Local government has expressed reservations about adopting the Cloud in the past. But its benefits are becoming too alluring to ignore, and its advantages in supporting digital strategies too compelling to dismiss. So argues Capita One’s Chief Technology Officer Ed Fretwell.
For local government, it must occasionally seem that the journey to a digital future gets tougher not easier the further they go. The more they try to adapt their locally managed systems to handle a bold new digital strategy, the more complex, fragile and expensive they can become.
It’s one of the reasons I think local authorities are finally starting to embrace the Cloud as a way out of that predicament. It’s a fresh start that removes much of that complexity and gives back to staff the time they need to add real value elsewhere in the organisation (and for citizens too).
However, I’d also say that the benefits the Cloud offers have become clearer, more tangible and easier for authorities to understand. And this hasn’t always been the case.
“The Cloud is a clean slate. You are placing your organisation within a major professional operation that is expert at what it does, and expert at doing it at scale."
So what are the possibilities that today’s iteration of the Cloud illuminates? Here’s five that I think have particular relevance for local government.
1) Being part of a big operation brings clarity, robustness and certainty
When many local authorities do look at their current infrastructure, it’s easy to see why the complexity makes it challenging to evolve in an agile fashion. It’s almost impossible to have a complete and granular grasp of everything a locally managed system can and cannot do when it may have taken years to mature into the sprawling beast it now is.
In comparison, putting yourself in the Cloud is a clean slate. You are placing your organisation within a major professional operation that is expert at what it does, and expert at doing it at scale.
For example, you can put in place technologies around security that you could never achieve in a small data centre where you are trying to manage 20 or more diverse applications. If you look at Cloud suppliers like Microsoft or Amazon, there are degrees of physical security that far outstrip anything you can manage on your own, and that’s before you even get to the question of network and software security.
2) Always enough space and always up to date
The Cloud is essentially ‘fire and forget’ for local authorities. We make sure it always remains available to them. Upgrades happen without outage. You no longer have to keep a fretful eye on the £60,000 worth of storage you bought five years ago that’s now nearly full. There is always enough space. The challenges of managing all that existing complexity just go away.
3) Scale your resources to fit demand
Many of our clients have year-end reconciliation processes that can be computationally intensive. Typically, with an on-premise box, these will thoroughly tie up the system, and the length of time taken will be constrained by the hardware. It’s a dilemma. Do you let an expensive server sit idle for the rest of the year, or accept delays and operational difficulties at year-end? In a Cloud environment we can scale up resources based on seasonal demand to deliver a cost-effective service throughout the year while still providing a ‘turbo boost’ at year-end, or when it’s needed.
4) Genuinely flexible and remote working finally becomes possible
When you live in your own walled garden, developments such as flexible working are much harder to realise fully. Move to the Cloud and you have far greater freedom to implement remote access, flexible working or remote working for your staff. This means you can start to engage properly in the corporate transformation policies that may be demanding, for example, a reduction in the sheer number of desks in your offices.
5) A bridge to the future
But perhaps most importantly, the Cloud enables us, and therefore our clients, to develop what we can do with new technology much more rapidly – AI, chatbots, machine learning and so on. If you’re still working with an on-premise system, you’ll have to wait for the right release to come along. You’ll need to arrange down time while it’s installed. If there are new features that require updated infrastructure or technology to run, then the best case is that it’s going to cost you money for a new server. The worst is that it simply won’t work at all and all those advantages around cost, efficiency, service and innovation will be denied to you.
Where the conversations are heading
However, while these elements and others may be key parts of the conversation now, I suspect that in a year’s time local authorities will have already moved beyond them. By then a shift to the Cloud will be an incontestable requirement for building the foundations of what you really want to achieve in the future. Digital second nature, if you like (and I do think Capita can be a fantastic enabler of that).
Even if you do nothing else (the argument will go), the Cloud is a better, faster, more robust and more economic way of doing what you’re doing every day, right now.
Instead, in 12 months time, I think the real conversations will be about the innovations the Cloud has enabled local authorities to bring to their organisations and the citizens they serve. What worked, what didn’t, what we can do next. Because while many local authorities are developing a wealth of digital strategies, with robotics, chatbots and automation high on the agenda, few have so far managed to execute that strategy in a meaningful way.
That needs to change, and helping to make it happen is the true promise of the Cloud.