The news might be dominated by Brexit, but the work of government quietly continues in the background. In such turbulent and uncertain times, the public sector is seeking a way to deliver improved services to its citizens, while simultaneously cutting the cost to the public purse.

The cloud is central to this strategy. It’s the platform for such successful initiatives as the award-winning Gov.uk website, Government Gateway, and the rising number of online services provided by local authorities. These schemes are effective due to public sector organisations taking a ‘citizen-first’ approach. By ensuring solutions are outcome-based, rather than technology focused, each citizen’s needs are catered to.

There is sometimes a perception that public sector is behind the times, but in reality, the public sector has been a pioneer in delivering services online, but the question is; are they leading when it comes to cloud migration? This autumn, KCOM conducted a major piece of research into the progress that five different industries are making in their cloud migration journey. The results revealed how each sector is harnessing the power of the cloud differently to suit their specific needs.

The NHS provides the perfect example. Over the last few years, the way that the NHS connects with the public and provides services has changed almost beyond recognition. The health service is increasingly taking a tech-first approach to solving the problems of a growing (and ageing) population which is putting enormous strain on the NHS’ finite resources.

It has responded to these challenges in a number of ways, not least with the NHS Apps Library, an ever-growing resource that providing practical advice for managing chronic health conditions through a range of apps.

The cloud is, obviously, central to such initiatives. But “cloud” is not a monolith – there is a range of different approaches that each organisation and industry might take on their migration journey, all of which depend on the organisation’s specific needs

Government and health cloud migration plans illustrates this. We found that health and social care organisations were the least likely of the sectors we polled to invest in cloud migration – although this was still a healthy 64 per cent. More interesting, however, is the fact that these same organisations were also the most likely to invest in cloud native applications, with close to nine in ten (86%) saying they will do so in the next 12 months.

There are several reasons for this. First, as we’ve seen, a key element of the NHS’ strategy is to deliver healthcare services through an ever-growing range of mobile apps, which explains the organisations’ focus on cloud native applications. Another important factor is that NHS Trusts rely on a varied mixture of both legacy and new IT environments. As a result, they will benefit from apps that can fit easily in any environment and be easily transferable between them.

But the cloud is not just a repository where organisations can shift all their applications, data, and processing. It takes a clearly defined strategy and close collaboration with service providers to ensure that a migration is a success, and that the organisation can enjoy the full benefits of their cloud service.

The key to this is effective collaboration with technology partners, and this often entails some flexibility when it comes to the procurement process. Organisations may have a clear vision of what they want to achieve with their cloud migration, but technology vendors have the expertise and experience to see beyond their clients’ immediate needs, and to recommend certain changes to the original plan and approach.

It is interesting to note that, out of all sectors, health and social care has the most prescriptive procurement process. Over half (52%) define exactly what the vendor will be measured against and less than half (42%) have flexible systems to allow for new ideas.

This could well be a cause for concern. We completely understand that healthcare and government services are a special case. When a cloud migration failure occurs in other industries, the result can be catastrophic to that organisation – but it is at least contained. In the public sector, technology failures can have a real and devastating impact on an enormous amount of lives. It is that critical.

It’s natural that the public sector – and healthcare organisations in particular – should be cautious and wish to retain full control over their cloud migration projects. At the same time, having too tight a rein over these initiatives comes with its own risks, because it fails to harness providers’ expertise to deliver the best and most wide-ranging services

As we know, public sector IT projects are complex and long-term. There is a risk that too much prescription risks making these projects out-of-date by the time they are delivered. Public sector organisations must strike the right balance, even if this means relinquishing a modicum of control over their projects.

That being said, it’s very encouraging to see the way that the public sector is embracing the cloud as a way to deliver improved services to citizens. If cloud vendors can establish trusted relationships with their government and healthcare clients, they have the opportunity to expand upon and improve their vision, and develop services that will make a real difference to millions of lives.

To find out more download the Art of the Possible report here.

View further article coverage in Health Matters Magazine.