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Exclusive! Cloud Computing: Technology that Radically Transforms Delivery of Public Services

COVID-19 has caused significant disruptions in the domestic economy, as community restrictions have limited people’s movement and business operations. The silver lining in the global catastrophe is that the pandemic drastically accelerated digital transformation across sectors. Digital technology has become critical for nations around the world in dealing with the crisis, moving toward economic recovery, and resuming long-term goals.

The application of digital technology to economic activities resulted in the emergence of the “digital economy,” which is defined as an economic system that achieves rapid optimisation of resource allocation and high-quality economic development by identifying, selecting, screening, storing and utilising large amounts of data.

As a result of the pandemic, many new digital businesses were established, and others abandoned traditional approaches in favour of tech-enabled strategies. Digitalisation provides a competitive edge for a country when used in conjunction with complementary policies and initiatives. The value of digitalisation is best harnessed when complementary technologies, resources, and capabilities are properly utilised along with appropriate legislative frameworks.

Malaysia, too, has had a forceful and robust response to the pandemic. Proactive and calibrated policies are assisting in the protection of vulnerable people and the revitalisation of the Malaysian economy. This country unveiled the MyDIGITAL strategy, which is a combination of re-evaluated efforts and new initiatives designed to develop Malaysia’s Digital Economy.

Discussing the latest research and case studies on the current use and possibilities for cloud computing was the focus of the OpenGovLive! Virtual Breakfast Insight on 27 July 2022 for senior digital executives of the Malaysian public sector.

Cloud Computing: An Enabler for Digital Government

Mohit Sagar: Technologies to cope with new demands
Mohit Sagar: Governments must utilise cloud computing for management, operations and services

Kicking off the session, Mohit Sagar, CEO & Editor-in-Chief, acknowledged that the COVID-19 crisis forced nations to move quickly to provide unprecedented emergency assistance to keep citizens safe, households and businesses afloat, protect jobs and incomes and keep the economy from collapsing.

Due to the unprecedented restrictive movement measures, people almost completely shifted to remote functioning – whether for work, education, entertainment, banking or commerce. This caused a massive uptick in the number of transactions online.

Businesses and agencies using cloud-based technologies were able to continue their operations without interruption. Others who were unprepared quickly realised the need for the deployment of digital solutions and platforms, infrastructure, data storage and processing capacities to adapt to the new normal.

What was formerly seen as either non-essential or difficult is now the preferred method of functioning for many.  People have tasted, appreciated and gotten used to the ease and effectiveness of utilising information and communications technologies. While many people have had to return to conventional offices there is a continued preference for a hybrid model.

The entire shift demonstrated how critical it is to have stronger platforms for both the public and private sectors. Digitalisation has proven to be too effective to pass up given the promise of higher and safer living standards and greater social inclusion irrespective of the environment.

One of the primary enablers of this move to digital is cloud computing technology. It has enabled the delivery of government services in a more agile, fast and cost-effective manner than with traditional information technology infrastructure. Public service can be future-proofed by migrating government systems to the cloud and incorporating its full capabilities into new digital solutions.

Be that as it may, many governments still struggle effectively use cutting-edge technology to deliver better services to citizens.

Some more technologically advanced nations have demonstrated how the cloud strategy made it possible for ever-innovative ways to improve the delivery of public services. Yet, the deployment of cloud computing in many other nations’ public sectors still faces obstacles. This requires revisions or creations of government-wide policy enabling regulatory conditions more suitable for a robust cloud strategy.

To make Malaysia a nation that is growing sustainably with fair economic distribution as well as equitable and inclusive growth, the digital economy was selected as a key economic growth area (KEGA) in realising WKB 2030.

In Malaysia, MyDIGITAL was set up as a national initiative to show how the government wants to transform the country into a digitally driven, high-income country in the digital age. It is intended to support national development initiatives including the Wawasan Kemakmuran Bersama 2030 (WKB 2030) and the Twelfth Malaysia Plan (RMKe-12).

With the help of MyDIGITAL, Malaysia will be able to successfully convert into a highly prosperous, digitally driven country that leads the region in the digital economy.

Responding to Urgent Necessity with Innovation​

Seng Heng Chuah: Innovation moved at rapid speed to improve the delivery of IT services

Seng Heng Chuah, Malaysia Country Manager, Public Sector, Amazon Web Services emphasised that while COVID-19 has disrupted traditional teaching methods, it has also prompted a rethinking of how education can be delivered.

As forward-thinking educational institutions reimagine their delivery models, they are paving the way for new ways to equip students with the skills necessary to succeed in the digital economy. ​

With this, the AWS Educate Programme provides resources for students and educators to build cloud skills. It is used in Malaysian educational institutions such as the Asia Pacific University of Technology and Innovation (APU).

At APU, they used serverless tools like AWS Lambda to run a secure multi-platform mobile application to improve the user experience for both their staff and students.​

“This not only helped the university to reduce user complaints by 65%, but it also empowered the university to achieve 116 times faster delivery of educational resources,” says Chuah.

