A kit for migrating public services to the cloud
A five-step journey to identifying the advantages, risks and best strategies for migrating the Italian Public Administration’s services to the cloud
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In 2018, the region of Emilia Romagna decided to shut down its internal email service. This wasn’t a move meant to reestablish parchment paper and sealing wax but rather, a decision to optimize resources: the region decided to migrate its email service to the cloud so that its employees might enjoy the use of a better service at a fraction of the cost. Reliance on an external supplier meant that the region no longer had to pay for server maintenance and technical assistance. Employees could now rely on a more efficient, more stable and more flexible service with features, such as document sharing, that weren’t offered by the previous service.
The difference between the before and after was substantial. Before the migration, the only way for the region to obtain more storage space was by activating an expensive and time-consuming bureaucratic process: coordinating with an infrastructure manager, navigating a complex system of procurement and paperwork, signing the purchase agreement, organizing the installation, carrying out testing of the new space, managing its effective operation. Today the region is able to obtain more storage in a matter of minutes simply by requesting it from the provider.
The example of Emilia Romagna is just one of the many ways in which the cloud can be used to improve the Public Administration’s services and save resources. In a recent post titled, “A strategy for the Italian Public Administration’s digital infrastructure,” we laid out a “three-point strategy” for migrating Italian public services to the cloud, thereby guaranteeing safer, more reliable and efficient services while also generating huge savings. At the base of that strategy was the initial distinction we made between:
- critical services, i.e. services required for maintaining national security;
- all other services managed by local and central authorities. Even though these services are enormously important for citizens and administrative functioning, they do not require special treatment.
In this post, we will be giving detailed instructions on how Public Administrations can use the cloud to offer this second type of “non-critical” service, thanks to a replicable model we defined in the first release of the Cloud Enablement Kit.
This kit is part of the “cloud enablement program,” one of the activities designed to help Public Administrations reorganize their IT assets (i.e. hardware and applications) according to cloud first logic, as specified in the Three-Year Plan.
The Cloud Enablement Kit
The Cloud Enablement Kit provides detailed instructions on how to complete the “five-step journey” that every Public Administration must undertake in order to migrate a service to the cloud. The kit’s objective is to help Public Administrations:
- analyze their own services through mapping and defining their characteristics;
- use service mapping to determine the best strategy for migrating each service to the PA cloud;
- identify the specific skills required to manage this process;
- manage the migration of each service;
- evaluate results and assess the benefits of migration.
The kit includes the following items, available to all central and local Public Administrations:
- a manual with step-by-step instructions on how to map services and define a migration strategy;
- ready-to-use tools, which may be useful during the various phases of the evaluation process.
To be clear: the kit is not a set of commands issued from on high. We produced it in collaboration with various central and local Public Administrations (Emilia Romagna, Milan, Turin, Cremona, Crema), the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities, the Court of Auditors, and a handful of in-house organizations like Consorzio.IT (from the Cremasco Territory) and Lepida (Emilia Romagna). This is a joint venture aimed at defining the best practices for mapping services and determining the optimal migration strategy for each, through the combined efforts of businesses, technicians, software houses, and in-houses.
The journey begins: service mapping
The Cloud Enablement Kit proposes that before starting the migration, every institution should conduct a series of three workshops dedicated to the evaluation of services. These workshops are intended to simulate a kind of roundtable discussion, where technicians, ICT managers and, in certain cases, policy makers meet to form a shared vision of an institution’s services, its needs, and to discuss upcoming opportunities.
The first workshop is the first step in our “five-step journey.” It’s objective is to make a map of:
- the services provided by the institution;
- the applications through which each service functions;
- the technological infrastructures currently being used.
This service mapping is accomplished by posing a series of questions in relation to each service and application (a spreadsheet for tracking answers is included in the kit). The questions ask workshop participants to think about:
- the technological complexity of the service;
- the impact of the service on the institution’s activities;
- “dependencies” with other services;
- the potential benefits of cloud migration.
These questions allow participants to survey their services, achieve consensus regarding the features of each one and prioritize their migration by dividing them into the following categories:
- opportunities to take advantage of, where the benefits of migrating a service quickly are high (i.e. the Emilia Romagna email case would likely have been categorized as such);
- services for which the migration process presents minimal risk (i.e. no risk of service interruption);
- services that are easy to migrate (i.e. because the applications they rely on have few “dependencies”);
- all other services, where migration is more challenging and therefore not a priority.
