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Cloud for CEOs: Measure Innovation with One Metric

Accelerate public sector transformation with the cloud: Capability

Accelerate public sector

transformation with the cloud: Capability

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How do you know if your company is truly innovative?


The cloud enables governments to accelerate the transformation of their services. Examples of successful transformation using the cloud, from Singapore to the UK, India to Iceland, Australia to Argentina and many countries in between, show that the public sector can respond to their citizens’ changing needs. However, they also show that transformation is about more than modern technology. There are common elements that underpin success. There are also common challenges. Some nations are well advanced, and those who started their transformation journey more recently can benefit from the experience of early adopters.

The Amazon Web Services (AWS) Institute has taught almost 5,000 government leaders in 23 countries through its Executive Education programme, in collaboration with leading academic and international non-governmental institutions. Participants deliver government services of varying types and sizes. They raise five common challenges.

Five common challenges to digital transformation:

1. Where to start

2. How to build capability

3. How to acquire new IT and manage legacy IT systems

4. The security of citizens’ data

5. How to design better digital services for citizens

crowd of people from above

This guide summarises the answers from experts, many of whom have first-hand experience of nation-scale transformation. There are links to real examples and additional resources, including technical guides. The guide is in five distinct sections that reflect the most common challenges. Find more insight and solutions for other transformation challenges specific to your region or service at the AWS Institute.

Four Blockers of Innovation

How do I build the capability I need?

The expert contributors' summary

When it comes to the capabilities required for digital transformation, you’ll need to identify your people who have a drive to change public services for the better, new hires with experience in how to deliver digital services, and possibly external partners. 

In this section, you’ll gain valuable insight on how to find, attract and retain the best talent, as well as why open code and open standards help you move faster, and how to use them.

Capability to deliver digital transformation comes from people and technology. There’s a need for new experts with the right digital transformation skills who can work with the public sector experts already within a department or organisation. You also need consistent leadership support for the change you’re making.  

For the technology element, the good news is that because other governments have already put in place successful digital services, there are open source code and service standards available. Use these as the basis for your transformation to save time and money that you would otherwise spend on research and development.

Expert contributors

Mike Beaven
Government Transformation Advisor, AWS

Pete Herlihy
Principal Open Source Manager, AWS

Liam Maxwell
Government Transformation Director, AWS

Caroline Mulligan
Government Transformation Advisor at AWS

Claire Spiller
Senior Manager re/Start programme (EMEA) at AWS

Three Steps to Innovation

Capability: What skills do I have and which must I add?

Don't overlook what's in front of you

People who already work in the public sector have a lot to offer. Mike Beaven says it’s important that leaders know where to look.

“In government organisations of all sizes, you will almost always find someone who has already tried to solve the problem, working away in a cupboard under the stairs to come up with a digital solution,” he says. “If you’re a leader, and you’re either coming into the organisation or are already there but want to make a change, find the person or people on the inside who are willing to embrace it. They know the organisation and they’ll have a real appetite and passion to try to do things in a different way.”

The disciplines that are useful to have in your team include procurement, regulation and data science expertise.

Working collaboratively with outside experts is also a vital part of complementing and building capability. These may be tech companies but may include those with expertise in specific communities and disciplines such as social anthropology. This is because it is important to understand stakeholder motivations and customer behaviour for optimal service design, which will improve the user experience and support the intended policy outcome. 


To successfully drive transformation, you need to bring in fresh eyes or the people who are there will use the new tools and technologies to do what they always did.”

How do you know if your company is truly innovative?

How to get new skills

The next step is to hire people who know how to implement the cloud-based applications that high-quality digital services require.

“Your priority should be to bring in people who have had their hands on the technology and know how to build and deliver it. That’s a vital skillset,” says Beaven. Specifically, these are “people who know how to build websites, how to build online transactional services, the types of technology you need and the working methods and project delivery tools you use in that space.”

A proven track record in being able to deliver successful digital transformation programmes is at least as important as their technology expertise, Beaven adds. “You’re going to run out of credibility quite quickly if you don’t start to show real progress,” he explains. This is why your first showcase project or service is so important. For the UK’s Exemplar programme, the mix was roughly one-third each of internal people, new contractors and external partners. Iceland is another example of a government that looked to independent technology partners to expand capability.

