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Cloud for CEOs: Measure Innovation with One Metric

Accelerate public sector transformation with the cloud

Accelerate public sector

transformation with the cloud

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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.

Read on in English or download this first section in Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, German, Italian, Turkish.

Four Blockers of Innovation

Where and how do I start digital transformation?

The expert contributors' summary

Digital transformation is a complex project, especially for government and public services that may have multiple departments or agencies. They are likely to have competing budgetary needs, use different kinds of software, and have their own ways of working.

A big vision for change at the top of an organisation can help secure support at every other level. It is also important to be able to explain the reasons for reform. This section helps you explain why cloud adoption is central to transformation. It summarises the importance of organisational culture. Finally, it explains a useful technique that we have seen used in successful transformations, which you might consider using to support your programmes.

Expert contributors

Mike Beaven
Government Transformation Advisor, AWS

Liam Maxwell
Government Transformation Director, AWS

Simon Wardley
Researcher and Advisor at DXE, Leading Edge

Three Steps to Innovation

The power of a strong vision

Successful digital transformations in national governments have a common characteristic: they express their aim clearly and they also have support from the most senior political leaders. For example, in the UK in 2011, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, made transformation a priority as he addressed the impact that the 2008 global financial crisis had on tax revenues and public spending. The UK government promised to cut total spending as a proportion of GDP and leaders looked to technology as a possible route to better, more efficient services.

In another example, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced in 2000 that the state would become a world-leading digital nation. As Singapore’s digital journey progresses, the government’s vision has crystallized to become:


A Singapore where people are more empowered to live meaningful and fulfilled lives, enabled seamlessly by technology, offering exciting opportunities for all.”

Size is no barrier to success if the vision for transformation is big enough, as Iceland illustrates. This country with a population of about 370,000 has become one of the world’s leading digital nations (measured by European and International league tables). Though the government has invested in modern technology infrastructure and education over three decades, the transformation accelerated since 2018 through Digital Iceland, a government agency within the Ministry of Finance that leverages open source solutions and external capabilities. Its vision is “to make digital services the main means of communication between its agencies and the Icelandic people, as it can simplify processes for all.” As of 2023, Digital Iceland has achieved near-universal take up of its App and citizens are adopting digital services ranging from registering for parental leave to digital driving licences.

Japan’s experience illustrates why high-level political vision matters. In a country famous for technological innovation, from the automotive industry to toy manufacture, government remains paper-based and analogue. Taro Kono was appointed as Minister of Digital Affairs in August 2022, the third in one year. His mission is to address issues such as 9,000 regulations that rely on fax, floppy disks and even a hand-carved stamp. He has said this impacted Japan’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, adding months to how long citizens waited for welfare payments, and complicating its handling of the vaccine programme.

When Mauricio Macri was elected in 2015 as Argentina’s president, he faced similar bureaucratic challenges. Macri had seen the impact of digital transformation on services as mayor of Buenos Aires. He set up a digital government team to transform central government, from a single ‘whole-of-government’ portal and by 2018 Argentina had built Mi Argentina.

How do you know if your company is truly innovative?

Show the benefits

To help address natural concerns about the changes that modernising services involves, show the benefits. There can be a lack of understanding about the role that technology can play, especially when political and operational leaders are unlikely to be technology experts. Therefore, the benefits of digital transformation for public services must be simple and clear.

These include:

 1. Delivering existing services more efficiently, with more ability to withstand failures and continue service (resilience) and with better availability 

2. Responding faster to the changing needs of citizens and enterprises 

3. Increasing transparency 

4. Increasing security

How to explain cloud computing

Some nations are well advanced, and those who started their transformation journey more recently can benefit from the experience of early adopters.

It can also be a challenge to explain the cloud to stakeholders, such as an organisation’s board members or to teams that deliver the services. Cloud computing is the on-demand delivery of IT resources via the internet with pay-as-you-go pricing. Instead of buying, owning and maintaining your own data centres and servers, organisations can acquire technology such as compute power, storage, databases and other services on an as-needed basis. It is similar to how consumers flip a switch to turn on the lights in their homes, and the power company sends electricity.

With cloud computing, a hyperscale cloud services provider (CSP) such as AWS manages and maintains the technology infrastructure in a secure environment and businesses access these resources via the internet to develop and run their applications. Capacity can grow or shrink instantly and organisations only pay for what they use.

How do you know if your company is truly innovative?

Culture change

Big Ben and Palace of Westminster in London at night, UK

Though modern technology is critical, you also need new approaches and processes to unlock the potential of the technology. The term digital can be interpreted by some leaders as being the sole responsibility of information technology (IT) departments to solve. “Transformation is not only about technology, it is about a change in mindset,” says Liam Maxwell, who was the UK government’s first chief technology officer.

