Councils reaching for the cloud, new study shows - but legacy IT keeping them grounded

Written by Public Technology Staff on 27 March 2018 in News
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Socitm/Eduserv research finds that councils are increasingly shifting to a hybrid of cloud and in-house capacity - but warns that existing deals are limiting progress

Councils are gradually taking a more “cloud first” approach to their IT strategy - but some are being held back by legacy contracts, according to an extensive new report.

The fresh study, carried out by IT professional body Socitm and consultancy Eduserv, is based on a survey of 373 of the UK's 418 councils, and draws on interviews with local authority IT leaders from across the country.

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The study finds that 62% of councils are now storing data in the cloud, up from 52% in 2016, while 44% now have guidance or a strategy in place for cloud infrastructure. Previous 2016 research by the organisation found that just 39% of councils had a cloud policy in place.

The new research also finds that a hybrid model of cloud and on-site IT is now “the dominant model of IT infrastructure in local government” - although the report makes clear that this is often by necessity, rather than choice.

According to the research, 81% of councils still use one or more on-site data centre, while 42% make use of a third-party facility. More than two-thirds (64%) are using the hybrid model, mixing up on-premise with cloud hosting.

The research sheds light on the way legacy IT contacts are, in some councils, putting the brakes on cloud adoption, with leaders highlighting the restrictions caused by existing deals.

Marion Sinclair, head of strategy and enterprise architecture at Kensington and Chelsea, told the study: “We are looking to adopt a cloud-based model as far as possible but we have a lot of legacy applications and a lot of long-term contracts which we can’t really seek to
re-procure with something already in place.

She added: “The approach has to be one of seeing out these contracts and then when the time to invest comes around again, you can leverage that opportunity to move forward. It’s a case of having a long-term vision which we move closer to each time we make a change.”

Stephen Vercella, head of ICT at Wiltshire Council, meanwhile told the study that his organisation was taking a cautious approach to cloud adoption, based on the shape of the existing estate.

“The whole idea behind moving to the cloud is that you size it for what you need and then buy additional capacity when you need it,” he said. 

“You can’t do that without looking at your existing IT estate and identifying what you can get rid of and what you don’t want to move to the cloud… I have looked at the option of a ‘lift and shift’ of our IT estate to the cloud and the cost of it is very expensive, largely because it will be full of things I don’t want or don’t need.”

The report meanwhile finds some councils battling to overcome scepticism among staff that a shift to less resource-intensive cloud storage could spell the end for their own jobs. 

Gareth Pawlett, CIO at Cheshire East borough council said that while it was “true that a move to the cloud means that we won’t need to do everything that goes with managing our own data centres in-house”, he was hoping to focus savings on releasing “expensive contractors”, rather than full-time staff.

He told the study his council would “still need people to manage, plan and deploy IT”.
 
“Any capacity that we can free up is resource we need to take the organisation forward so we can act as business partners as we undergo further change,” Pawell added.

The study also takes a look at the types of cloud services councils are using, and the findings should make for pleasing reading at the Cabinet Office, which launched the G-Cloud service in 2013 with the explicit aim of shifting public sector IT spend to the cloud while benefiting from economies of scale.

According to the research, more than a third (36%) of councils are now using hyper-scale public cloud, including AWS, Azure or Google Cloud Platform, while 27% have private cloud provision. Six-percent use another public cloud provider, the study shows.

Launching the study, EduServ’s CTO Andy Powell said: “The standout finding from this research is that councils are in no-way averse to cloud technology. 

“While not the dominant IT model, a growing majority are using cloud in some way and more plan to do so. However, for things to move faster, it is clear that council CIOs need to acknowledge and overcome barriers caused by culture, skills and the way that councils budget for IT.”

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