Government Deputy CTO Magnus Falk said public sector organisations need to stop running their own data centres in-house in his first conference appearance since joining the Government Digital Service (GDS) last August when he spoke at the Public Sector ICT summit yesterday.
He said the scale required for in-house data centres to make sense financially is "beyond government departments" and that the government "needs to get out of the data centre business".
The GDS 'technology code of practice', which is part of HM Treasury's spending approvals process, says public sector organisations must "objectively evaluate potential public cloud solutions first – before you consider any other option".
Falk, who reports to government CTO Liam Maxwell, joined GDS last year after a four-year stint as CIO at Credit Suisse.
Hampshire County Council's chief digital officer - and newly-appointed BCS president - Jos Creese agreed the public sector is still lagging behind on cloud adoption.
"I've been talking about cloud computing for at least seven years. Is there anyone not using cloud at home? This is not new stuff. Yet cloud is still a tiny proportion of the huge amount of spending on technology across the public sector," he said.
Creese said one advantage of cloud for public sector bodies was not having to own and run their own infrastructure, allowing them to move away from spending cycles where they "must invest millions every few years".
Moving to cloud is less about saving money, which has been "oversold", and more about making organisations more efficient and productive, he argued.
Another advantage is that as cloud products tend to be more commoditised, they "force uniformity", which means the IT department doesn't have to customise services for individual teams, he added.
Creese said he didn't "entirely" share Falk's view that public sector bodies shouldn't own their own data centres. He suggested 'hybrid' cloud models could be a better option for certain organisations.
"It's not about the end of in-house data centres. It's about reshaping that. You need a plan. If you're going to move critical public data to the cloud, you need to lock it into your overall digital strategy," he said.
However Creese warned against suppliers who 'cloud-wash' their services. He said: "There are lots of suppliers out there who put a cloud label on their service, but really haven't got a clue how to do cloud services."