Hybrid ICT for local authorities

Written by Colin Marrs on 25 May 2014 in Opinion
Opinion

Marcus Tackley says that councils don’t have to take an all-or-nothing approach to the Cloud.

These days, ICT buyers have to consider a wide swathe of issues, from cost-effectiveness and security to employee-owned devices and mobility.

Indeed, much like the commercial sector, the government must now begin to embody the tenets of business (or rather organisational) agility.

That is, using fast decision making, ensuring adaptability, and always embracing long-termism, cost-effectiveness and transparency. Therefore, government departments and local government authorities should not always feel that technologies like cloud are all-or-nothing concepts.

Hybrid Helps

A trend at the forefront of current private sector procurement is that of hybrid ICT – and hybrid cloud specifically.

Hybrid cloud makes the best use of utility services available in the market, whilst using heritage in-house resource in to the more complex applications and infrastructure hosted in the data centre.

This model aids movement to a more scalable and cost effective method of consuming ICT. The more mature SaaS and DRaaS market can be capitalised upon quickly whilst waiting for the market to mature in other areas before deciding whether to ‘jump’ or not.

Hybrid IT permits organisations to take advantage of the scalability and contingent economical upsides that public cloud hosting offers. Similarly beneficial, it also allows local government to keep its more sensitive applications managed on its own premises, and not left in the hands of a third-party host.

Where the private sector is happy to commit revenue expenditure to ensure a leaner, more focussed approach to service consumption, the way in which the public sector are funded lends itself more to the capital-led approach.

Until the Treasury changes the way the public sector is funded, local government organisations are always going to find cloud adoption difficult. Hybrid Cloud should allow the wider public sector to only pay for what it uses, when it uses it.

This step change away from bulky capital replacement projects should be happening now but the Exchequer needs to catch up.

Local authorities should be making the most of the developing the ICT options available to them. Indeed, why shouldn’t the latest technologies be implemented in public sector organisations now that they are being used successfully in private enterprises? 

The advent of the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) – the main hub for expert procurement services for the UK public sector – and the update of the G-Cloud framework provide an enormous opportunity both for government technology as well as the providers that will implement it. 

Indeed, a recent iGov report – New Ways of ICT Working – reveals the extent to which shared services, Cloud and IT strategy are helping to maintain services in the face of dwindling budgets and tax-payers’ increasing expectations.

Perhaps the most pertinent point to note is the lack of understanding or education on G-Cloud. Nearly half (47%) of the responding senior local government managers stated that they had no plans to use the G-Cloud Framework, with a third of respondents stating that they are only considering using it. Barely 20% had already utilised the framework to date.

Francis Maude’s ‘Cloud First’ Policy points local and central government to the G-Cloud framework.

This is precisely to enable authorities to benefit from greater organisational agility by ensuring a tailored blend of on and off-premise hosting and guaranteeing greater efficiency and adaptability. Hybrid services provide councils with a win-win situation - satisfying both perennial concerns and immediate necessities for local authorities across the UK.

Procurement Potential

With local authorities requiring cost-effective and scalable solutions, hybrid IT is certainly an increasingly attractive option. However, there remains the need for clarity on what hybrid IT is and how it can be implemented.

Although giant steps have been made in opening procurement up to small and medium sized providers, there is still work to be done to encourage government to adopt a more agile process. Faster processes leading to long-term implementations of adaptable and dynamic IT must be insisted upon at a procedural level.

Although enterprises might have the cash-funds more readily available, the variety of hybrid cloud solutions that can be (G-Cloud) brokered for LGAs should be a redeeming factor for IT decision makers working within regulatory frameworks.

There is at least a fledgling understanding within the public sector for the cost-cutting benefits of G-Cloud, with the same iGov report revealing that a quarter of respondents expected to save between eleven and twenty-four percent of their IT budget by adopting the Cloud First policy.

Equally important is efficiency. Local authorities will gain time that can be put to better use on, say, information management (particularly with BYOD schemes gathering pace in the public sector) and customer services, rather than managing hardware and infrastructure.

Essential processing duties such as organising council taxes, parking permits, support benefits and internal HR information could all be managed in a more efficient and accessible way with a more streamlined system, providing better local council support to constituents, and making local government officials’ lives easier without costing a lot to do so.

Whilst there is a strong bid for LGAs to reap the benefits of a hybrid infrastructure, there is evidently still a job for the government & IT providers to differentiate their services and boost awareness of concepts like hybrid cloud.

Marcus Tackley is head of public sector at managed ICT services provider Intrinsic Technology

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