The government's digital agenda is driving cost savings in the public sector, requiring some specific ingredients to succeed: scalability, innovation, integration and security. In this blog post we will explore each of them in more detail.
The UK government's digital strategy is vital to the country and describes how delivering services digitally will result in savings of £1.7 to £1.8 billion each year. The digital agenda is driving more self-service facilities that are empowering citizens, including renewing car tax online and filing income tax self-assessments online. It is worth noting that the strategy does not yet cover local government services or the NHS, although there are some good local initiatives emerging in these areas.
According to a SOCITM study across 120 local councils, the estimated cost of contact for face to face transactions averages £8.62, for phone £2.83, and for the web only 15 pence. Through enabling self-service capabilities, it is clear that significant operational savings can be made.
According to the Office for National Statistics, the UK population is predicted to reach an estimated 67.2 million by the year 2020. With so many citizens to serve, central and local government has a phenomenal challenge of building robust and secure solutions that can scale to meet these high user volumes.
Delivering on the digital first strategy can be a formidable prospect, especially at a time when the technology landscape is in a constant state of flux. To embrace this as an opportunity rather than a threat, a public sector organisation needs to choose the right partner to offer advice and guidance on the best use of innovative technology for an organisation to quickly deliver on its objectives.
The time is right for the public sector adoption of Function-as-a-Service (FaaS). FaaS provides a managed runtime for executing any arbitrary code block that has been uploaded to a service. This may seem identical to just deploying a runnable artefact onto a server and having an operating system execute it, but it is not. FaaS takes care of making the function available at the scale required to satisfy the current demand but only charges for the execution count and time. Examples of FaaS include AWS Lambda, Azure Functions or Google Functions.
FaaS together with established PaaS (such as managed database and email services, etc.) – sometimes referred to as serverless technology - provides an effective solution for rapidly building a system that can scale to meet demand at a fraction of the cost of running servers. This solution wholly embraces the Pay As You Go (PAYG) pricing model to the point where you no longer pay per server, but instead per transaction. This fully aligns to the digital citizen strategy.
By combining with User Interface (UI) solutions, an entire system can be developed with an intuitive web or mobile UI for citizen use, using FaaS to applying business logic and PaaS for back-end services.
Serverless technology is inherently extensible through RESTful APIs meaning that securely accessing existing data and systems, or using open-data and third-party services, is a trivial task. However, the technology can be readily integrated with emerging technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), helping with the growth of connected Cities initiatives, for example.
As discussed in Security and Serverless, serverless is not a silver bullet when it comes to security. However, it does provide distinct advantages over servers; functions are only ever executed following successful authentication, the service abstracts access to the overlying servers, it is a managed service operated by a focused-team of experts whose sole job is the operational excellence of a service already hosted on a secure platform.
Additionally, FaaS forces the adoption of a micro-services architecture, which limits the exposure to data and functions to a given service and decouples all elements using HTTPS endpoints.
The impact of the WannaCry Ransomware attack in May 2017 on numerous NHS organisations with legacy on-premise environments, has changed the perception many public sector organisations had in relation to the question of security in the cloud. A serverless solution where the platform is constantly patched would have preveted access to the underlying server as an attack surface.
Of course, possibilities are not bound to just self-service facilities for citizens but can include mapping existing business processes to drive efficiency.
To find out more about the public sector shift to cloud, join the CIO Dilemma: Barriers to innovation in the public sector webinar on September 27th.