Globally as well in India, Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the leading cloud business with a run rate of $18 billion per year. It has seen fast adoption of its cloud services across India and that ranges across developers, start-ups, small-to-mid size companies, enterprises and education institutions. AWS is betting big on the government sector to maintain its upward trajectory in India. “India has gone through dramatic transformation under the Modi government,” says Peter Moore, regional managing director, Amazon Web Services, Public Sector—Asia Pacific. In a recent interaction, he tells Sudhir Chowdhary that cloud is a fantastic way of achieving the government’s ambitious programmes like Digital India and Smart Cities. Excerpts:
What have been your observations on the evolution of cloud computing in the last two to three years?
I have been with Amazon Web Services for four-and-a-half years now and things have changed dramatically. In my first year, very few people even understood what cloud computing meant. People have now realised that cloud computing is important and it is no longer a question of whether to adopt it or not, but how to embrace it. Hence, a lot of the conversation now is about giving advice on what should the first project be, or how long should it take, and what are the kind of skills one needs.
The other massive difference is that earlier, the questions were about cloud security and now we are seeing the cyber security chiefs in each country stand up in front of an audience of public sector officials and be very clear that cloud is more secure than the government’s on-premises IT infrastructure. Security should never be the reason for people to not move to the cloud.
Have you seen any kind of a change in the mindset of public sector units towards investing in enterprise technology?
Absolutely. It’s interesting how major inflection points in IT have always been first taken up by smaller companies, followed by enterprises and then the government. Now we are actually finding that the world and the challenges that the government has to face have led it to say that cloud has to be a part of the success factors. You can’t offer digital services to citizens without the cloud. The ability to make government more responsive requires IT capability that is agile and offers a rich set of services. It is relevant to the types of devices that people want to interact with, but it becomes very difficult with traditional on-premises IT infrastructure. The old world of all government agencies having their own IT—which is very constrained, locked up and cannot be accessed by anyone—is in need of an evolved ecosystem to cater to changing businesses requirements of the government. There are natural forces leading the public sector to the cloud.
With India pushing for more e-governance services, how important will be cloud computing?
There’s no government in the world that is not looking at cloud as a really important part. India has gone through dramatic transformation under the Modi government. If you look at the priorities of the Modi government, for example, Digital India, it cannot happen unless the concept of cloud computing becomes a reality. There has been some challenging economic impact from a few brave reforms that the government has made, like demonetisation and implementation of GST. But, the government realises that while these may create short-term pain today, they provide long-term gain in the future. The government organisations that are operating in the old way are now open to cloud adoption and ask for our help. Thus, I am very optimistic about India. In India we have several public sector customers who are reaping the benefits of cloud computing today such as Andhra Pradesh State Skill Development Corporation (APSSDC), CSC e-Governance Services (set up by the ministry of electronics & IT), Gujarat Technical University, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), and the Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati.
What initiatives is AWS putting in place to gain customer traction here?
We see India as a very important market and realise that to be successful with the government and be part of these programmes, we have to build infrastructure in India for India. So, we built our AWS Region a year and half ago in India in June 2016. That tells you a lot about how important we view these initiatives by the government, and why we believe cloud computing will play a critical role in accelerating their core missions.
Do you think cloud adoption makes government agencies more agile and responsive?
Yes, they do. Cloud is responsible for bringing in agility and making the government more responsive. If the existing systems can’t cope with that, they have to look at the cloud. Cloud computing brings also tremendous transparency. You can see everything that you are using. You have the ability to look at what is being used right now, what was used previously. This helps get a very fine granular level of details on all of that.
What innovations can we expect from AWS that will augment the government’s Digital India dream?
One of the areas that the government is very keen on is Smart Cities. We’ve seen dramatic improvement in the efficiency of public transportation in other countries as a result of being able to put sensors on buses, better scheduling of the vehicles, etc. I see a lot of enhancements that can be made to traffic congestion and management. Public transport systems can be improved dramatically to have fewer disruptions and be made more efficient. I live in Singapore—it has one of the most efficient public transportation systems in the world. That requires certain capabilities that you have in place. You have to have a good public transport system. But you also have to manage the scheduling. You have to be able to serve not just me because I live in a particular area but everyone, which requires citizens’ input.
I believe there is a lot of demand in India for citizens’ input in policy. I think that people are going to want to be able to communicate with their government. Now their voices are being heard. You can’t do that in a country like India unless you leverage cloud. And you can’t manage the unknown workload in a traditional environment where you build the database and hope to cope with the capacity. You no longer have to guess your capacity needs when you use the cloud. That’s one of the tremendous advantages that the government can benefit from by using the cloud.
Don’t you feel entities like State Bank of India are paranoid about the security of their data?
I think we have moved away from this myth. Our customer from the CIA is talking about how they’re leveraging the cloud to do what they need to accomplish and how security is one of the reasons why they are doing things on the cloud. In August, we had our Public Sector Summit in Australia and the cybersecurity advisor to the Prime Minister started the conference by saying that if any government agency is not moving to the cloud because it is concerned about security, then it is making the wrong choice. This is because the cloud is actually far more secure than any existing on-premises government IT infrastructure.
In every country we operate in, we have to work with the cyber security chiefs. We have to work with the security auditor; so that’s the STQC in India. We have to prove ourselves, and be audited for compliance with all the requirements. We have a large number of certifications for government security. India is one of your fastest growing markets, what are the reasons for it? Every country is different, yet the same in some ways. The difference is not what they do, but when they do it. India is just starting from a familiar starting point and the population – particularly the young population in India – is an incredible opportunity for the country to really make progress over the next decade.
The Modi government has set in place a whole new sense of opportunity in the country. I believe the government is getting energy from that and getting the orders from the top to transform and change, and be more responsive and more transparent. And, cloud is a fantastic way of achieving that. I am seeing government policies, government rules and everything changing so quickly in India. Where it used to take years, things are happening in months or days.