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Breaking the need for ‘best of breed’



Commoditised software can now provide a better value and more robust solution for digital transformation in the public sector, says Neil Carter, director for local & regional government, Microsoft UK

Best of breed software has often provided key elements of the IT infrastructure for public services. Public authorities have felt the need for systems designed to deal with the intricacies of individual business processes, and been ready to take on the cost and complexity of making them work to maintain standards in service delivery.

But the picture is changing. As the need for wholesale digital transformation becomes urgent, best of breed can sometimes be a hindrance, being expensive to operate and difficult to integrate with other systems. This is going to become even more of a problem as devolution and the integration of health and social care increases the need for inter-agency collaboration.

On the other hand, commodity software platforms are becoming more versatile, offering a range of capabilities to increasingly high specifications. This makes it possible for organisations to draw on enterprise agreements, such as those for the Microsoft portfolio, to meet many of the demands that previously justified the use of specialist software.

The key point is that the gap between high quality ‘fit for purpose’ technologies and best of breed is now much narrower than in the past, and the former bring their own advantages that will provide immense long term value to the public sector.

Even better, in times of austerity many organisations will find these technologies already available to them – at no extra cost - under existing licences.

Exploiting these licences to their full extent can provide a number of benefits:

  • Financial savings through removing the costs of specialist systems, and consolidating the maintenance demands on IT teams into maintaining the functions within a broad suite of products, rather than a range of proprietary systems.
  • Improving integration by avoiding any big disjoints in the source code of different systems or complex issues around intellectual property. In a package such as Office 365 the elements are designed to work together.
  • Supporting collaboration between teams and organisations. Office productivity suites now offer enterprise social networks and tools for sharing and editing files, personalising content and pulling together information from other sources into a shared repository.
  • Virtual conferencing: The availability of solutions such as Skype for Business within Office 365 makes it possible to stage face-to-face meetings without the time and costs of travelling to a single venue.
  • Coping with complexity: Commoditised systems now have the data structures and algorithms to provide highly granular information, meeting the demands of intricate business processes while staying on the core platform.

The benefits of cloud computing, including a reduced burden on IT support teams, a cut in the need for on-site servers, high standards of security and a scalable payment model. Cloud services have reached the point where there is no sacrifice in the capacity to run and develop high quality applications; and it can all be done while remaining within the portfolio that provides all the other advantages.

High quality security and identity management, supported by services such as threat detection, risk assessment, advanced threat analytics and the ability to monitor the hygiene of identity credentials.

The capacity for business analytics, using tools such as Microsoft Power BI to visualise data from other solutions in the portfolio and build models for consistent reporting and analysis.

There is also scope for virtualising the management of networks, storage devices, operating systems and hardware, without turning to specialist solutions: Windows Server Datacentre can now manage virtualisation with the same degree of control as the specialists in functions such as sizing storage capacity, backing up servers and supporting applications.

Microsoft is now extending the promise of its own portfolio offers with the launch of Dynamics 365. This brings together the capabilities of its Dynamics CRM and AX ERP platforms, integrating fully with Office 365, based in the cloud, enabling an organisation to use them as one rather than as siloed systems.

It provides for a seamless integration of business applications, but it is also possible to disaggregate these applications so that they can run on a standalone basis, amounting to a flexible and powerful tool for public sector transformation.

All this needs only one set of contracts, a single supplier can meet almost all demands within a flexible and agile model that allows an organisation to scale up or down at will, respond to the emerging demands of public policy, changing demographics, governance requirements and the need to support new methods of serving citizens.

It goes beyond meeting the day-to-day demands of service delivery, to providing building blocks for the digital transformation which is necessary for all public authorities.

More details can be found in the white paper, 'Mining Value in the Licence’, which can be downloaded via the form below: