Since Davos in January, I haven’t had a meeting where the fourth Industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) hasn’t been mentioned in one form or the other. The revolutionary hot topic heralding Industry 4.0 is cloud computing, which comes in the private and public cloud forms. What is this wonder called “cloud”? In very simple terms, it is a network of remote servers hosted on the internet and used to store, manage, and process data. In other words, it is internet virtual-based computing that is available on demand and allows you to consume as you need.

The easiest example is what you use every day, like your email, productivity services, CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tools, cloud-based data storage for documents, etc. These are integrated into daily life one way or the other and there is no avoiding them. This points to the obvious fact that technology is ubiquitous, it is increasingly playing a role in everything we do–shaping growth, and providing the catalyst for governance. Thus, taking advantage of it is the key to innovation and growth.

Computing has been with us for fifty-one years, through four distinct eras: the mainframe era heralded the beginning of computing and was characterised by large machines often housed in warehouses and not unlike data centres now; the PC era in the 80’s; then eventually in the 90’s, the internet era, which made information easily accessible to millions around the world; lastly, we have the cloud and mobile era which we happen to live in now.

This cloud and mobile era comes with new concerns, uncertainty and questions around regulations and laws. History has shown us that technology will always evolve faster than law, thus governments around the world struggle to understand and regulate technology and strike a balance between allowing innovation and protecting their citizens from any perceived threats this uncovered terrain may bring.

In 2011, the US government announced a national “cloud-first” policy aimed at encouraging rapid implementation of cloud technologies by the federal government. Three years ago, the UK launched its own cloud-first initiative. These are great examples. But to be honest, we expect the US and the UK to be early adopters of most technology, so this isn’t surprising. Cloud adoption by other governments around the world is still relatively slow, however. There are numerous reasons, ranging from budget to lack of expertise, but, trust is probably the most outstanding issue–the belief that cloud environments create unexplored new risks and raise new security issues.

At Microsoft, we understand these fears, which is why we have four guiding principles:

  • Security: We will protect your data.
  • Privacy: You control the privacy of your data i.e. who has access to it and where it resides.
  • Compliance: We comply with the highest standards and certifications.
  • Transparency: We will let you know what is happening to your data. For example, if there is a law enforcement request for your data, you will be informed. In other words, Microsoft runs on trust.

With time, we hope this resistance will begin to ease off as more governments recognise that moving to the cloud does not mean losing control of data privacy and security, rather it facilitates governance.

A great example of how cloud technology can change lives can be found in Nanyuki, Kenya— a small town in Nairobi. Like a lot of African villages, internet connectivity is an issue and sometimes requires using the ‘one’ internet café. Mawingu Networks (Mawingu means cloud in Swahili), a local startup, leverages technology by taking advantage of underutilized television broadcast spectrum popularly known as TV white spaces to provide low-cost internet access to residents of Nanyuki and the surrounding countryside. In its first three years, Mawingu achieved remarkable success. It connected the county government office, county library, a Red Cross office, and a medical clinic via the internet, thereby improving access to public services and healthcare. Mawingu also provides unlimited internet access for $3 a month to the community. Farmers use it to compare market prices for their produce, students for their assignments, and young entrepreneurs look for new markets outside of Kenya to grow their businesses.

Another case study for government cloud adoption is the municipality of Hollands Kroon, a town of about 50,000 people in northern Netherlands established in 2012. A few years ago, the city embarked on a mission to become the world’s first city to run 100 percent of its IT services in the cloud. Using cloud technology made it possible for its citizens to engage more fully with the government, and it made interactions much more transparent. For example, Holland Kroon developed a mobile app for the city with a technology partner. The app allows citizens to use their mobile phones to take pictures of any problems they see in a public space, e.g. vandalised buildings or graffiti on a wall, and submit it to the city. The issue is routed to the proper department for handling and the citizen can track the progress of the issue online from submission all the way through completion. A clear value chain of responsibility for civic duty, trust in the government to proffer a solution, accountability and transparency has been enabled by cloud technology.

Cloud has many advantages, but the question now becomes: with its introduction, will owning and maintaining your own IT infrastructure on your own facility or premise (On-prem) become obsolete? Especially as most developing countries’ government and organisations still use servers on-prem? On the contrary, on-prem solutions will still be a key player in enterprise for years to come, especially when dealing with classified data, and can always be utilized for private clouds. Microsoft, for example, has a private cloud version of the Azure public cloud solution called ‘Azure Pack’–this solution manages on-prem assets in the same way as it is managed in the public cloud thereby guaranteeing flexibility in resource allocation and improved economies of scale. It also allows you the option to seamless switch to public cloud.

Analyst firm, IDC, estimates that global spending on public cloud services will reach $141 billion by 2019 and that by 2020, cloud will stop being referred to as ‘public’ and ‘private’. It will simply be the way business is done and IT is provisioned. Gartner estimates that commercial cloud spending will reach $200 billion in 2016. The German government is adopting a ‘high tech’ strategy to prepare for the new world order and is investing 40 billion Euros annually in internet infrastructure. The United States also established the Industrial Internet Consortium in 2014 to accelerate the development, adoption, and wide-spread use of interconnected machines, devices, and intelligent analytics.

The cloud is coming and its benefits are too many to ignore– but governments and nations must be ready to take advantage of it, prepare for it carefully and, more importantly, not be left behind in Industry 4.0.

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