Vijay Jagannathan, Secretary General of CityNet, discusses the potential of cloud computing to improve municipal effectiveness.
Civil servants don’t like sharing their data. In the name of accountability, departments will happily shield their precious data from the eyes of other departments, let alone citizens. It takes an extreme act of political will, or a crisis, to drive transformation. This may explain the relatively slow uptake of cloud computing technology by Asia Pacific’s city governments.
“A lot of the opposition to the cloud comes from city officials not wanting to share their data,” says Vijay Jagannathan, Secretary General of CityNet, a network of over 130 cities and organisations focused on sustainable urban development in Asia Pacific. “In developing countries you find that a lot of power comes by not sharing. And it can be hard politically to force departments to share.”
Jagannathan was speaking following the launch of a joint study by CityNet and Microsoft Asia Pacific at the end of February – ‘City Cloud: Cloud Adoption for Asia’s Cities’. The survey showed that only 22.2 per cent of Asian cities have adopted cloud computing to a moderate or extensive degree. However, Asia cities expect rapidly increase their use of cloud tools over the next three years, reaching 46.9 per cent.
Asia’s fast-growing cities – facing increased population, economic, safety, and environmental pressures – are perhaps facing a moment of crisis, as existing administrative approaches struggle to scale to meet rising citizen expectations. Jagannathan believes that the need for cities to focus more on outcomes, and increasing citizen expectations of transparency, opens the door to greater use of cloud computing.
“If you look at the kind of challenges cities in Asia are facing you can put them into three categories – secure and reliable services; providing equitable access to services; ensuring environmental sustainability,” he says. “In all three cases cloud computing helps us to put in place a common platform to manage performance across departments. There is really no reason why a city in a developing country cannot be held accountable for outcomes – but in order to do that you need the infrastructure, and I think that cloud provides that infrastructure.”
One of the most frequently raised arguments in support of the status quo is that when a city puts its data into the cloud, it loses control of the security of its data. Jagannathan believes this to be one of the “biggest misconceptions”, as the security provided by a reputable cloud services provider is likely to be much more resilient than anything that could be provided locally within a city.
“The key thing is that the leaders of the city need to be convinced that moving to the cloud is a good idea,” Jagannathan concludes. “If they are willing to take the lead, and take advantage of the opportunity to break down silos, then they will be able to manage the interdependencies.”
“Electricity, water, rubbish – ultimately everything is linked in a city. A good quality of life is when everything works well – and that can’t happen unless you have a good platform to bring all the data together.”
This story was first published on >FutureGov on Mar 3, 2015.