skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in Ireland. Its free-to-download app – regulated by the European Union as a medical device – allows people to scan moles and skin lesions in their own homes. The images are then assessed by machine learning-based algorithms, helping to quicken diagnosis and speed up treatment.

‘Smart’ cities

The cloud also helps cities as they grow and expand. The technology helps urban planners and governments to manage, process and make sense of the data produced by today’s digitally-connected “smart” cities.

A good example of this is Sydney’s transport authority, Transport for New South Wales, who turned to the AWS cloud to forecast demand across its rail and bus network, helping improve user experience. Cities like Jakarta use the AWS cloud to manage street lighting systems, so that energy usage can be better monitored and services more efficiently maintained.

Some of the most forward-thinking governments around the world have recognised the inter-connections between the cloud and excellent public services.

The United States adopted such an approach in 2011, and was followed by the United Kingdom (2013), Norway (2013), Australia (2014), New Zealand (2016) France (2017), Singapore (2018), Canada (2018) and Greece (2020).

The European Commission implemented its own such strategy in May 2019. The momentum behind this international shift to cloud indicates that its adoption by governments is increasingly a question of "when", rather than "if".