Traditional organisational structures feature departments, or even teams within departments, that work in silos. They replicate tasks and are not set up to share systems or data. The best results come when processes are standardised, automated and built on systems of reusable digital capabilities that work together, delivered via a central platform, which is the cloud.

Make a start

The prospect of change is unnerving for most organisations. Especially when it is a significant change that will impact how everybody works as is the case with digital transformation. This makes it important to demonstrate benefits quickly.

Choose a service: When the UK Government Digital Service (GDS) started on the mission to transform services, it reviewed proposals based on strict criteria to determine the first projects.

The criteria were:

1.  Does this service need improvement? 

2.  Should government or the private sector be providing this service? 

3. Is the proposal for the service user-centric; simple to use and understand; correctly structured in an Agile way; clear about open versus proprietary software; and can the elements be repurposed for other services that can follow this first one?

 4. Does it have support right at the top of government to give it momentum?

GDS selected two projects that met its criteria – the student loan service and applications for lasting power of attorney. Each had more than 100,000 transactions per year. 

Mike Beaven, who led the transformation team, says:


You can work just as hard to change a small service as a big one. It’s very important to pick one that you can use as a showcase, to demonstrate progress and get people used to the idea and direction of travel. Use it to show you understand the problem and are good.”

Start from a safe place: Consider potential challenges and learn what you need to know before you start. Challenges might include lack of skills, so allow time to recruit and fill the gaps. 

Shine a light: Don’t work behind closed doors. Be open about what you’re doing. This means that people can raise challenges. You can assess and use feedback. 

Create champions and followers: Centralising everything seldom works and you cannot win over everyone by yourself, so recruit champions who will generate their own champions and followers. Beaven’s approach worked well for the UK government. The first two projects seeded the Exemplar Programme, which successfully transformed 25 government services and became the springboard for the capability departments across government have today. 

Work out where you are and what you have: An audit of what you have, where it is, what it costs and who controls it is a standard element of situational awareness and is part of the getting started process. 

Elevated view of university students walking up and down stairs

You can also consider a technique that has supported successful digital transformation called Wardley Mapping.

Simon Wardley, who invented this approach, explains that the maps are based on a combination of US military theory called the OODA loop – observe, orientate, decide, act – and elements from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

Here are the steps to take:

1. Start with the end user of the chosen service

2. List the user needs

3. Map how you deliver the service in terms of business components

4. Look for components that are available as commodity services

5. Re-evaluate each component and decide whether to build, share with other departments or consume from the cloud

“The rigour of Wardley Mapping shifts the focus on decision-making away from policy, special interest or undue influence to give a more concrete direction of where to go to get to the right place,” Wardley explains.

“When you produce a map, you get down to the nitty-gritty of all the components of a decision. It’s a different form of storytelling and shifts the power from the most convincing to the best option. It allows everyone to challenge each other, challenge assumptions and build consensus.” 

“The map uses a compass with north to south described through the chain of components behind the system we’re building. The more visible the components to end users, the more north they are. East to west is described by how evolved those components are.”

Each map should only take a few hours to build and it’s important to remember that no single map is perfect or complete. The scrutiny in the discussion phase helps to create more robust maps. There is a Wardley map used to explain the approach that uses a simple service – making a cup of tea. The kettle is placed by Custom Built, rather than the Product area, to prompt discussion to illustrate the importance of challenging assumptions.

“The act of creating a map with a mixed team and in context is one of the most valuable parts of the process,” explains Beaven, who uses the technique in transformation workshops. “Connections are made, perspectives realised, potential visualised.” 

Finally, it’s crucial to assess the success of the map at the end of the project as learnings can often be shared.

How do you know if your company is truly innovative?


"The act of creating a map with a mixed team and in context is one of the most valuable parts of the process. Connections are made, perspectives realised, potential visualised."

Transformation that uses the most modern technology needs a powerful vision and buy-in is essential to make sure that the changes you propose get the support needed to overcome natural resistance from established organisational cultures. Genuine gaps in understanding can be addressed using simple language for non-technical people. You can strengthen buy-in at all levels of your organisation if you show early successes.

This builds support and momentum by proving investment in change makes services better not only for end users but also easier for teams to deliver. Do this by selecting projects that may be small relative to some others, but that have potential to scale through impact. Develop change champions who have a positive approach to transformation with the skills they need to effect transformation in more parts of the organisation.

Take the time to map your service so that it is clear what it does and how it does it before you commit resources and time to the change.

Digital transformation is not only about technology: it is about a change in mindset.

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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.

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.

Simon Wardley
Researcher and Advisor at DXE, Leading Edge

Simon Wardley is a former CEO, advisor to start-ups, and the inventor of Wardley Mapping. A geneticist with a love of mathematics and a fascination for economics, he works with complex systems, whether behavioural patterns, environmental risks, developing novel computer systems, or managing companies. He’s an advocate and researcher in the fields of open source, commoditisation, innovation, organizational structure and cybernetics.