He is excited to note that the most advanced cloud customers in Malaysia come from the Education sector. They don’t just use the cloud for R&D but also for day-to-day operations. They get students to develop solutions on the cloud because that’s the future of IT – it’s all about software and services.​

More public sector agencies are utilising the cloud, and this development is widespread across all nations. Therefore, citizens demand more intelligent applications in addition to e-government portals. They want to communicate with the government more effectively, perhaps through chatbots and other such platforms.

The cloud is a vital facilitator of the digital economy, which is seen as a growth driver by many nations, whereas high-performance computing (HPC) is used most efficiently in the science and research sectors. Similarly, the government can also use the cloud to implement solutions for the Internet of Things (IoT), Blockchain (BC) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), which would be expensive and time-consuming to implement on-prem.

“At the end of the day, it’s about creating a better environment for everyone to thrive. And that includes carving out a space for local innovation – something we’re passionate about,” Chuah firmly believes.

Many government organisations use the cloud to enhance the delivery of their services. For instance, the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM) moved to the AWS Cloud and made its census data accessible to 9 million consumers.

When DOSM switched from maintaining expensive on-site infrastructure to using resources from the cloud, the government could save 25%–50% on resource expenses. This improvement enabled DOSM to manage all traffic on the census portal, even at its high of 200,000 users.

AWS and the government are working together to set up a hybrid cloud data centre using AWS Outposts. They anticipated that the hybrid cloud data centre, which is only intended for use by the federal government, would be available by the end of the year.

Also, while most apps may be easily moved to the cloud, others must first be re-architected or “modernised,” and some must stay on-premises for the foreseeable future due to low latency and local data processing requirements, or data residency. These programmes must be installed in on-site datacentres, branch offices, manufacturing facilities, dining establishments, edge nodes in major metro areas, 5G networks, and other distant places.

Chuah shared three trends that underpin the need to support applications that may need to reside outside of traditional cloud regions and availability zones, in addition to existing legacy on-premises and edge workloads.

The first trend is the emergence of a new class of ultra-low latency applications, such as real-time gaming, video streaming, AR/VR, autonomous vehicles, content creation, engineering simulations and ML inference at the edge. These applications are used in on-premises datacentres, branch offices, hospitals, factory floors, retail locations, on the outskirts of cell tower sites and near groups of artists, scientists and engineers. End users frequently access these ultra-low latency applications via mobile devices, so they must be deployed at the 5G network edge to benefit from 5G’s speed and bandwidth benefits.

The processing of local data is a second trend. Customers’ digital transformation initiatives and increased use of IoT devices are producing massive amounts of data. Due to cost, size, bandwidth or scheduling limitations, some of these data sets must be processed locally because they can’t be transferred to the cloud.

Data residency is the third trend. Due to security and tax laws, data sovereignty and shifting geopolitical factors, customers may be required to keep their data in a certain nation, state, or municipality. When a customer’s data residency requirements cannot be met by a cloud region, they must maintain and/or install additional IT infrastructure to support those workloads.

Sustainability, according to Chuah, is still AWS’ top focus; but as they step up their fight against COVID-19, they haven’t forgotten about another pressing global issue: climate change. “We are dedicated to developing a sustainable business for both our clients and the environment.”

This commitment to sustainability is seen in AWS’s co-founding of The Climate Pledge in 2019. Its goal is to have all its operations powered by renewable energy by 2025 and to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.

As a significant technology firm, AWS is aware of its environmental impact and the efforts it might take to lessen it. Organisations can save their energy use by up to 76 per cent by migrating to the cloud. “Ensuring we have the right components to thrive in this digital economy is necessary by building a plan, assessing the readiness for the cloud, and migrating and modernising the workloads.”

All innovations and initiatives shared by Chuah demonstrate not only the revolutionary power of digitisation and modernisation, but also the resilience of the human spirit in the face of hardship.

The Cloud Imperative – A Leadership Question​

Andre Mendes: Leaders are the primary means by which an organisation’s innovation goals and strategies can be realised

Andre Mendes, Chief Information Officer of the US Department of Commerce, shared some examples of his experiences over the last decade where cloud hosting became a de facto standard.

In 2009, the Special Olympics became almost 100% Cloud-based globally​ and they had a testing ground for many vendors with a minimal budget. This resulted in the Special Olympics experiencing no disruption and increased its athlete base from 1.4 million to 4.5 million over the next ten years.

“This is a sample of massive progress despite resistance,” says Andre. “Even though many donations came in from large IT players and lower-risk non-profits, there were sceptics and risk avoiders.”

As an example, the US Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration (ITA), which is already 100% cloud-based in 2018. ITA had a minimal budget, but they could maintain a fully integrated environment with IT, communications and telephony.

From the start of the pandemic, ITA maintained seamless operations and led the way with ZTA and Borderless Networks as they reinvested in custom Agency software functionality.

