A quarter of public sector IT workers have never used the cloud

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Almost a quarter of UK public sector IT workers are convinced they’ve never actually used the cloud, leaving a big fluffy question mark over Whitehall’s efforts to drag its technology estate into the 21st century.

Research, conducted for collaboration software specialist Huddle, also showed that workers in central and local government, and the NHS, need to collaborate with others to do their jobs - but they balk at circulating data via the “insecure” cloud and would rather trust the public post, USB drives and lycra clad, dreadlocked adrenaline junkies AKA, couriers.

However, UK citizens might draw some succour from an overwhelming feeling that personal data stored in the cloud should be held on UK soil.

The government has laid great store on shaking up its IT operations over the last five years, producing the G-Cloud framework, voicing its commitment to SMEs, and pledging to move away from traditional mega contracts with major suppliers. Cloud technologies have, inevitably, been trumpeted as central to this effort.

Awareness of the cloud among the 5,000-plus respondents was 73 per cent across the public sector as a whole, topping out at 84 per cent in central government, dropping to 72 per cent in local government, and sliding to 66 per cent in the NHS.

But just 35 per cent expressed “confidence” using the cloud, with 36 per cent quite certain they’d never used the cloud, while five per cent were not altogether sure. Just 47 per cent of government IT workers were “confident using the cloud”. That could suggest an arguably healthy scepticism to non-traditional tech. However, it has to be a concern that another 24 per cent of government ICT staff were sure they’d “never even used” the cloud.

Confidence in using the cloud was highest in local government at 75 per cent, dropping to 37 per cent in central government and 33 per cent in the NHS.

It’s fair to assume the issue of “confidence” was informed to some extent by concerns over data security, which was cited by 92 per cent of respondents as a barrier to adoption, while 85 per cent said the time and effort to transition was an issue. Concerns over conflicts with existing technology were cited by 83 per cent, with 82 per cent citing a lack of expertise.

Head in the clouds?

At the same time, research showed workers remained largely oblivious to the government’s own security classification system (pdf), launched in April 2014, with 63 per cent overall either unaware of the scheme or not seeing it as relevant. This plummeted to 13 per cent in central government, but ballooned to 80 per cent in local government and 90 per cent in the NHS.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, local government and the NHS were much more wedded to sharing documents and data by post or courier, with a shocking 20 per cent of NHS respondents using usb drives to share documents - a case of your digital life literally in their hands.

Given the apparent ignorance of the cloud in general, and security hygiene, it might be reassuring that 64 per cent of public sector workers would prefer personal data to be stored in the UK - though it’s not clear if this meant in a massive bunker of USB sticks in the case of NHS workers.

This figure climbed to 71 per cent amongst IT department workers, a figure that might still seem alarmingly low to private sector IT workers.

As one might expect, Huddle called on public sector leaders to do more to build awareness and confidence in the cloud, and to push the government’s own security classification system. Perhaps they could drop a memo in the internal post. ®

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