We “tested” this workshop for the first time in Emilia Romagna at the beginning of 2019. Sitting at a table alongside the institution’s technicians, we identified, mapped and prioritized 136 services of various types, including:
- services for the management of public tender;
- institutional portals (i.e. the region’s website);
- internal services (i.e. the press review)
Second Stage: A Strategy for Each Service
Second stage, second workshop. This time the objective is to determine the best strategies for migrating the highest priority services to the cloud. There are several ways in which a service can be migrated:
1. Conserve (retain) the service by making a conscious decision not to migrate a given application, allowing it to remain active on its original infrastructure while also assigning a date when the factors that contributed to this decision are to be reevaluated.
2. Shut down or withdraw the service (when services are active but unused — this happens more often than most people realize, usually because somebody forgot to deactivate a service after it was replaced by a newer version)
3. Repurchase the service from an external supplier (Saas — Software as a service);
4. “Move” the service without modifying its software in any significant way (re-host or lift & shift);
5. Transfer an application to the cloud using strategy #4 (re-host) while also replacing some of the software’s components so as to better exploit the features of the new platform (re-platform);
6. Break down and redesign the service, modeling it on cloud infrastructure (re-architect).
The Cloud Enablement Kit offers ready-to-use tools for this part of the journey as well. Namely: assessment sheets. During the workshop, participants simply fill out a spreadsheet for each service and application by answering questions regarding its characteristics, and the risks and benefits of an eventual migration to the cloud. The result is a set of information that can be used to evaluate which migration strategy to use for each service.
Nearly there: skill mapping
We’ve identified which services to prioritize and which migration strategies to use. Only one task remains before we can start the migration: skill mapping. The question we are going to try to answer during the third and final workshop: are we capable of managing the migration?
The answer to this question isn’t at all obvious. Every administration, no matter its size, must have specific skills to manage a cloud migration. In the third workshop, administrations carry out an assessment of the skills they can rely on, via their own employees and the technicians employed by the suppliers they depend on. To help administrations develop a complete picture of their administration’s strengths and weaknesses, the Cloud Enablement Kit provides spreadsheets with which to evaluate various skills. The objective here is to identify any shortcomings so that administrations can decide whether to:
- acquire the missing skills on the market (a process made easier, in part, by Consip’s strategic tenders for Digital Transformation and for the Public Administration’s Cloud);
- share skills by creating synergies with other subjects, either public or private.
In addition to evaluating skills, this stage of the journey has another objective: defining the performance indicators through which an administration’s results and progress may be measured during the process of evaluation and migration. The kit provides additional assessment spreadsheets to assist in this process.
From strategy to practice: the adventure begins
Our first goal has been reached: we’ve defined a rough methodology for migrating services to the cloud. Now for the fun part, as we complete the last two stages of our journey:
- the actual migration;
- evaluating our results using our chosen performance indicators.
The last chapters of the Cloud Enablement Kit describe the last phases of this process in more detail, with step-by-step explanations on how to perform data migration, a discussion of best practices, descriptions of the various possible scenarios and suggestions on tests and performance indicators that can verify the correct functioning of services and the actual results achieved. .
In addition to the kit and to further support the migration process, Public Administrations can count on:
- the tools and case histories published and shared by the DevOps Italia community;
- the marketplace for cloud service providers, certified by the Agency for Digital Italy (Agid).
We are also about to embark upon the last stages of this journey, as we prepare to start the migration of several services belonging to a group of pilot administrations, among them the Municipality of Cremona.
The journey never ends!
A real journey is not simply the “shift” between a point of departure and a point of arrival.
A journey is about learning. We, as individuals, the public administrations with which we have collaborated, and those who are about to attempt the activities promoted by the Cloud Enablement Kit, can all learn a series of important lessons from having traveled the path to enabling the cloud. We can discover that digital transformation is an activity characterized by exploration and continuous learning. It sets big goals but moves in small steps, requiring cultural change and work organization.
The journey never ends. At the end of this particular road, each Public Administration must return to where it started and begin a new path. This time with the objective will be to repeat the service evaluation process (this time with a decidedly different know-how!) and evaluate the migration of other services to the PA cloud.