Interview: Warwickshire county council’s Tonino Ciuffini on the flexibility of cloud

Warwickshire county council’s head of information assets tells Gill Hitchcock that cloud technologies offer local authorities a range of benefits provided they do their groundwork

Tonino Ciuffini believes that when councils face urgent deadlines to change their IT, or bring in something entirely new, cloud products offer an opportunity to implement that new system very quickly.

As one of the UK’s longest-serving CIOs – he’s been heading up Warwickshire County Council’s information assets for 11 years – he should know.

“Cloud also means you haven’t got to worry about giving an outside organisation security access into your network,” he says. “You can do it with your own security models in place.”

And he says cloud means it is possible to trial technology at a lower cost, perhaps with just 10 users, before pouring money into a full blown system.

He is doing that now with new cloud products, but he started doing it in 2012 when Warwickshire was one of the first councils to adopt Google – mail, docs and apps – resulting in what Ciuffini describes as “tremendous benefits”.

“I was the local government representative on the G-Cloud board at the time and we did it as a pilot,” he says. “We found that on the ICT alone we saved £250,000 a year on licences, infrastructure that we no longer had to have in place, plus we saved on staffing. And we have seen that ongoing revenue saving every year since.

“In Warwickshire we had to make £2m savings over four years, so that money made a significant impact. But what it really gave us was tremendous flexibility to access systems from a range of devices.”

The council’s staff can work from home, they can share office space, or work from the offices of partner organisations, such as other councils. All this has triggered major savings in Warwickshire’s property costs and will continue to do so.

“We carried on from the success of using G-Cloud and Google to take it into other areas,” says Ciuffini.

Warwickshire’s contact centre, for instance, has a cloud customer relationship management system, which it uses in partnership with neighbouring Rugby and Nuneaton & Bedworth borough councils. And cloud products underpin the Warwickshire’s HR functions, including workflow and e-learning. 

“At the moment we are setting up a multi-agency safeguarding hub, which is particularly about sharing information and locations between us and Warwickshire police, plus child care and other agencies, maybe including health,” he says.

“So we are looking to use the cloud as an innovative way of sharing information between agencies more easily. We are exploring a product which is G-Cloud accredited, and we have been able to buy it at a lower entry level price and try it in the flesh before deciding whether to proceed.”

Hosting Warwickshire’s highways and finance systems – a significant part of the county council’s IT infrastructure – in a cloud environment is being explored, says Ciuffini.

He is also keen to improve the council’s digital offering to citizens, including self-service. This is not just because it is cheaper for the council, but because Ciuffini knows that many people find it more convenient and, when they can use online self-service in other areas, they expect it of local government.

“Obviously cloud solutions have been designed for the internet era which means they often have better facilities for the public to use as well. So if you are looking to improve citizen services then I would say absolutely consider cloud as an option,” he says.

Over the past two years he has been working with the Government Digital Service on Gov.UK Verify, and wants to take advantage of the user identity verification it will offer. He is looking forward to the full implementation of Verify so that Warwickshire’s services, such as renewing blue badges for disabled drivers, will be processed in minutes, rather than hours or days.

Asked about the security of cloud, Ciuffini says Warwickshire it is essential to make sure cloud products include the right level of security, as well as to establish what information you are prepared to put into the cloud.

“We did a huge amount of work with Google to establish how they made it all secure, and they have brought in additional security features since we have been using it. The two-factor verification, for example,” he says.

“And then the big thing that we use, which came out of G-Cloud, is ISO certification. So we are looking to make sure our suppliers have ISO 27001.

“And with some products we will penetration test them. We will say to the supplier, ‘we have to run a penetration test on your environment’ and obviously most suppliers are more than happy to do that.”

He is a great believer in sharing ideas and takes his inspiration from a range of sources across the private and public sectors, in the UK or overseas.

“What we are very much looking for is cloud commodity items where people can demonstrate how we can take advantage of them. So we are absolutely looking across the piece,” he says.

“We saw a wonderful Scandinavian product for managing council meetings and administration. But we didn’t take that forward – not because we didn’t like the product – because we didn’t feel the business case was there and that we needed to change.”

In Ciuffini’s experience cloud is not always the answer, however: “It can reduce running costs, but bear in mind you have got to cover your migration costs.

“If a product is only just moving into the cloud market, the suppliers sometimes have to cover all their costs in the first couple of sales. There have been times when suppliers have come to us, given us a cloud price, given us the on-premise price and it was cheaper. So as a result, we took the on-premise.”

Ciuffini sees Warwickshire’s shift to cloud as an evolution and says he will keep looking for opportunities to improve services for staff and citizens.

“For several years now we have benchmarked our services with the Socitm staff user satisfaction survey. After we introduced Google, the next year we saw an increase in every single score. We were already in the top third, but we moved up to the to the top 10%.

“And the last time we had the highest score out of 60 councils for the ability to work flexibly. So it shows that cloud can have a big impact on the satisfaction of the staff in the organisation, as well as other benefits.”

Colin Marrs

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