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Unleashing the Power of Cloud Computing in UK Central Government

Exploring cloud computing's potential in UK's central government & the challenges and benefits of the 'cloud first' strategy, including its impact on efficiency, collaboration, security, and cost-effectiveness.

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Chris Reynolds 2

Chris Reynolds

Public Sector Central Government Senior Team Leader


In this blog post, I'll explore the UK central government's "cloud first" strategy, detailing its objectives and how it aims to transform government service delivery. I'll also look at the benefits of this approach, including improved efficiency, flexibility, collaboration, and security. However, what challenges arise when adopting cloud technology? Based on my extensive experience with Central Government Cloud adoption, I will delve into obstacles like cloud sprawl and legacy tech debt and discuss whether the future looks bright for Cloud in Central Government.

We all want our taxpayer’s money to be spent wisely, don’t we? In this blog, I'll summarize some critical Public Sector frameworks and Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) to highlight industry leaders' commitments to delivering the highest level of commercial excellence, such as AWS and Microsoft. For example, through the government’s G-Cloud framework, more than 150 companies have already used AWS to help them provide more than £1.3bn of their own services to the government! AWS has grown revenues into Central Government from £84m (FY 20/21 up to March) to £98m (FY21-22 up to March), and that’s just AWS!

Read on to uncover the untapped potential of cloud computing in the UK Central Government and the role Softcat plays in leveraging our expertise in cloud management, migration, and adoption to unlock its power, finishing with a case study with NHS Digital and why “Cloud Appropriate” is probably more fitting than “Cloud First”.

The Ambitions of the Central Government's ‘Cloud First’ Strategy

The UK Central Government's ‘cloud first’ strategy was first published in 2013 and aims to transform how government services are delivered, increase efficiency, and reduce costs. The strategy's primary objective is to ensure that all new IT solutions deployed by central government organisations are cloud-based by default unless there is a compelling reason for them to be hosted on-premises.

The strategy is designed to encourage central government organisations to take advantage of the significant benefits that cloud technology can provide, such as improved flexibility, scalability, and cost-efficiency. By adopting cloud technology, central government organisations can reduce their reliance on physical hardware, lower their IT infrastructure costs, and improve their ability to deliver services to citizens.

Challenges Faced by the UK Central Government in Adopting Cloud Technology

While the ‘cloud first’ strategy has the potential to transform government service delivery, significant challenges have emerged since its promotion in 2013, which must be overcome for its successful implementation. Many organisations recognise its advantages, but it’s difficult to determine the cost implications of pursuing a decentralised approach. With on-premise technologies, clients had a clear view of upfront and ongoing costs, but adopting a cloud-first approach has removed that certainty. Common challenges I see with Cloud adoption include:

- Skills challenges – Central Government agencies are facing an unparalleled challenge in finding and securing key Cloud technical resources. This pan-Government challenge severely limits cloud technology adoption and adaptation, enhancing the reliance on third-party suppliers and contractors. Half of those working on digital transformation projects in the public sector report that they struggle to hire qualified talent (source – Global Government Forum).

- Challenges with Tech Debt and Modernising Applications - Applications and systems can present challenges when modernising and migrating them to the cloud. Lack of open APIs, decentralised data systems, closed standards and components that are not shared makes building ‘cloud first’ extremely difficult.

- Reducing Cloud Waste (costs and carbon): Cloud Waste is a critical issue that organisations face, encompassing the need to reduce carbon emissions and costs. Below are some of the key challenges and solutions to address these issues:

  • Cloud sprawl can lead to an unmanageable IT environment, resulting in increased costs and carbon waste.

  • Establishing clear guidelines and policies for cloud usage, data security, and data protection is essential to maintaining consistent governance across an organisation.

  • Effective cost management, including monitoring and optimising cloud usage, can reduce unpredictable costs and financial waste.

  • By implementing sustainable practices, such as using renewable energy sources, organisations can mitigate carbon waste associated with cloud computing.

