Public sector bodies need to develop technology partnerships to accelerate their plans for change, writes Simon Bennett, CTO EMEA for Rackspace Technology
Digital transformation does not involve the same priorities for every organisation in the public sector.
There is a widespread recognition that it is necessary to align the technology strategy with the business priorities, but this has implications for the infrastructure and a more detailed interpretation of what it entails depends on the starting point.
For some organisations it is about removing the technical debt, taking out the short term fixes and hasty coding in digital systems to ensure they are aligned to the broader strategy; along with ensuring the day-to-day support of systems and improved cyber defences are in place.
Others see it as a large scale transition to using cloud services, with a combination of ‘lift and shift’, rewriting applications for the cloud and adopting software-as-a-service products, and providing the flexibility and scalability to adapt to changing demands over the long term.
In this case, it needs the support of a technology partner with a strong expertise in cloud services to help them clarify their priorities, then modernise their data architecture and optimise and secure the cloud environment. It should also take into account the need for a cost-effective approach and to lay the ground for increasing use of technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence and augmented reality.
The demand has become more acute with the public sector having shown during the Covid-19 pandemic that it is possible to move fast in developing new digital solutions. It has raised expectations of the pace of transformation, with a demand for new functionality to be delivered in days or weeks rather than months.
But this comes with a need to minimise the risks involved around security, compliance with regulatory demands, access to skills, time to value, and disaster recovery. This cannot be left to a cloud provider; the public sector organisation and its technology partner need to have a firm grasp of the issues.
It should also be recognised that cloud does not remove the need for sound design and planning but comes with a recognition that they are applied in a different way.
An example of how to do all this successfully emerged during the pandemic at the Central and North West London (CNWL) NHS Foundation Trust, which provides a portfolio of healthcare services to hospitals, GPs and others in its area.
It responded to the first pandemic lockdown with a rapid transition to home working, with the number of concurrent remote users on its network rising from around 200 to 2,000 in a couple of days. It quickly adopted video consultations, ramped up its Covid-19 testing capability and achieved a wholesale change it is operational model.
Three years in three months
The trust’s ICT director, Owen Powell, told the recent UKAuthority Powering Digital Public Services conference that it achieved three years of transformation in three months.
“We did a massive amount with no business cases, testing or pilots, just getting on with it. Necessity is the mother of invention and the whole thing was underpinned by robust, flexible technology,” he said.
“You can’t do what we did without scale and expertise, and we leant quite hard on our technology partners early on.”
He said this has necessitated a change in financial balance from capex to opex to reflect the commercial architecture of the cloud – something which demanded that the financial department was brought onboard – and that having a good partner in place meant the ICT could focus on the change. The trust is now looking to move forward with a mix of public and private cloud.
This is where Rackspace comes in, with an in-depth knowledge of hyperscale cloud providers and the experience of working with the UK public sector on digital transformation programmes. It has more than 20 years of experience in supporting the sector, initially focusing on data centres but since then moving on virutalisation, the use of single cloud then multi-cloud approaches, the development of applications, and now developing a ‘cloud native’ approach in which solutions are built on the hyperscalers’ platforms.
The company has the understanding of how different applications can work better on different clouds, and can advise on which parts of the workload are better suited to one provider or another. It can support the rewriting and refactoring of applications to make them more agile and help deliver new functionality more quickly.
It can help an organisation in that early stage of understanding what its transformation plans imply for its infrastructure and use of cloud, to get the starting point right and move at pace through the adoption and optimisation of services. It helps to add substance to the phrase ‘digital transformation’ and make it a reality for a public service.