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The cloud's role in the new digital economy

Shutterstock image:  cloud computing enabling numerous applications. 

 

We're in an intense era of digital transformation in which every industry is experiencing a shift. And out of this shift we've seen the rise of a new digital economy. Some consider that economy -- driven by the arrival of new computer technology and a generation of people dedicated to innovation -- to be the next Industrial Revolution.

The proof is everywhere: the prevalence of sharing services such as Uber and Postmates, automated business solutions, chatbots and more. Government agencies are under increasing pressure to adapt to the new economy while also facing the challenge of being a growing target for cyberattacks.

For many governments, being relevant in the digital economy means launching revamped programs at a massive scale very quickly. That will require creating new programs that teach digital skills, launching digital inclusion initiatives, improving government services and evolving infrastructure -- all while cutting costs and becoming more efficient.

Furthermore, people expect to be able to interact with their government digitally, and they expect the government to be efficient about sharing information and protecting their sensitive data. According to a 2014 survey by Accenture, 55 percent of respondents in the U.S. said they would like to use cloud computing in the future when interacting with government agencies that provide public services.

Today, a number of agencies are already using cloud technology, but overall adoption of private and public cloud infrastructure is much slower, given the uncertainty and security concerns. Agencies also continue to face tight budget constraints, and the old-school industry mentality and fear of technology adoption are real. There are immense risks involved in pushing government information into the cloud, but the repercussions of not adapting to the Digital Age and moving to cloud environments will be ugly.

Government CIOs and chief information security officers who are hesitating to deploy private and public cloud environments will face a multitude of challenges, including:

  • Decreased agility and increased costs, which the cloud could mitigate.
  • Extra costs and overhead associated with air-gapping practices, which are designed to keep data of different risk classifications physically separate for different tenants and different missions.

  • A lack of automated continuous compliance capabilities and no real-time compliance insight.

  • Data of many classifications potentially put at risk due to a failure to encrypt or maintain stringently enforced encryption policies.

  • A lack of visibility due to security log gaps created by data that lacks detail and supplies no critical analytical and forensics information.

It's no surprise that government organizations are heavily regulated around how information is managed and shared, and it's not always easy to enforce those rules in a cloud environment. However, in the face of those challenges, cloud technology has enormous potential for government agencies, and with the help of the Obama administration's "cloud first" policy, some are already realizing its potential.

In fact, more than 75 percent of public-sector executives said digital technology is disrupting the public sector, but only 41 percent believe their organizations are doing enough in response to that disruption.

Cloud encryption solutions -- for both public and private clouds -- can address the security concerns that are top of mind for government officials. Those solutions allow agencies to protect consumer data and navigate the new cloud landscape with the confidence that sensitive information is safe.

Aware of the security concerns inherent in moving to the cloud, most cloud and virtualization vendors are beginning to make available some form of built-in encryption as part of their offerings, usually at the virtual machine level. Organizations that require greater flexibility, tighter controls or support for multi-cloud encryption can also turn to separate products to handle encryption and key management. In still other cases, a hybrid approach might see encryption handled by the infrastructure provider, while key management and policy are handled separately by an add-on product.

The rich variety of security options now available should allow even the most security-conscious organizations to transition their IT services to the cloud without fear of compromising their integrity.

Simply put, the cloud will be the ultimate catalyst in advancing governments into the digital economy. It's important, however, that agencies not proceed blindly or with undue haste. The key to success lies in carefully assessing the technology, policy and security requirements that allow the transition to be as seamless and safe as possible.

About the Author

Bill Aubin is vice president of federal, Exabeam.

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