Many of these challenges arise because a public cloud is not always the most efficient or appropriate repository for workloads and data. More than three-quarters (78%) of public bodies provide services unsuitable for migration to a public cloud, according to government figures requested by HPE under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Moreover, 63% of public-sector organisations have yet to adopt a dedicated cloud strategy, with more than 70% of their infrastructure and 73% of their data remaining on-premises. While the ambition for cloud adoption is high, the reality is proving to be more challenging…

Opportunities for Cloud Technology in Central Government

Despite these challenges, there are significant opportunities for cloud technology in central government. These include:

Improved Efficiency - Cloud technology can enable central government organisations to deliver services more efficiently, improving citizen experiences.

Increased Flexibility - Cloud technology offers greater flexibility, enabling central government organisations to scale their services up and down as required.

Better Collaboration - Cloud technology can enable greater collaboration between central government organisations, improving service delivery and reducing duplication of effort.

Enhanced Security – while security typically remains the responsibility of the end customer as part o the shared service model, when correctly implemented, Cloud offers high levels of security, often exceeding the capabilities of on-premises solutions (centralised management, automated security and cyber compliance being some key examples).

Reduced Costs - By reducing the reliance on physical hardware and offering a pay-as-you-go billing model, cloud technology can help central government organisations to reduce costs.


The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is a great example of a client successfully moving to the cloud. The cloud-first approach has helped it to better collect and process data to provide statistics, share data better and more securely and deliver a better service to citizens. The ONS said, “Being open and honest with staff about the cloud strategy and cultural change was important in getting buy-in. Embracing the ability to fail fast and being open was best, especially when senior leaders did not have the answers.”

It appears CCS and other Central Government Framework authorities are realising this Cloud opportunity and is re-architecting the engagement with Cloud Providers, Cloud Service Providers and Central Government Agencies. For example, CCS has developed the new Cloud Compute Framework, wittily named Cloud Compute 2.

Commercial Engagement with CCS and Cloud Frameworks:

There are several cloud computing frameworks that are available for use by central government organisations in the UK, including the Crown Commercial Service's (CCS) Cloud Compute framework, the CCS Cloud Compute 2 framework, and G-Cloud 13 (other frameworks are available!):

CCS Cloud Compute Framework: This framework provides access to cloud hosting, software, and support services. It was designed to meet the needs of the public sector and offers a range of services, including infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and software as a service (SaaS). The framework includes a number of suppliers, including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and UKCloud, among others. The Cloud Compute Framework will expire on 3 May 2024.

CCS Cloud Compute 2 Framework: Cloud Compute RM6292 (Cloud Compute 2) will be the second iteration of Cloud Compute RM6111, which is due to expire in May 2024. Cloud Compute 2 is due to replace Cloud Compute Framework and will go live in December 2023. The main difference between the two is that Cloud Compute 2 focuses on providing services compliant with government security requirements, such as those laid out in the Security Policy Framework (SPF).

G-Cloud Framework: In the UK, the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) also offers the G-Cloud framework to provide cloud computing services to public sector organisations. G-Cloud 13 is the latest iteration of this framework and provides access to a wide range of cloud services, including infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), software as a service (SaaS), and specialist cloud services.

In addition to these frameworks, there are also a number of Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) between cloud providers and government organisations in the UK.

For example, AWS has signed an MOU with the UK government (labelled the One Government Value Agreement – OGVA) to provide cloud services to public sector organisations. While also providing a significant discount for AWS provisions, this MOU includes a commitment from AWS to help government organisations move their data to the cloud securely and to provide training and support to help them make the most of cloud technology. This MoU was signed in October 2020 and will run until October 2023. 

Similarly, Microsoft has signed an MOU (DTA21) with the UK government. The Digital Transformation Agreement 21 (DTA21) with Microsoft features bespoke, public sector-focused product packages for cloud security and compliance, as well as Microsoft Office 365 and Windows 10. DTA21 also provides discounted pricing and beneficial terms for public sector organisations wishing to move to Azure Cloud. This allows you to use traditional cloud services such as virtual machines and storage and Microsoft technologies such as Azure Cognitive Services, Azure Analytics, Azure Synapse and more. This MoU was signed on 1 May 2021 and will run until 30 April 2024.