“Leadership must be adaptable as the environment evolves,” Andre reiterates. “Leaders identify a fundamental shift in the competitive environment and act to mitigate a potential disruption or, better yet, gain an advantage by seizing new opportunities before competitors do. For most businesses, digital transformation begins from the outside in.”

Even the most forward-thinking transformation strategies are doomed to fail if they do not place equal emphasis on the inside and outside of the organisation.

According to Andre, an organisation needs to support the shift and the new working methods that come with it; therefore, leaders must spearhead the transformation. Any digital transformation programme, including cloud migration, is more likely to be successful when the leadership is on board.

As more businesses migrate to the cloud, a growing number of internal cloud migrations happen as businesses switch between multiple cloud providers. It’s crucial to evaluate the organisation’s requirements and identify the variables that will control the transfer, including historical data, critical application data and application interoperability.

Next, it is necessary to classify data to identify which needs migrating, and what needs scrubbing. Determining these requirements will help the organisations create a sound plan for the tools they’ll need during migration.  They’ll also be able to choose the right destination volumes and decide whether the data needs to be encrypted at rest and in transit.

“Always look for innovation; the biggest risk is not moving forward,” Andre is convinced. “Innovation represents the enhancement of something that has already been, and the most innovative people will eventually experience long-term entrepreneurial success. Consumers and peers recognise businesses as true innovators and leaders when they take the biggest risks, close the widest gaps, and seize the newest chances.”

Interactive Discussion

Following the informative talks, the delegates took part in discussions encouraged by polling questions. The goal of OpenGovLive! Virtual Breakfast Insight is to provide live audience engagement, inspire participation, and allow people to learn from and grow professionally from real-life experiences.

On being asked what the delegates’ cloud strategy was, most responded with a hybrid cloud. Delegates said that they could use cloud services where they are most effective while keeping certain operations on-premises or within a private cloud. This allows for greater flexibility.

On how organisations evaluate the success of their cloud adoption, the majority opted for high availability/downtime management, while others were resource productivity, efficiency, and cost saving.

Most organisations lack a system for evaluating the success of cloud adoption. Furthermore, there isn’t much information available on assessing the success of cloud adoption within an enterprise.

Delegates said that the number one criterion for choosing a cloud service provider is still price. This is followed by security, and by performance.

A delegate felt that before a business can effectively choose a good provider, it needs to know what its business needs are. When organisations know precisely what they need in terms of technical, service, security, data governance, and service management, they can ask their small group of potential providers better questions.

On being asked what they thought were barriers to going digital and using the cloud, management support and budget were seen as the greatest ones.

With speed and agility being a clear advantage of cloud adoption, the cost quickly becomes a barrier to success. Adopting the cloud makes deploying more environments and leveraging more resources easier and quicker, but it also comes with higher prices and significant security issues for careless teams.

In the last poll, the delegates were asked how they planned to update their legacy and application systems. The majority answered application assessment to move to the cloud, while others worked with a cloud service provider and outsourced to a system integrator.

For many organisations, legacy systems are seen as stifling business initiatives and processes; however, they have begun to recognise the importance of modernisation to help their business grow.

Closing Remarks

Mohit agrees that scaling a firm and preserving profitability calls for developing partnerships that simplify digital transformation for customers. “Partnerships are the way forward for companies who want to use the cloud.”

To market, sell, create, integrate, customise, deploy, and support new applications on-premises, in the public cloud, or in hybrid cloud architectures, partnerships can offer the necessary knowledge.

“Public service must be genuinely available for the citizens and Cloud is the future,” says Mohit. “Partnerships enable providers to diversify their offerings by adding things like managed security, IoT solutions, and analytics.”

In the complicated, developing world of cloud computing, IT companies frequently collaborate for financial gain, but they also do so more frequently because customers expect things to function.

Andre was delighted to be invited as a speaker and was encouraged by the fact that many young people, particularly women, are representing the IT arena and that many new skills will be developed.

Chuah said that the pandemic has taught the world that “changing is the only constant”. People can be confident that they can bend, respond and adapt without breaking when life throws them a curveball if digital innovation is at the core of a long-term economic plan.

AWS is steadfast in its stance. They are passionate about driving the public sector’s digital transformation as they are committed to the development of cloud computing services, catalysing the development of sustainable digital government. With the appointment of the Cloud Service Provider (CSP) panel, they will continue to deliver their commitment to continue supporting the Government’s strategic initiative. ​

A cloud migration needs a set of plans and vision as the first step and the “only way to go to the cloud is to try and be confident to use it.”

Chuah spoke about the AWS Migration Acceleration Programme (MAP), a comprehensive and tried-and-true cloud migration programme. Enterprises’ migrations can be complex and time-consuming, but with an outcome-driven methodology, MAP can help them accelerate their cloud migration and modernisation journey.

“We remain focused on supporting Malaysia to lead in today’s digital economy as we leverage our global experiences with more than 7,500 public sector agencies to enable our customers through Cost Savings, Staff productivity, Operational Resilience and Business Agility.​”

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