Claire Spiller, who works with organisations’ hiring managers to build digital transformation capability, is also a firm believer that new people are essential. “To successfully drive transformation, you need to bring in fresh eyes or the people who are there will use the new tools and technologies to do what they always did,” she says. “People resist, they feel really uncomfortable about change. New hires cannot revert to type, they only know the new way and they follow it from day one.” This is true whatever the hire’s level of seniority, she adds.

Transformation leaders may find that some of their existing team will not want to develop the new service or feel comfortable with different ways of working. They will move roles or departments, or leave altogether.

How do you know if your company is truly innovative?

Transparency is helpful

As with lots of elements of any change programme, transparency is important and this is true of the hiring process for the digital transformation team.

“Sometimes people get the impression that in the digital space, with an Agile approach, decisions are made quicklywithout enough consideration,” says Beaven. “A formal selection process is important because it shows people that you haven’t just picked your favourites.”

In the early digital transformation projects he worked on with the UK government as part of the Exemplar programme, each project in each department followed a formal three-month HR change programme to appoint the right team. They identified the skillsets and organisational structure they needed, then wrote job descriptions to match those.

Being “open, transparent and above board” in how you add capability is an important part of building positive sentiment towards the transformation, Beaven adds.

Write smart job ads

Government can offer two things that people with tech skills value highly: flexible working and an innovative working environment

When they recruit new, highly qualified hires, public-sector managers consider how they can compete with tech or financial services companies with regard to pay. Spiller says government can offer two things that people with tech skills value highly: flexible working and an innovative working environment, where experimentation is encouraged.

“Rather than being prescriptive about a particular coding language, job ads could prioritise these things, which are what people want,” she says.

Liam Maxwell adds: “Communicate the whole package. Government is for everybody. In government jobs, you deliver for every citizen and there is a powerful sense of purpose that motivates people. Public sector leaders say that three years in a government role is the equivalent of ten years of experience in similar private sector roles because of the scale of the challenges and level of exposure.”

Continued communication and support from the top

Digital transformation only succeeds with buy-in from the very top of an organisation, as experienced reformers know. But a commitment to start the work is not enough: continuous and visible support is one of the essential capabilities that a government organisation needs.

Maxwell says it’s essential that leaders in charge of digital transformation communicate often and clearly while the work is taking place. One effective way to achieve this is through a series of blog posts that set out the progress of the transformation. Regular and accessible blog posts help build a sense of momentum around the transformation.

“It becomes more effective to help people understand what’s going on when information is drip-fed,” he says. “You need to actually show the delivery and what will follow in the next stage. It also makes it much more intimate. The UK Government Digital Service (GDS) Blog is a good example.”

The Singapore government also does this effectively, he adds. “They regularly say what has happened and how it will change things, and it becomes a normal state of affairs that things are changing.” There are two blogs that serve different audiences. One, the LifeSG blog, provides updates on citizen services. The other, on the Singapore Government Developer Portal, is for the technology community.

This type of open communication is also a great recruiting tool, adds Beaven, alerting people to interesting projects that are going on in government, which attract them to work there.

Three Steps to Innovation

Code and standards: Do I need to create them all?

Simply, no. When it comes to the technology element of capability, there’s a growing movement, for example among European governments, in Brazil and in India, that projects should use open source code. For example, in October 2020 the European Commission committed to the use of open source in practical areas, such as IT, and also in areas where it can be strategic. Using coding languages and frameworks that people want to work with and where skills are available makes adding the capability to build the service simpler.

Open source code is found in online repositories and can be freely accessed and reused under open source licences. Caroline Mulligan, who worked with the UK Government Digital Service (GDS), says: “Why reinvent the wheel? Why not use something that works and then focus on the bits that are relevant to your unique problems or legislation?”


One such example was the UK government’s Digital Marketplace, set up to help public sector procurement bodies buy and deliver cloud-based services. It took around two years for the UK team to build it. The Australian government reused the UK government’s open source code and was able to launch its own digital marketplace in just six weeks from start to finish. This approach meant there was no need to spend the time and money on development that the UK government needed to find.  

