The Internet is Still Ok…Sometimes

24 August 2018

The Government Digital Service gave its blessing to using the Internet instead of the Public Services Network in January 2017. But there’s danger in letting the solution define the requirements, says Justin Day, CEO of Cloud Gateway.

In early 2017, the Government Digital Service (GDS) published a blog called “The Internet is ok”. It outlined the public sector digital and technology leaders’ position on the Public Services Network and concluded that it was clear that everyone agreed we could just use the Internet.

This was a big moment. Up to this point, some decision makers were wary of the Internet. The blog was an important advisory piece which highlighted that if you follow the guidelines, everything will be OK.

The very next thing that the author did was to clarify that the Internet is ok for the vast majority of the work that the public sector does, but not all. “But from today,” it said, “new services should be made available on the Internet and secured appropriately using the best available standards-based approaches. When we’re updating or changing services, we should take the opportunity to move them to the Internet.” Internet by default.

Eighteen months on, where are we? Is the Internet still ok and was it ever ok?

A long time ago, I was given some advice that we don’t sell technology; we sell a service level agreement. In the context of what Government departments provide to the general public – access to services – this advice holds true. What the public wants is access to services. When looking at solution options, procurers must ask themselves what service level guarantees are on offer.

The first issue with the Internet is that its service levels cannot be guaranteed: if a service relies on the Internet, then it is difficult to say who one can call when network performance inexplicably degrades, or connectivity is lost altogether. This by itself may make the Internet an inadequate choice of solution for some critical services, and that’s without going into a discussion about which services, then, should be considered critical.  This factor is not yet given sufficient weight by decision makers.

This brings us to a second issue: why are the limitations of the Internet given insufficient weight, despite the caveat of the original post? To understand why, we need to understand the decision makers who, broadly speaking, fall into one of two camps: digital enthusiast or digital moderate.

Broadly speaking, enthusiasts believe that everything should be in the cloud and that the Internet is the route to delivering it. The moderates still believe in each case on its merits. So, why are the enthusiasts winning?

The first reason is the advice itself: it’s easier to win an argument when the official advice supports your position. The digital resistance is often on a hiding to nothing.

Secondly, the sheer numbers of digital enthusiasts; they are now the norm. Perhaps it’s because the current generation has effectively grown up with accessible IT: they expect services and apps to exist powered by the Internet, using a device we all carry, our mobile phone. Therefore, the Internet is the right way to go.

Finally, even if all other factors were deadlocked, enthusiasts usually get the green light simply because few decision-makers want to be labelled a hindrance to progress.

My instinct honed from time spent around several Government departments is that the Internet is ok, but that it is not the answer to everything. People need to be more thorough, and to revert to the discipline of examining properly, whether cloud services and the Internet is the right thing for what they’re doing.  At a technical level, you can certainly look at things like latency, or quality of service. But they are the easy ones to look at. From the client perspective: are they getting the SLA that meets their needs? Do I want to have that extra layer of security encryption or otherwise?

Holistically, it’s about recognising that there is a multitude of options, not just one. This leads me to my overarching point: about the hybrid network, the hybrid cloud, which I think will win out within the next two years.

There will be a layer of early adopters which have been burned. Those following behind will have done more research and will know that the right thing to do is work on a case by case basis. Being flexible, digital and agile means applying the right technologies from the huge range available that works best for the end consumer, the business and everyone in the chain. It doesn’t matter what that is.

That, to me, is digital and that, to me, is what being agile means.


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Justin Day