Overall, the CCS Cloud Compute, CCS Cloud Compute 2, G-Cloud 13, and MOUs with cloud, such as AWS and Microsoft, are all crucial in supporting UK government organisations as they adopt cloud technology and modernise their IT infrastructure. Softcat is present on all relevant frameworks, including Lot 3 of the TEPAS framework, for example. If you require further information on routes to market for cloud provisions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

How Softcat Can Support Central Government with Cloud Management, Migration, and Adoption

With skills and resource challenges, there is a requirement for many Central Government agencies to lean on bespoke, dedicated Cloud support partners to complement internal resources to drive the Cloud agenda.

Softcat is a market leader in cloud management, migration, and adoption, providing a range of services to help central government organisations achieve their cloud objectives. Softcat's Cloud Fundamentals Service is a unique offering that combines technical expertise, automation, and intelligent analytics to help clients design, define, and manage their public cloud environments effectively. The Softcat approach is focused on “Cloud Appropriate” also, so whether a blend of hybrid infrastructure is better suited, alongside considering full-scale migration to the cloud.

Softcat's Cloud Fundamentals Service (CFS) offers the following benefits:

Cloud Cost Management - Softcat's CFS provides automated cloud cost management to help clients optimise their cloud spend and avoid budget overruns.

Cloud Security Management - Softcat's CFS provides continuous monitoring of cloud environments, identifying and addressing security risks and compliance issues.

Cloud Governance Management - Softcat's CFS offers a centralised governance framework to help clients manage their cloud resources consistently and efficiently.

Cloud Migration Services - Softcat's cloud migration services help clients modernise and migrate legacy applications and systems to the cloud effectively.

Cloud Adoption Services - Softcat's cloud adoption services help clients maximise the benefits of cloud technology by identifying and prioritising workloads for migration, designing cloud architectures, and providing ongoing support and management.

Softcat has a proven track record of working with central government organisations, helping them to adopt cloud technology effectively. For example, Softcat worked with a large government department to migrate a critical legacy application to the cloud. The migration involved modernising the application's architecture, improving its scalability and availability, and ensuring compliance with government security standards. It was completed on time and within budget, and the department now benefits from improved performance, reduced costs, and increased flexibility.

We are especially proud of our engagement with Central Government and Public Sector to drive commercial efficiencies, assurance and governance. For example, Softcat provided a solution that provided the visibility and opportunities for cloud cost optimisation that NHSD needed going forward. Softcat’s specialists worked closely with the NHS Digital team over several months to ensure the correct configuration, understand the data being produced and use it to highlight where cost and operational efficiencies could be achieved.

“The monthly workshops with Softcat were particularly valuable,” said Chris Squibb (CCoE FinOps Lead, NHS Digital). “They helped us understand exactly what was being spent on both Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure services. It enabled us to consolidate and simplify billing, as well as providing accurate information to fully understand usage across more than 70 business units.

“All in all, the solution represents a one-time hit that’s brought much needed clarity to our cloud operations. Softcat has been there to underpin our own due diligence and provide the rock-solid data that enables us to monitor usage and spend challenge invoices and drive down costs.”

Link to case study here: Softcat FinOps empowers NHS Digital’s drive for improved efficiency and cost control :: Softcat


The central government's ‘cloud-first’ strategy presents a significant opportunity for central government organisations to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and enhance citizen experiences. However, to realise these benefits, central government organisations must overcome significant challenges, such as rearchitecting critical services, cloud sprawl, lack of governance, and cost management issues.

As Cloud adoption continues to grow and legacy systems require rearchitecting, Central Government needs to remain at the forefront of digital engagement with citizens. Softcat's CFS provides a range of technical capabilities and services to help central government organisations manage these challenges effectively, enabling them to confidently adopt cloud technology and achieve their objectives. Our approach helps accelerate the adoption of Cloud in Central Government while mitigating the commercial risk of mismanagement.