3955201772_eb98f03738_bThe #CloudFirst trend is spreading, with Government Minister Francis Maude finally committing the UK to the approach earlier this month. But I remain concerned that there’s too much stick and not nearly enough carrot… and that cloud adoption more generally is ill-served by this mandate-driven ‘solution.’

Technological advances and shifting business requirements affect Government just as much as they do the enterprise. Fragmentation and siloisation can be used to explain sprawling data centre estates, which officials now work hard to consolidate. Shifting requirements, over-engineering, cronyism and politics can all take the blame for massive cost-overruns on boil the ocean projects that rarely realise their promise. Lighter, nimbler, more responsive, more accountable and more cost-effective approaches to Government IT are undeniably required, and it’s true that cloud can — and should — play a role here.

But simply proclaiming that the cloud is Government’s first choice moving forward misses the point. The system’s current weaknesses (and strengths) are deep-seated. They are ingrained, and institutionalised. Imposing cloud by decree from on high simply gives the mass of public sector IT buyers a new religion to blindly follow… and provides the thoughtful and the recalcitrant with a new bogeyman to loathe.

As the Cabinet Office press release this month states,

In future, when procuring new or existing services, public sector organisations should consider and fully evaluate potential cloud solutions first – before they consider any other option.

Huddle (which, deservedly, has done well out of the UK Government’s cloud push) co-founder Alastair Mitchell blogged about the UK’s Cloud First announcement at the time, and I was uncomfortable.

A tweet last night from the Open Data Center Alliance reignited that discomfort. The tweet wasn’t actually addressed to me at all, but to my friend Ben Kepes.

My grammatically suspect response gets right to the heart of my concern, despite the 140 character limitation of Twitter.

Cloud computing has a powerful role to play in Government and in the commercial sector. But it should build market share on merit — by being the best or the cheapest or the quickest or the most interoperable or the most flexible. By being — demonstrably — the best tool for the job. Dictat, decree, mandate; all of these are market skewing pieces of positive discrimination and, at the end of the day, positive discrimination is still discrimination. And unhelpful.

Some Government users will always find and choose cloud all by themselves. Huddle’s been racking up Government successes for years, without a Government enforcer to kick down the doors for them. But others (probably the majority) will prove harder to engage and persuade. Build it and they will come is almost certainly a strategy that will lead to burning cash far faster than you sign up customers. So there is certainly a need for evangelism, and demonstration, and the liberal use of carrots to entice the unsure, the unwilling and the unconvinced. Let’s show Government buyers the ways in which cloud-based solutions help the Government to do its multitude of jobs. Let’s implement programmes that ease the pain of moving from current practice to cloud-enabled practice. Let’s help SMEs (like Huddle) get heard by buyers and decision makers used to being wined and dined by Accenture, IBM, HP and Microsoft. Let’s smooth the path to the cloud, not force everyone along it.

Maybe Francis Maude’s next cloud pronouncement could be “Cloud, please,” rather than the current “Cloud, or else.”

Police State‘ image by Flickr user ‘katesheets