Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Head in the clouds

I recently read an article on the BBC news site about wastage in local government. The statistic that really stood out to me was that of the £440 million spent by councils on IT in 2012-2013 only £385,000 was spent via G-Cloud – the government’s digital marketplace for procurement of IT systems and services. That’s less than 0.1% of spending, a staggeringly small proportion in a period of widespread cuts and on-going efficiency drives.

The fact that councils aren’t embracing G-Cloud isn’t the biggest issue here; it’s the slow adoption of the wider concept of cloud based IT as the preferred approach. As of 2013 around 30% of councils used no cloud delivered services. The 70% embracing the cloud sounds promising, but when we dig deeper this tends to be in one or two niche areas within the council, or just email, with most local authorities continuing to spend the majority of funds on traditional on premise IT and maintaining legacy systems.
There are two main reasons I’m interested in this, the first being the most obvious one of cost. Cloud services tend to be cheaper. There is no hardware on site, meaning lower initial setup and on-going maintenance costs. This makes a big difference, as today 38% of IT budgets tend to be spent on support and maintenance.  You also avoid waste. With traditional on-site hardware a large proportion of the functionality and computing power may never be used, but with the cloud you can generally pick and mix from modular options, and the hardware itself can be shared with other users.
The second and more interesting reason though is innovation; to me the cloud means progress. Cloud services can be updated quickly with improvements rolled out to users remotely. Systems aren’t installed on site and forgotten about; they can evolve and improve, with all customers benefitting from new features and functionality. A cloud-based solution encourages the provider to work with their customers to optimise for the entire user-base, and not to have to develop bespoke solutions for every client. This drives innovation and can result in significant benefits for customers, with it being far easier to embrace new approaches and best-practice. Interestingly this comes back to my original point, sharing services between local authorities, or even between the public and private sectors doesn’t just save on IT costs, it results in better, more flexible systems which lead to improved services which are both more efficient and more effective – effectively you’re spending less and getting more.
One final thought while we’re talking about sharing. What about taking it a step further? Cloud services create the opportunity to share data and insight, not just servers and IT support. It might be a bit of a leap, particularly in the public sector, but knowing more is generally a good thing, and sharing data is a good way to get there. There may be hurdles to jump, but joining up these systems and maximising the use of data within and between local authorities whether in revenues and benefits, public transport or housing might have the potential to have a far greater impact on cost savings than the current practice of reducing household or community services
By Patrick O'Neil, Head of Pre-Sales Consulting, TDX Group 

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