An alternative vision for local government technology

Anthony Kemp, director of corporate resources – and thereby, head of IT - at the London Borough of HounslowAnthony Kemp, director of corporate resources - and thereby, head of IT - at the London Borough of Hounslow, is building a new 'commodity component' cloud-based technology platform to run the council's services.

Kemp (left) maintains that the scale of cuts faced across local government is forcing authorities like his to look for a radical, new approach to technology.

First off, he is a keen advocate of 'Cloud' and buying new cloud-based services through the G-Cloud - indeed, G-Cloud is "now the default" for technology procurement at Hounslow. "It is about true public cloud, multi-tenanted, non-proprietary, available over the internet - not some supplier's datacentre with a cloud label on it."

Secondly, the approach being trialed at Hounslow sees development of a platform based on common components - rather than traditional 'silo' departmental applications - developed using Salesforce, Box and Amazon Web Services technology. Hounslow may only be three months into this radical journey, but Kemp has announced impressive plans to have at least 30% of key applications up and running on the new platform by May 2014, with the remaining applications being developed and coming online over the subsequent two years.

In a challenge to the sector, he makes the bold claim that the council will be "infrastructure free, with no on premise IT and no legacy systems" within four years.

Kemp is working in partnership with Methods' strategy director, Mark Thompson - who is himself known for a radical approach to new technology and for his deep involvement with Liam Maxwell (government's CTO) in the reform of government technology being driven by the Government Digital Service.

Thompson maintains that "Local government business models will eventually look a lot more like Google, with councils at the hub of an ecosystem of different service providers assembling standard services around residents like building blocks."

Common services such as payment engines, case management and so on could, in theory, then be released under open source for councils to re-use and knit together solutions around the needs of the citizen - to deliver lower cost more personalised services. Two attributes that would be most welcome in the sector.

The fly in the ointment for this appealing, and brave, new vision is that it would need to reach critical mass in order to be both successful and sustainable - and to do so may well require some kind of official endorsement of the concept.

Indeed, at the launch event Thompson called on DCLG to provide leadership for such a change. However, in a free market economy where no one, not even DCLG, has the legal power to mandate such things to local government - and with an entrenched installed legacy applications base that has no commercial incentive to change - such endorsement could be hard to come by.

Thompson admits that the concept is radical and potentially disruptive to the current supplier market model, but maintains that local government can no longer afford the status quo and that "it is incumbent on us to look at new models".

This new vision certainly provides such a model and is worth exploring. To simplify the message, the team at Methods and Hounslow, in conjunction with change management specialist, Mark Foden, have made a video (below) that Kemp believes "is the definition of the platform". (