“The development savings run into hundreds of thousands of dollars when you consider that the UK evolved their service over several years,” says Mulligan. The service has evolved substantially since this time and is now called Buy ICT.



Why reinvent the wheel? Why not use something that works and then focus on the bits that are relevant to your unique problems or legislation?”

In the same way as code, open standards for digital services are invaluable. Mulligan explains: “Things we take for granted, such as seamless mobile phone connections in different countries and international rail services are all possible because common standards have been agreed. The same principle applies to digital transformation. Common standards mean digital services can interoperate with one another. They also provide high quality across security, accessibility, user experience and data exchange. They make sure that suppliers have equal access and opportunity to work with government, which gives governments access to innovative technology at competitive prices.”

Three Steps to Innovation

Capability case studies

UK Exemplar programme

Building capability through the Exemplar programme


Australia, Canada, United States and Brazil adapt the UK's open source notification service


The open source approach and collaboration accelerate digital capability

Additional resources

Open Government Solutions on AWS curates resources developed by the public sector can help government agencies at the local, regional, and national levels find solutions that have worked for others so that they can accelerate their digital transformation. An example of how to build an open source solution quickly is Performance Dashboard on AWS.

Video: Using open source (8 minutes)

Video: Start small to build big (7 minutes)

Video: Bias for Agile action (8 minutes)

Blog: Bias for Agile action speeds digital transformation in the public sector

Blog: How governments can use open source solutions for faster transformation and more

Open Standards principles

Open Standards for Government

AWS re/Start

Expert contributors

Mike Beaven
Government Transformation Advisor, AWS

Mike Beaven has a combination of public and private-sector digital transformation experience spanning 20 years. He led the UK Government’s Digital Transformation programmes from 2011 to 2015 as part of the Government Digital Service (GDS) team within the Cabinet Office. This involved establishing new Agile ways of working, setting up new commercial frameworks and establishing a national cross-government programme that delivered 20 new digital services in 400 days. He worked in consultancy on strategic projects in the public sector and on large-scale software delivery programmes in the commercial sector.

Pete Herlihy

Principal Product Manager, AWS

Pete Herlihy has 20-plus years of experience delivering software products in the finance and
public sectors in both the UK and New Zealand. He was one of the founding team of the UK Government Digital Service (GDS), primarily delivering open source platform services for the wider public sector and international reuse.

Liam Maxwell
Government Transformation Director, AWS

Liam Maxwell is director of government transformation at AWS. He leads the global AWS team that helps senior government leaders accelerate their modernisation and reform programmes. He was a civil servant from 2012 to 2018. As the UK Government’s first chief technology officer, he led the reforms that enabled the modernisation of government technology and digital services. He was subsequently national technology advisor, responsible for accelerating growth in the digital economy, inward investment and creating intergovernmental and international trade partnerships post-Brexit. He was twice elected (in 2007 and 2011) as a councillor and served as a cabinet member for policy at the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead. Between 2004 and 2011, he was head of computing at Eton College, Windsor. Prior to these roles, he was an IT director in FTSE 100 and Fortune 500 business service companies. He has a strong interest in education and is a founder of Holyport College, a Free School near Maidenhead, Berkshire, UK.

Caroline Mulligan

Government Transformation Advisor at AWS

Caroline Mulligan led the launch of the Executive Education Program in Digital Transformation for the Public Sector and Performance Dashboard on AWS, a tool to drive transparency across organisations and track activity. She supports the continual growth of Open Government Solutions, which showcases open source solutions and public resources published by public sector organisations around the world.

She previously worked in the UK Government's Cabinet Office as head of digital (Race Disparity Unit) and as Digital Marketplace service manager in the UK Government Digital Service (GDS). She has led technology and product teams at Vodafone Global, Sony Pictures and a UK crowdfunding start-up.


Claire Spiller

Senior Manager re/Start programme (EMEA) at AWS

Claire Spiller is a learning and development specialist with more than 20 years' experience in the technology sector. She now leads a programme that re-skills unemployed people with cloud skills and then connects them with organisations looking to increase capability in this area.



Sarah Ryle AWS Institute senior content manager